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The bill would remove the water rights requirement for term permits or existing permit amendments for sourcing surface water for aquifer storage and recovery projects for water rights holders and persons who have contracted for the use of water that does not prohibit an aquifer storage and recovery project. It also removes the requirement for completed pilot projects prior to permitting.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) would be given exclusive jurisdiction over the regulation and permitting of aquifer storage and recovery wells. The bill would clarify considerations that TCEQ would use in issuing a Class V underground injection control permit for an aquifer storage and recovery well (complying with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, percentage of stored water which can be recovered,effect on existing wells,and whether the introduction of water will alter the physical,chemical, or biological quality of the native groundwater to a specified degree). If TCEQ would determine that some injected water may result in a loss of native groundwater, the commission would place additional restrictions on the amount of water that could be recovered to account for the loss. This authorization could be made by rule, under an individual permit, or under a general permit. The TCEQ would be required to adopt rules to implement the above provisions no later than May 1, 2016.
The bill would mandate that groundwater conservation districts (GCDs) not require permits for the drilling and operation of aquifer storage or recovery wells except where the amount recovered is greater than the amount authorized as part of the TCEQ Class V permit. In such cases, the amount recovered in excess of authorization would be subject to district rules. Districts could consider the aquifer storage and recovery operation's effect during planning and monitoring of the achievement of desired future conditions. The bill would further provide that GCDs may assess well registration and administrative fees but may not assess production or export fees or surcharges except for recovered water amounts in excess of those authorized by TCEQ.
TCEQ and TWDB expect no significant costs in implementing the provisions of the bill.
HB 655, if passed, would make five distinct changes to the Water Code (for the purpose of this analysis). It would end a current pilot program studying aquifer types, create definitions for aquifer storage and recovery projects (ASR) (Subchapter G), authorize Class V injection wells to be used for ASRs, create definitions for aquifer storage and recovery projects (Subchapter N), and repeal three sections of the Water Code which are currently in force.
All of these changes are ultimately related by reflecting the new ASR regime that HB 655 seeks to clarify. (ASRs are described in the bill as a “project involving the injection of water into a geologic formation for the purpose of subsequent recovery and beneficial use by a public operator”. Each of these five changes will be discussed in turn.
During extended periods of drought in Texas, water resources can drop to critically low levels in some parts of the state. One exacerbating factor is that water stored in lakes evaporates at a high rate during the summer time making the problems created by the drought all the more pronounced. This legislation is an attempt to address that issue.
HB 655 is a very detailed bill in that it creates, in essence, a new system for aquifer storage and recovery projects (or ASRs).
An ASR is described in the bill as “a project involving the injection of water into a geologic formation for the purpose of subsequent recovery and beneficial use by the project operator”. Notably, the implications of this bill are not merely legal, but in fact authorize new physical engineering projects. Essentially, and despite its complexity, HB 655 gives the TCEQ another tool to combat drought issues within Texas and provide for the more efficient long-term storage of water.
Given that management of water resources is a already a function of the state, and given that HB 655 would provide for a way to make the state's efforts more effective and successful, we support this bill. Increasing the effectiveness of the state's efforts to provide for better water storage options during times of drought comports with our limited government principle.