— By JUDY SHERIDAN
A new 42-lot subdivision in an area known to the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District for inadequate water and contamination from oil and gas activities got the go-ahead Monday when Parker County Commissioners approved the preliminary plat for all four phases and waived an expensive groundwater availability study for developers.
The subdivision, named Eagle View, is located in the Brock ISD, behind Canyon West Golf Course, off Old Brock Road. Water to the homes, to be built on 2-acre lots, is to come from individual wells.
The lot sizes meet the requirements of the UTGCD, Plat Coordinator Lesie Coufal said.
Coufal told the court that the subdivision’s developer, Eagle View Development LLC, of Aledo, requested that commissioners waive the groundwater study, which the court has the right to require due to the size of the subdivision.
The studies cost between $80,000 and $100,000, according to UTGCD General Manager Bob Patterson.
Commissioner George Conley asked Patterson if the Upper Trinity wanted the study done for the site, and Patterson replied that it better informs potential buyers.
“In the past, when the county required groundwater availability certification, it prevented a lot of dissatisfaction with subdivision lot owners from the fact that they knew up front that there was this much water or there was not adequate water,” he said. “So we would prefer it. In our enabling legislation we don’t have the authority to refuse anyone to drill a well if they have a 2-acre minimum plot.”
Patterson said buyers become upset with the county, the water district and subdivision owners when they discover that the water supply is inadequate. He said sometimes subdivision owners sell a lot with a well included, but they generally don’t provide enough information about the well’s capacity or the likelihood of the aquifer staying at the same level in future years.
When County Attorney John Forrest asked about water availability at the site, Patterson said the Old Brock area has had significant water problems related to both the insufficiency of adequate water and contamination due to oil and gas activities.
He said most of the wells in the area— because they are cheaper to dig — tap the shallower Paluxy aquifer, which lies 80 to 120 feet below the surface.
“The water is available in the Trinity layer, which starts at about 350 feet of depth,” he said, so if the owner is going to drill a well, it’s going to cost them. As long as everybody’s informed up front when they sell the lots.”
When contacted, Dennis Ledford, one of several owners of Eagle View Development, first said he was unaware of any water issues. He said it is generally known that the desirable zone is the Trinity; it's a question of cost effectiveness.
“I know there are a substantial number of wells in Canyon West, and I haven't heard of problems there,” he said. “I know a lot of people on the Paluxy who manage to live life adequately.”
After talking with the Democrat and a local well-driller, Ledford called back to say that the well driller told him that all wells in that area are drilled in the Trinity.
“My information indicates that the well-driller wouldn't even try to find the Paluxy; it's too shallow,” he said. “The Trinity there is about 240 feet deep.”
Ledford said the development, which will get underway after the county approves the final plat, will have concrete streets, underground utilities and an “incredible” view.
Patterson told the court that the saltwater contamination is due to inadequate casing in wells established in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
Over the years, the saltwater eroded the steel pipe used in construction and seeped to the surface, he said, spreading mainly into the Paluxy.
The effluent contained drilling fluids and organic compounds, he said, which were dumped into the inadequately plugged wells when drilling was completed.
“So we’re going to have this problem all over the county,” Commissioner Dusty Renfro pointed out.
“There’s at least a possibility,” Patterson said. “Legislature has seen the issues arise, and they have tried to remedy that in this past session. They have improved the cementing casing process, so these don’t happen anymore. It’s a very long-term solution.”
Riley said that no county resident is guaranteed water, whether they live in rural or urban areas.
“I say that because even if someone buys a house in town, they don’t know if they’re going to have water or not. Some systems in this county literally run out in July and August.
“So, I don’t think we can solve it one subdivision at a time. I am concerned about requiring them [developers] to spend that kind of money, because we all have some individual responsibility.”
Renfro said it becomes a private property rights issue, “so if government tells me I have to spend $100,000 to do a study, it doesn’t sit right with me.”
“It’s a lot cheaper to drill a well and see if there is water than doing a $100,000 study,” he said. “What’s included in these studies?”
Patterson said two monitoring wells are drilled, and hydro-geological studies are conducted to show what the drawdown will be in a 30-year period.
“Historically what have we done?” Commissioner Larry Walden asked.
Forrest said the policy hasn’t been addressed since the UTGCD established recent rules and regulations, because there’s been little development. He said the court waived the groundwater requirement for the most recent subdivision.
Walden said he didn’t want to waste the developer’s money or discourage development, but also didn’t want people to buy a lot without being informed.
He moved commissioners waive the groundwater study, based on the court's discussion. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Craig Peacock and approved unanimously by the court.