For years, Parker County has topped the list of counties drilling the most new water wells. 

Information collected by the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District indicates aquifer water levels are dropping in some areas of the county. 

The Democrat recently sat down with UTGCD General Manager Doug Shaw to talk about what that means for the future of Parker County. 

“We’re processing anywhere from 500 to 600 new well applications each year for Parker County,” Shaw said, adding that district processed around 600 new well applications for Parker County in 2017. 

Most counties in the state see less than 50 wells drilled per year and even counties similar to Parker County, in that they are adjacent to large metropolitan areas and growing, may see 100 wells drilled per year, Shaw said. 

Parker County is consistently among the top 10 counties in the state for most wells drilled each year, he said. 

“So this has been happening for well over a decade that you’ve seen this trend of more water wells being drilled in Parker County than anywhere in the state of Texas,” Shaw said. 

“So there is a lot of new holes being drilled and a lot more stress being put on the aquifer each year there’s additional pumping.” 

The UTGCD has about 140 wells across Parker County measuring groundwater levels and it publishes a trend analysis annually. 

“In the past, we have seen in parts of Parker County ... a falling water level,” Shaw said. “What’s important for folks to realize is, groundwater doesn’t necessarily recharge or fill back up the same way that lakes do.”

Just a tiny fraction of rainfall ends up in the aquifer. 

“What I’m telling you is, we’re pumping out exponentially more than is going back in each and every day,” Shaw said. “Based on the best available science, based on the most recent published studies, a tremendous amount more water is pumped out than is going back in. 

“Obviously, there is a tremendous amount of water down there. Does that mean it’s going to run empty any time soon? No. But it is something to be concerned about.”

The level of water available from the aquifer also varies seasonally in response to pumping. 

Shaw compared the aquifer to a sponge. 

“It’s not like an underground lake or underground river,” Shaw said. “It’s sand that’s saturated with water, and when you drill a hole into that sand, that hole fills up with water.”

Unlike a lake, water levels in the aquifer don’t drop uniformly but may vary from place to place, depending on the demand in that area. 

“We’re seeing some of the lowest water levels we’ve recorded in the last several years,” Shaw said. “Largely, that’s not because of a systemic water level reduction. That’s because right now it’s dry. We had a really dry spring. There’s a lot of pressure on the aquifer. By that I mean that there’s a lot of folks pumping more than we normally pump.”

But some areas aren’t seeing water levels recover as much as they used to. 

“We’re starting to see in some parts of Parker County, we have seen a trend where water levels are a little bit lower each year,” Shaw said. 

Private wells currently use the most water in Parker County and water use for oil and gas activity has dropped over the past decade to almost nothing, according to Shaw, who said it’s been helpful to the overall well-being of the aquifer in Parker County. 

Shaw estimated that the district has around 4,000 wells in its system, but he thinks that the district may be aware of just 20 percent of existing wells in the county. 

Registration of wells put in place before 2009 is voluntary but is intended to protect those wells from the impacts of proposed new wells by allowing the district to use existing well information to apply spacing requirements to proposed wells. 

The district requires that new wells be placed on lot sizes of at least 2 acres. 

“We require that any new well be spaced a certain distance from both property lines and from other existing wells,” Shaw said. “And that spacing requirement goes up as the well gets bigger.”

Proposed new wells, depending on the circumstances, could have tremendous impact on surrounding neighbors but if the district doesn’t know where existing wells are, they cannot protect the existing wells, Shaw said. 

“There is no negative impact to registering an existing domestic well,” Shaw said. “We do not, will not, have not ever proposed metering private, domestic wells.”

Public water supply wells, large commercial wells, and wells used for oil and gas purposes are metered and must report use and pay 22 cents for every 1,000 gallons they pump, funding the district. 

Different sets of laws govern groundwater, which is a private property right, and surface water, such as streams and lakes, which belongs to the people of Texas. 

To deal with the dropping groundwater levels, the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District was approved by voters in November 2007 and its rules went into effect Jan. 1, 2009. 

Parker County commissioners court has appointed a water well driller, Tim Watts, and a civil engineer, Shannon Nave, to sit on the Upper Trinity Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors. 

Long term, the district is required to ensure that the area sees only so much water level decline over 50 years, desired future conditions that were adopted for Parker County last year, Shaw said. 

“In some areas we’re already seeing that much decline,” Shaw said. “Some areas out in the western part of the county, where there’s just nothing out there, you’re basically seeing static water levels, you just don’t see them fluctuate.”

“We’re required by law to adopt rules and manage to meet those numbers that we’ve adopted,” Shaw said. 

“We operate under temporary rules right now. Hopefully within the next six to eight months we’ll be adopting some pretty significant updates to our rules.” 

After the release of the proposed changes, the district will be holding public hearings.

What does Shaw believe people who are buying a home or helping plan for their community’s future should be thinking about?

“Water could be a limiting factor in long-term sustainability,” Shaw said. “The county really needs to be thinking big picture.” 

Growth is great for Parker County but it needs to be sustainable growth, Shaw said. 

“All the communities ... all the small little privately owned water systems really need to be talking to each other and thinking about long-term sustainability,” he said. “Interconnects between your cities so that when one community’s water supply is down, they can tie into and purchase water from another community. These are the kind of things long term that all of the communities in Parker County need to be considering.”

Shaw said the district is willing to go in and help, including by seeking grant money for studies for possible interconnects. 

If there is a access to surface water, surface water should be treated as the checking account, while groundwater the savings account, Shaw said.

Dealing with the future water needs of Parker County is on the minds of many communities. 

Weatherford Director of Planning and Neighborhood Services Craig Farmer recently outlined changes in how the city plans to meet the water needs of growth just outside current city limits, where most people are currently served by wells. 

Willow Park Thursday connected with the City of Weatherford’s water system to allow Willow Park, which is limited in its water production capacity, to rehabilitate existing wells to meet the water demands of its residents. 

The city is currently working toward establishing a connection to surface water from Fort Worth for the long term. 

Brock City Attorney Sharon Hicks said Brock currently has a moratorium on new development, including new wells. 

Hicks said that she expects the city to eventually require those that are within the area that can be served by the Parker County Special Utility District to connect to the primarily surface water-based system, rather than drilling new wells. 

Peaster Mayor Don Smelley recently told the Democrat that planning for a long-term surface water solution for the area is a priority for the newly-incorporated town. 

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