Tag Archives: Groundwater

White Stallion’s Uncertain Water Future

After losing a 26,000 acre feet per year water contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), the White Stallion Energy Center, a 1200 MW proposed coal plant for Matagorda County, Texas has had to scramble to find other sources of water. As a result, the developers announced a costly design change that they claim will reduce their water needs, but still require the equivalent of almost 1 billion gallons of water per year (about 3,000 acre feet).  To meet this demand without a contract from LCRA, White Stallion has quickly turned to private landowners in Matagorda County in an attempt to gain access to groundwater.  So far, most of the smart people of Matagorda County have not sold their private water, and the few sellers the coal plant’s developers have identified are not selling enough to meet White Stallion’s water needs.

Most critically, not only is the groundwater supply that the developer has identified not sufficient to meet White Stallion’s needs, but groundwater is also an unreliable water supply for a baseload utility planning to operate in a drought-prone state.  The Coastal Plains Groundwater Conservation District (CPGCD), which manages groundwater for the area, adopted amendments to their rules on June 29th, 2012 to allow them to better manage and respond to aquifer conditions such as the ongoing historical drought.  In order to protect the health of the aquifer for future generations, the District has implemented a curtailment scheme that will be implemented based on aquifer conditions (Subchapter B: Production Limits, Section 6.11.c, page 53).   This is a proactive and sustainable approach to groundwater management and is meant to ensure the viability of the aquifer for future generations.

What does this mean for White Stallion and other permitees?  If aquifer conditions reach triggers laid out in the rules, anyone who applied for a water permit or amended their permit for a different use after 2011 would be required to restrict their pumping by up to 80%.  Since both of the landowners who have agreed to sell their water to White Stallion meet these criteria, only 600 acre feet of water per year is “guaranteed” during times where aquifer levels are low.  Furthermore, all permits, under the CPGCD’s rules, are only valid for 3 years at a time– all permits are up for renewal every 3 years (Subchapter B: Application Requirements and Processing, Section 3.15.a, page 27).

Given the severity of the Texas drought in the past and its ongoing nature, it’s possible we will see curtailment in the future.   Does this seem like a good investment to you?

-Lydia Avila, Associate Field Representative

Impacts on sensitive area not considered in White Stallion coal plant permit.

Report shows Army Corps of Engineers Failed to Conduct Environmental Impact Statement

(Austin) – Today, the Sierra Club released a report prepared by Dr. Lauren Ross demonstrating that the US Army Corps of Engineers failed to consider key environmental impacts when it granted a wetlands permit to the proposed White Stallion Energy Center.  The report, Wetland, Bottomland and Colorado River Impacts from the Proposed White Stallion Energy Center, L.L.C. Coal-Fired Power Plant, identified mutliple environmental impacts that the White Stallion’s application ignored, and the Corps did not investigate.

The US Army Corps of Engineers permitting process is designed to protect wetlands, rivers and streams.  However, the White Stallion coal plant is proposed for a particularly sensitive area which was not appropriately accounted for.  “White Stallion’s application was drafted narrowly to address only direct construction impacts to a limited number of on-site wetlands and a stream segment.  It fails, for example, to examine the impact of this proposed project on the largest hardwood forested Bottomlands in Texas and possibly along the U.S. Gulf Coast.”  said Dr. Lauren Ross, author and environmental engineer with Glenrose Engineering. “The Corps and others must recognize that White Stallion has made no plans to deal with flooding or hurriance related impacts for the proposed project right on our Texas coast.”

In part, the report notes:

(1) The permit does not address the fact that flows to the hardwood forested Bottomlands would be disrupted.

(2) The permit does not provide mitigation for construction proposed along the bank of the Colorado River.

(3) The proposed power plant would discharge storm runoff and waste water affluent.  The storm run off would cross the ash disposal and coal storage sites, which would change the quality of the storm run off and the permit did not address the leaching of metals and potential damages to the Colorado River fish, crab, and shrimp nurseries.

Although White Stallion received a 404 wetlands permit, it still does not have (1) a final air permit, (2) a water contract, or (3) a wastewater permit.

White Stallion is currently seeking groundwater to run their plant through a local landowner. The Coastal Plains Groundwater District who is considering this permit has expressed concerns about what the ongoing drought and LCRA actions can have on their available water supply. “No action has been taken on the groundwater permit White Stallion is counting on.  Even if it was to be granted it would still be a very small fraction of what they need to operate; and would only be good for three years,” said Lydia Avila, organizing representative with the Sierra Club.

“White Stallion is no closer today to going to ground than it was when it began this process,” says Jen Powis, regional representative with the Beyond Coal campaign.  “White Stallion announced it was switching to an air cooled process that would use less water, but has failed to amend its TCEQ wastewater plans.  Likewise, a court remanded White Stallion’s air permit back to TCEQ because White Stallion kept changing its engineering drawings and location.  White Stallion’s sloppiness is an omen of things to come if this plant is permitted and constructed.” 

Texas has 19 coal-fired power plants, and also has the most proposed coal plants (7), of any state in the nation. Texas also leads the nation in pollution, ranking number one for the nation in mercury emissions, carbon dioxide emissions, and nitrigen dioxide emissions, among others.  Power plants are all major sources for these, and other toxic chemicals.

“How can the Corps issue this permit when East and West Matagorda Bay are the only pristine bays left throughout the glorious Texas coast,”  said Muriel Tipps, a land owner, realtor, and Seafood Representative for Matagorda County.   “It is shocking to locals that the powers of Texas and others continue to let White Stallion slide in this process; the Corps ignores the major impacts caused by the proposed dredging of the Colorado River, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ignored the documented ozone impacts on the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria non-attainment district, and White Stallion continues to propose a project that would fundamentally ruin our fishing and agricultural heritage in this area.  White Stallion’s shoddy permitting process must be stopped.” 


Jen Powis, Sierra Club, Senior Regional Representative, 832.453.4404 or Lydia Avila, Sierra Club, Representative, 512.477.1729

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Explore, Enjoy, Protect

Water, water everywhere? State Capitol Report.

Texas Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter State Capitol E-Report
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet

February 3, 2011:

  • State Water Conservation Advisory Council at RiskAt least one state legislator has indicated that he will try to eliminate the state’s Water Conservation Advisory Council during the regular session of the 82nd Texas Legislature, now in progress. This move might be made through a “stand-alone” piece of legislation, a provision in or amendment to the Texas Water Development Board “sunset” bill (the Council receives staff support from the Board), or elimination of funding for the Council in the appropriations bill for state agencies (the financial support for the Council is only about $80,000 a year). The Sierra Club strongly supports continuation of the Council, whose work is important to meeting state water needs, and urges others to do so as well. …Read the full story… 


  • National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club Release Groundwater Statement The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club have released a position statement on “Ground Water Legislation in the 82nd Texas Legislature.” The position statement was prompted by the introduction in the Texas Senate of SB 332 by Sen. Troy Fraser, which would establish a “vested ownership right in groundwater.” (An excellent overview of SB 332 is provided on the Hill Country Alliance website at: http://www.hillcountryalliance.org/HCA/SB332.) Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the Texas House. Apparently one of the reasons for the introduction of this legislation is to initiate discussion and dialogue on groundwater ownership, an issue currently before the Texas Supreme Court. NWF and Sierra Club “ welcome a healthy debate and discussion of the ground water rights issue, but …oppose efforts to expand the current ground water ownership doctrine” because the “proposed expansion would cause great regulatory uncertainty and expensive litigation.”Read the full story… 


  • Water Legislation Starts to Flow in the Texas House and Senate Although not exactly streaming in yet, water legislation is being filed in both the House and the Senate on a variety of topics. Already the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club has over 50 water and water-related bills in its tracking system for this regular session of the 82 nd Texas Legislature. Many of these are very limited in geographic area and/or scope – and many do not have direct relationship to the environment but deal with such things as agency and water district procedures. Two important water bills that have been introduced that are of interest to the Sierra Club are SB 181 by Sen. Florence Shapiro, which deals with the metrics used to measure water use and water conservation, and SB 449 by Senators Craig Estes and Kirk Watson to allow a property tax break for landowners who manage their land to promote and sustain water quality and conservation (the latter bill is accompanied by a proposed constitutional amendment, SJR 16)….Read the full story… 

  • The State Capitol E-Report is a monthly electronic update from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club reporting on Texas environmental policy issues of statewide interest. Contact us at: lonestar.chapter@sierraclub.org …Header photo “Water” copyright Susan Heller donate
    Subscribe to the Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club Alerts, Invitations, Information!Join the Sierra Club. Get Outdoors! 


    Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club

    Sierra Club home photo by Susan Heller Texas Sierra Club Home Page
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    Goliad County Officials and Residents Board Buses Tuesday for TCEQ Decision on Uranium Mine

    Administrative Law Judge Recommends, Deny Permit for UEC Failure to Protect Water
    Goliad County Commissioners, Ground Water Conservation District officials, and concerned farmers, landowners and other residents of the Goliad area are preparing to travel to Austin on Tuesday to hear a decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on a permit application by Uranium Energy Corporation (UEC) for an in situ leech (ISL) uranium mine.

    “The area where UEC wants to mine uranium contains many drinking water wells,” said Art Dohmann with the Goliad County Ground Water Conservation District.  “Water is the lifeblood of our county.  We are deeply concerned that UEC must not be allowed to contaminate and destroy our underground drinking water with the heavy metals and radio-nuclides they would stir up in the uranium mining process.”

    Texas State Administrative Law Judge Richard Wilfong (the Judge) reviewed a contested case brought by the County and Ground Water District and recommended that the TCEQ deny the permit based on a failure to demonstrate the company can adequately protect drinking water.  The U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act and the Texas Water Code require that the no injection well permit may be issued that causes contamination of an underground source of drinking water.

    “The Judge did the right thing and we sincerely hope the Commissioners will follow the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Texas Water Code and deny this permit,” said Attorney Rob Baiamante who representing Goliad County.  “Goliad County residents currently enjoy their right to an excellent source of underground drinking water and this company must not be allowed to ruin it.”

    Baiamonte and Attorney Adam Friedman, with the Houston-based firm Blackburn-Carter representing the Ground Water Conservation District expect that the three TCEQ Commissioners will most likely make one of three potential decisions —
    1.  Deny the permit based on the ALJ’s legal recommendation.
    2.  Send the application back requiring additional water testing and an additional hearing.  This would be an added financial burden on the County and Ground Water District and would assist the applicant’s effort.
    3.  Disregard the ALJ’s recommendation and approve the permit leaving the protective responsibility of upholding the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Texas Water Code to the Region VI office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
    Mary Anklam who farms next to the site where UEC wants to mine said, “The exploration for uranium alone caused sales of our goats to drop and we went out of that business.  It would be a crime for UEC to be allowed to ruin the water that we drink and use on our farm.  The Judge was right to recommend that TCEQ should not give this company a permit.  We are asking the TCEQ to apply the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Texas Water Code and protect us and our neighbors and not just help this company make money by exporting dangerous uranium.”
    The TCEQ Commissioners’ Hearing on the UEC application will take place Tuesday, December 14 at 9:30 AM at the TCEQ headquarters in Austin, 12100 Park 35 Circle, Austin, Building E, conference room 201-S.  The item will refer to SOAH Docket Number 582-09-3064 and TCEQ Docket Number 2008-1888-UIC.
    Goliad County officials and residents encourage the media and public to attend.
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    Senate Committee Talks Texas Groundwater, Sept. 22nd

    The Texas Senate Natural Resources Committee is holding a public hearing tomorrow (Wednesday, September 22) to discuss a couple of their interim charges (charges 1, 2, & 4).  The hearing begins at 8:30 in room E1.012 at the State Capitol in Austin.  Ken Kramer, Director of the Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club has been invited to give testimony on charge #2 (groundwater management) at the hearing. .

    The topics that the hearing will cover are the joint planning process for management of groundwater known as the GMA process and the financing of water infrastructure projects in the state. All the folks interested in groundwater will be monitoring this hearing to hear the latest opinions.  Representatives from the Texas Water Development Board, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Farm BureauTexas Alliance of Groundwater Districts, Texas Water Conservation Association and the Sierra Club will all be there to offer their testimony on how the GMA process is proceeding and what, if any, suggestions they have for changing the process.

    We have written before on the GMA process and some of the pitfalls that we have witnessed along the way.  You can read those posts here and here.  The GMA process is a work in progress and there are some components that have worked better that others.  It should be intersting to hear what groundwater professionals and others have to say on the topic tomorrow.  You should be able to view the committee hearing at http://www.senate.state.tx.us/bin/live.php.

    Posted by Jennifer Walker, Water Resources Specialist, Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club