Water conservation district seeks proactive approach

PRESIDIO COUNTY – The Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District will hold their second meeting under new leadership at 10am Friday at the Presidio County Judge’s office in Marfa. According to recently appointed chair Trey Gerfers, the board is expected to vote on a part-time general manager as the board restructures.

“That person will be helping us in trying to get organized and meet our obligations under law,” Gerfers said of the position, which was held under a volunteer capacity by geologist Rudy Garcia. “It’s one of the first steps in the early stages of trying to restructure the board and prepare for the future.”

Under his chairmanship, Gerfers said, the district hopes to become more proactive in their work, seeking solutions to potential challenges such as the addition of industry in the county, as well as larger cities purchasing land for water rights.

“In many ways, people tend to only focus in crisis, like when El Paso bought ranchland on the Jeff Davis – Presidio County line and when fracking came to Balmorhea. When not in crisis, there’s a bare bones, reactive approach. Personally, I’d like to be more proactive,” he said. “Right now we’re looking at the basics, such as keeping up with data from monitoring wells in the county. There are lots of uses for our water in agriculture, ranching, and even fracking. Our job is to assemble data and consider potential impacts. The district and the county needs to plan what kind of decisions to make in the future and keep as close tabs as possible on water so we can prepare.”

Another priority, Gerfers added, is to work closer with other water districts that have innovative approaches to keeping track of groundwater.

“We can learn a lot from other districts in the region and we need to be ready if and when cities want to come in,” he said, pointing at the Middle Pecos UWCD. “MPUWCD – the rock star underground water district out here – know from having decades of data how many days of precipitation are needed and how much rain will replenish the aquifers,” he said. “They’ve come up with all sorts of sophisticated mapping and monitoring techniques that we don’t have. What we need is to get a grasp of how much pumping can be sustained. I don’t predict any real change in water levels, but I want to be prepared for any changes in the future.”

Gerfers also hopes to rejoin the Texas Alliance of Ground Water Districts, which lobbies to keep local control of water, and will work to seek more funding through grants.

“You have what we consider high-necessity obligations and the pie-in-the-sky things, and the things we can do is based on the funds available,” he said, adding that the county has committed $10,000 to the district. “We’re working on a bare bones budget, but in the next budget cycle, we’re working on getting grants. There are some things that most people think makes sense, but there isn’t enough money in the budget.”

Some area districts levy a small property tax, but the Presidio County district doesn’t, relying on the count for working funds.

For 6-year veteran PCUWCD board member David Williams, working with the district’s new leadership looks bright.

“There’s a lot of new energy with Trey and Vicky (Carrasco) joining the district. They seem like they want to get right down do some work,” Williams said. “Not that we weren’t doing anything before. It takes a lot of effort and hard work. We had to deal with the Cibolo Creek and Shafter mine situations, which was a very stressful and costly period for the water district. But I agree with [Gerfers] that we have to look at bigger issues, like if a city comes in and starts putting wells and piping it wherever. It’s already happening in Dell City.”

The proactive approach, he added, is a necessary step to take at the moment.

“At this time, we have water well and water well drilling permits pending and a permit for irrigation for Cibolo. There isn’t anything disastrous, but we do need a plan,” he said, adding that though the state has ultimate authority in regulation, he will work to keep as much local control as possible. “There will always be concern over water, and if we can do something to conserve and regulate, we have a better chance to have it in the future.” The Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District is comprised of Gerfers, Williams, Carrasco, Patt Sims, and B.J. Baeza.