Groundwater District Meets in Presidio, presents to Presidio City Council

PRESIDIO – The Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District (PCUWCD) held its Boardmeeting on Wednesday, August 14th at 2 PM in the County Annex at 300 E. O’Reilly Street in Presidio. Three Directors, including Vicky Carrasco, David Williams, and Board Chairman Trey Gerfers were in attendance. General Manager Carolyn Macartney was also present, as well as Brenda Witty.

The Board had scheduled its meeting for Wednesday in Presidio to coincide with the Presidio City Council meeting later that evening and to meet with Ms. Witty, who lives east of Presidio on the road to Redford. Ms. Witty had been invited to replace Ruben Brito as the at-large board member for southern Presidio County.  She attended the first part of the board meeting to meet the Board and get a feel for the business of the District.

After briefly introducing herself and answering a few questions, Ms. Witty agreed to become a Director.  Mr. Gerfers told her that the next steps would be to have her appointed by the Commissioners Court and then sworn in by Judge Guevara. Ms. Macartney agreed to make the necessary arrangements with Judge Guevara to have Ms. Witty appointed at the next Commissioners Court meeting.

Another topic of discussion involved the next steps toward entering into a memorandum of understanding with the City of Presidio to pave the way for Presidio to join the District. Currently, the City of Presidio is exempt from any regulation by the District under Texas Water Code Chapter 36.121, also known as the “Midland exemption”. The exemption involves certain benefits, such as the ability of Presidio to pump and sell as much water as it wants without having to report the volumes to the District.

On the other hand, the exemption involves certain risks as well. For example, if a water marketer or private citizen were to apply for a production permit to produce water from a well near one of Presidio’s wells, the District would be unable to consider impacts on the municipal well because it is exempt. Activities like “water ranching” where nearby cities, such as El Paso and Midland/Odessa, buy or lease land to pump the water out from under it represent a growing risk to the water supplies of local towns.

The uptick in unconventional oil and gas exploration in the region, which requires enormous volumes of water, also poses a significant risk. In negotiating to become a full member of the District, the City of Presidio would not lose any control over its municipal water supply, but instead would benefit from the protection of the District if an outside entity or existing user were to request a new production permit on land near the city’s wells.

Later that evening, the entire board and Ms. Macartney attended the Presidio City Council meeting, where Mr. Gerfers made his second presentation to City Council to urge them to join the District. He outlined the risks and benefits of the status quo and assured the City Council that joining the District would not limit the city’s ability to grow and develop as it chooses. But he also pointed out that all the plans and projections in the world would be useless if the city were to run out of water. The powers of the District, he stated, are very limited. But if Presidio were to join the District, it would enjoy the protections of the District against overpumping by new or existing users, as well as having a say in future, county-wide water policies and planning. In essence, it would be “the best of both worlds,” stated Mr. Gerfers.

Mayor John Ferguson said that he was very interested in pursuing this idea and asked “what are the next steps.” Mr. Gerfers replied by handing out a draft memorandum of understanding between Presidio and the District and emphasized “this is only a draft.” Entering into the memorandum of understanding would be non-binding and the city could walk away at any time for any reason. It is merely intended to provide a framework for Presidio and the District to negotiate the terms of a municipal production permit for Presidio.

Once the terms are agreed to, Presidio would pass a resolution to give up its exemption and this would be passed into law by legislation drafted by Senator José Rodriguez during the 2021 legislative session. Brad Newton of the Presidio Municipal Development District and Judge Guevara expressed their support for Presidio to begin negotiating to join the District.

Mr. Gerfers also stated that Councilman Rogelio Zubia had expressed the need for a town hall to explain the arrangement to the people of Presidio to allow them to ask questions and provide the greatest transparency possible. It was agreed that Mr. Gerfers and Ms. Macartney would follow up with the City Council in the coming weeks to set a date for a town hall in September.

The next Board meeting of the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District will be held in September in Presidio, to coincide with the town hall there.