Water regulators on hunt for unused wells

PRESIDIO COUNTY — Do you have an unused water well in Presidio County? And are you willing to allow local water regulators onto your land to periodically collect data?

If so, Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District wants to hear from you.

PCUWCD wants more and better data on the water levels of the underground water resources in the county. Doing so is a routine part of the water district’s mission to monitor and conserve local water resources, and is a task done by other water districts throughout the state — as well as by state agencies like the Texas Water Development Board, said Trey Gerfers, chairman of PCUWCD.

The district received a $17,000 grant earlier this year from an anonymous benefactor, Gerfers said. They’re also hoping to secure funding from the United States Geological Survey, which is currently accepting bids for its National Ground-Water Monitoring Network.

With its current funding, the district is planning to monitor five unused wells across the county, which are easier to monitor than in-use wells. So far, the volunteers include: a ranch right outside Marfa; a city well in Marfa, which is in use; a property near Presidio city; a property in the Chinati Mountains owned by the Judd Foundation; and, hopefully, another well in the northwest part of the county, where fracking recently started.

Still, the district is always looking for more volunteers, especially as new grants become available, Chairman Gerfers said.

Rainer Judd, president of the Judd Foundation, told the The Big Bend Sentinel that the decision to volunteer a well for monitoring was a continuation of the late Donald Judd’s work to preserve land, water, dark skies and intact ecosystems. She cited the Judd Foundation’s work with other environmental groups as well, including Dixon Water Foundation, Big Bend Conservation Alliance and Borderlands Research Institute.

“We encourage other landowners with unused wells to participate in upcoming phases by providing access in order to safeguard our water,” Judd said. “Protection is the responsibility of everyone and begins with us.”

For the USGS grant, grantors are asking applicants to show that they’re connected to a major aquifer or are in a place of special interest. The latter might include — for example — a watershed in Maine that is partially fed by a glacier.

But Gerfers thinks the underground water resources in Presidio County could also qualify as a special place. After all, Presidio County is remote and sparsely populated. It’s also close to both Mexico and the oil and gas activity around the Permian Basin.

Presidio’s underground water supplies are unique for other reasons as well. Unlike some other parts of the state — like those around the massive Edwards Aquifer in Central Texas — Presidio County draws water from a variety of smaller sources. The largest is the Igneous Aquifer, which also supplies parts of Jeff Davis and Brewster counties. And then there are a number of even smaller bolsones (basins), which draw down and recharge quickly.

By testing wells across the county, the water district hopes to better understand the health of these underground water resources. Doing so is a “key service” of PCUWCD, Gerfers said.

“It’s not an attempt to control how much water people are using or to try to tell people what to do,” he added. “It’s really just to understand the health of the overall aquifers. It benefits everyone.”