Our Water Matters

Jeff Davis County Underground Water Conservation District

In a previous issue of “Our Water Matters,” we learned that the groundwater districts of Presidio and Jeff Davis counties were both created during the same legislative session in 1993. While the voters of Jeff Davis County voted that same year to approve the creation of their groundwater district, Presidio County didn’t do the same until 1999. According to Janet Adams, general manager of the Jeff Davis County Underground Water Conservation District, “The people in Jeff Davis wanted it really bad. It was non-taxing and that was what they wanted. So they approved it real quick.” As Adams sees it, “All the landowners supported the groundwater district. Still do.”

When asked why it took Presidio County another six years to seek that same protection, she replied “Presidio County kept putting it off, fighting over things that aren’t important.”

Perhaps another reason for this difference in approach could be Jeff Davis County’s unique situation back in the early 1990s. Not only had El Paso purchased Antelope Valley, a large ranch near Valentine that straddles the Jeff Davis-Presidio county line, in 1992 as a future source of water for its municipal users, several other towns — including Balmorhea, Valentine and Alpine — also already owned land in Jeff Davis County where they pumped water out of wells there and sent it back across county lines to their own municipal users, essentially exporting it. According to Adams, the people of Jeff Davis County “wanted groundwater to be protected not just from El Paso but from everyone: exporters and the like.”

As the first groundwater district in the area, the Jeff Davis County Underground Water Conservation District (JDCUWCD) originally covered parts of Pecos, Brewster and Presidio counties. According to Adams, those areas were incorporated into the JDCUWCD’s jurisdiction because landowners with ranches straddling the Jeff Davis County line “wanted their whole ranch protected.” Although Adams was not directly involved when the groundwater district was created, she became its first general manager and has remained heavily involved ever since. In fact, Adams has always played a central role in the area’s water as the head of the Fort Davis Water Supply Corporation since 1975.

When asked about the challenges ahead, she stated that things had been going so well, “I hate to jinx it.” But the main challenge she sees is “all the state regulations. We don’t have staff to do all this. We’re like [the groundwater district in Presidio County], a one-person shop.” To make up for the shortfalls, she said, she got a lot of help from the Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts (TAGD). Adams served as TAGD secretary from 2001 to 2005, vice president from 2005 to 2007, and president from 2007 to 2009. She also served as legislative chair. For many years she kept an apartment in Austin, where she lobbied lawmakers during legislative sessions on behalf of TAGD and specific districts.

Through her work with the Legislature, she was able to get the JDCUWCD out from under section 36.121 of the Texas Water Code that prohibits districts from charging fees to municipalities. This special legislation was finally passed in 2013 on the third attempt and provided the non-taxing groundwater district with a new source of revenue by enabling the JDCUWCD to levy fees against neighboring towns that had been exporting water out of the county for many years.

Another legislative coup that Adams orchestrated came in 2017 and involved exempting JDCUWCD from the fee caps imposed by the Texas Water Code. The current fee for all water uses except agriculture is $0.03 per 1,000 gallons of water. Thanks to Adams, the JDCUWCD is perhaps the only groundwater district that can charge $0.17 per 1,000 gallons, providing another revenue source for protecting the groundwater in Jeff Davis County.

With 36 wells monitored by the Texas Water Development Board, 10 that she monitors on her own, and three other wells equipped with 24-hour monitoring equipment, Adams keeps very busy. Looking toward the future, she says, “I’m old enough to retire. But I just enjoy working and plan to do that for a while.”

Trey Gerfers is a San Antonio native and serves as board chairman of the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District. He earns his living as a translator of technical documents from German to English for the German and Swiss pharmaceutical and medical-science industries. Trey has lived in Marfa since 2013. He can be reached at [email protected]