Group to add lake environment study

May 1, 2013

Those seeking funding for an economic impact study on the low lake level also intend to research the environmental impact, one of the group’s leaders said.

The aim is to have a double-barrel approach to the only shot Hood County may have in trying to prevent the Brazos River Authority (BRA) from gaining additional water rights.

The BRA is seeking another 421,000 acre-feet of “firm” water, which could be sold for municipal, industrial and irrigation use.

County Commissioners heard about the planned environmental study last week during a presentation given by Lake Granbury Area Economic Development Director Joey Grisham and Joe Williams, president of the Lake Granbury Area Waterfront Association and Friends (LGWOA).

LGWOA, which represents between 300 and 350 households around Lake Granbury, recently added “and Friends” to its name because of others who support its efforts to protect the lake.

Regarding the economic impact study, Grisham told the court that the data would provide “tangible numbers” for such things as visitor spending, sales taxes and ad valorem taxes.

“Granbury is a big tourist community, and the lake is a big part of that,” he said.

LGWOA has contributed $7,500 for that study, matching an amount from Charles and Dominique Inge’s Inge Foundation. LGWOA and other supporters of an economic impact study are hoping that county commissioners will kick in on the estimated $100,000 cost.

The agenda item for the regular meeting of the Commissioners Court was under the heading “special presentations” and did not involve a vote by the court. However, a vote on whether to help with funding is likely coming.

A letter from the group dated April 19 that was hand-delivered to County Judge Darrell Cockerham’s office stated: “We request that Hood County Commissioners join the effort by allocating funds to this important initiative.”

environmental study

In an exchange with commissioners from the podium about an environmental study, Williams stated a concern that Lake Granbury’s continued low levels could dramatically increase concentrations of undesirable bacteria such as E. coli and precipitate increases in golden algae.

But Tiffany Morgan, the BRA’s environmental services manager, said that undesirable bacteria such as E. coli is a “land management issue that may impact water quality.”

“Activities that occur on land impact water quality when the bacteria reach the lake through runoff or improperly functioning septic systems,” she said in an email to the Hood County News. “Once the bacteria are introduced into the reservoir, lower lake levels will not increase the amount of bacteria or cause it to grow or multiply.”

Morgan went on to state that the BRA and others developed the Lake Granbury Watershed Protection Plan to address bacteria issues in the canals, and the implementation of that plan is currently in process.

As for golden algae, Morgan said: “I have not seen definitive evidence to indicate blooms are triggered by low or high lake levels… If lower levels were the sole cause of toxic golden algae events, we would have seen an increased number of blooms during drought conditions in 2009 and 2011 throughout all the river basins in West Texas that have experienced both golden algae and drought.”

Williams told commissioners that several hundred people have indicated support for an environmental study through an online petition.

“It’s a hard fight, and we’re trying every angle,” Williams said.

Williams stated that the economic impact study, to be done by TXP in Austin, will take between two and two-and-a-half months, and the environmental study, involving a team of experts and licensed technicians from Ana-Lab in Kilgore, will take several months.

Time is of the essence, he said, if both studies are to be ready for the as-yet-unscheduled hearing in Austin, which is supposed to take place at some point during the summer.

Williams told the Hood County News that the environmental study will be significantly less than the economic study, and the cost may be folded into the overall amount raised through community fundraising. If the money cannot be raised for the environmental impact study, he said, LGWOA will pay for it.

questioning authority

After Williams told commissioners about the public’s response to the petition, Precinct 4 Commissioner Steve Berry said, “I don’t see a petition yet to Governor Perry.”

That comment touched off an exchange about BRA board members being appointed by the governor and not elected by the public.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Dick Roan denounced what he called the BRA’s “inability to be questioned.”

But Matt Phillips, the BRA’s manager of government and customer relations, noted that board meetings are open to the public, and he also stated that the Texas Senate does not just “rubber stamp” the governor’s appointments.

“Numerous gubernatorial appointees have been, over the years, heavily scrutinized and even rejected by the Senate,” he said.

Berry said he feels it is important to focus “on future water rights” and not just on the fact that Lake Granbury is currently more than 5 feet low – a state that BRA officials say is due to drought.

Berry warned that if this is “the new normal” for Lake Granbury, he will not support the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant’s plans to possibly add two new reactors in the not-too-distant future that would require more water from Lake Granbury.

Berry told Williams and Grisham that he wants people to understand that city and county elected officials have little control over the situation with BRA, and local officials “don’t pull the plug and flip the switch to fill up Lake Granbury.”

“The only thing that’s going to fill Lake Granbury up in one day is God himself,” he said.

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