On February 17th, hearings began regarding the Brazos River Authority’s (BRA) proposed Permit 5851, a measure which would empower the BRA to sell approximately half a million additional acre-feet of water from the Brazos River, which stands to effect Lake Granbury the greatest out of the system. At the hearing, attorneys representing the Lake Granbury Coalition, a citizen-led organization of concerned Lake Granbury residents, made a compelling opening statement on why the permit should be denied.
The motivation for opposing the permit is obvious: Lake Granbury, formerly a constant-level lake, is at historic lows due to overselling. This makes the permit a scary proposition for the lakeside community, whose economy is largely based around the recreational features of the lake.
Empower Texans reported on the complex series of events leading up to this situation roughly a year ago, in a lengthy piece which detailed the district’s own state representative, Jim Keffer (then chair of natural resource and energy committees), and his central role in finalizing the shut-down of Morris-Sheperd Dam at the behest of a cabal of energy providers and real estate interests. Part in parcel to that series of events is the BRA’s proposed Permit 5851 to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which is needed to procure the necessary acre-feet of water for cooling the third and fourth nuclear reactors at Comanche Peak, the construction of which has been suspended. Although the only large identified purpose for the water-to-be-sold is suspended, the permit persists, which presents a dilemma to lakeside residents.
As John Turner from Haynes and Boone argued, although the BRA submitted 33 different modeling scenarios for the water’s usage, it won’t commit to fulfilling or being limited by any one of them. This creates a great deal of uncertainty regarding how the permit should be treated in TCEQ’s water availability model for future applicants.
“The uncertainty goes even beyond that,” Mr. Turner argued. “We are in fact starting this hearing without any clear understanding of how much water is even at issue in this permit. It may be over a million acre-feet per year. Or it may be 516,955 acre-feet per year, which is the maximum amount used in one of BRA’s 33 scenarios. Or it may be some other number yet to be calculated, or to be revealed at some point in this hearing.”
Mr. Turner then went on to state that, “None of this complies with the Texas Administrative Code, which requires: That the application shall state the location of points of diversion; that the total amount of water to be used shall be stated in definite terms; and that the purpose or purposes of each use shall be stated in definite terms…”
It’s not all administrative, however. Mr. Turner goes on to emphasize the most compelling reason: that the region around Possum Kingdom Reservoir is now in a drought of record, which is a changed circumstance from 2011. He also reiterates one of the points mentioned above: that the single largest identified use for the water under the permit — the expansion of Comanche Peak — has been suspended by Luminant — approximately 69% of the total uses for the water in the permit.
In addition to fighting legally, citizens have also been organizing a petition to oppose the permit. Notably absent from the roster is Rep. Jim Keffer’s signature.
All things considered, it’s understandable that citizens are fighting this permit so ferociously. While it’s great that these citizens are engaging and assembling to do so, it is a shame that they have to pay out of their own pockets to combat against the unaccountable, appointed board of a government agency. The Administrative Law Judges will have a ruling on these hearings in July.