Reliably Austin
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Aqua Texas sues Hays County groundwater district over a nearly $450,000 overpumping fine

Jacob's Well is pictured with low water levels.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Jacob's Well, the popular spring-fed swimming hole in Wimberley, stopped flowing for the sixth time in its recorded history last summer.

Aqua Texas, a water utility company that services more than 3,000 customers in Hays County, filed a federal lawsuit late last month against the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District alleging unequal treatment following fines imposed for overpumping.

The lawsuit is the latest development in a year-long battle between the company and the district.

Last spring, the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District fined Aqua Texas for nearly half a million dollars for pumping almost twice the amount of water it was allowed in 2022 out of the Trinity Aquifer, which feeds Jacob’s Well and Blue Hole Regional Park.

Both landmarks reached record-low water levels last summer. Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District officials say overpumping by Aqua Texas contributed to the spring-fed pools running dry.

But in its lawsuit, Aqua Texas said it could suffer “a possible permanent loss of its valuable property rights in its groundwater” due to the penalties imposed by the groundwater conservation district, which could include an end to its business in the area.

What the lawsuit says

In April, the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District said Aqua Texas was allowed to pump 102 million gallons in 2022. But, the company went over by 89 million gallons.

So, the groundwater district charged Aqua Texas a rate of $5 per thousand gallons produced above the permitted amount.

Aqua Texas ignored its May deadline to pay the fine; district officials said they wouldn’t renew the contract with Aqua Texas until it was paid.

The company and the groundwater district entered negotiations shortly after, but the utility company continued to refuse to pay the penalty.

Now, Aqua Texas is suing the groundwater district. In its lawsuit, Aqua Texas said the fine was targeted toward the company, as the district has forgiven permittees for overpumping in the past.

Aqua Texas is also accusing the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District of “unlawful and unequal treatment,” as well as barring “continuous and adequate water service to its customers.”

In a statement to KUT News, Charlie Flatten, general manager of the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District, rejected Aqua Texas’ claims and said that “in no instance will the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District ever force Aqua Texas to shut its wells down or prohibit delivery of water to its customers.”

But, he said, Aqua Texas is currently operating illegally because it has yet to renew its permit for 2024.

Flatten also pushed back against the claims of “illegal” penalties. However, he acknowledged the district regularly reduces the fines imposed to permit violators in cases where pipes break due to extraordinary freezes or when corrective action is implemented.

“Aqua Texas has not abided by its permit from the District and has failed to keep its infrastructure in shape, resulting in the ongoing overproducing of its permit,” Flatten said in a statement. “This is to the detriment of the citizens of Wimberley and Woodcreek, including Aqua’s own customers, who do their best to conserve.”

Aqua Texas claimed it has already spent millions of dollars — far more than the $448,710 penalty — to replace old and broken pipes after a leakage report showed the company lost as much as 32% of its water to leaks in 2022.

The utility company said other Hays County utilities and well operators have been allowed to use conservation and infrastructure investments to earn forgiveness on penalties, but the groundwater district hasn’t given the same liberties to Aqua Texas.

Flatten told KUT News it’s unclear whether Aqua Texas’ decision to improve its infrastructure is a conservation effort or something that would be considered regular maintenance.

Impact to Jacob’s Well

The ongoing fight between the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District and Aqua Texas has received attention, in part, because of its impact on Jacob’s Well and several local waterways.

Flatten said the population in western Hays County — the location of Jacob’s Well — “has doubled in the last 20 years, and the local Trinity Aquifer is at its lowest recorded levels.”

The Trinity Aquifer is the main waterway feeding Jacob’s Well, which stopped flowing last year for the sixth time in its recorded history.

Aqua Texas President Craig Blanchette said his company has taken measures to lessen the impact on Jacob’s Well. The company has bought land outside the region to tap into a different aquifer and lessen the strain on the Trinity Aquifer.

He said his company is focused on reducing “reliance on water used within the Jacob’s Well Groundwater Management Zone, while maintaining our obligation to our customers to provide them with a clean, safe and reliable supply of water.”

Correction: A previous headline on this story incorrectly said the fine was for nearly $450,000 million.

Maya Fawaz is KUT's Hays County reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @mayagfawaz.
Related Content