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With bills getting hearing, water firm goes on PR offensive

Determined to sway public opinion on their controversial Hays County project, a groundwater company on Wednesday rang households in the Buda area with a recording of a former Buda mayor endorsing the project.

The robocalls by Electro Purification, which could pump as much as 5.3 million gallons of water a day, came as lawmakers at the Capitol considered a raft of bills designed to halt the project.

On the call, former Buda mayor Billy Gray, who runs a water infrastructure company and who counts Electro Purification as a business partner, asked Buda residents and customers of the Goforth Special Utility District, both potential buyers of the groundwater, to support the project.

Bills before the Legislature “could severely limit the water you have available in the coming years,” he said in the call, according to a copy of the script provided by Electro Purification at the Statesman’s request.

Gray said the bills would “take away” water that could be purchased by Goforth or Buda.

Those bills include proposals by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, to prevent the company from unregulated pumping. The wells are being drilled in an area that allows Houston-based Electro Purification to pump water without having to answer to local water control districts, three of which are in the area.

Isaac has filed one bill that would expand the territory of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District to include the well field and another to do the same for the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.

The third bill would limit the eminent domain powers of Goforth, a Niederwald-area water provider that has contracted to buy up to 3 million gallons of water per day from the project and to acquire right-of-way for a 13-mile pipeline needed to transport the water. The bill would prevent the utility from using its power of condemnation outside of its service area.

At a hearing of the state House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, Isaac said the groundwater project amounts to “a taking (of private property) for nearby well owners.”

But he faced skeptical questions about his bills, with committee members wondering about the impact on Buda should the Legislature intercede, and whether it would be appropriate for it to intercede at all.

The robocall is the latest effort by Electro Purification to try to change public opinion in the county.

“We’re just trying to get the right information out there,” said company spokesman John Hatch.

On Monday, the company held a press conference and unveiled findings it had paid for that showed that drawdowns associated with the project would not affect many of the wells within 2 miles of the project site.

But the Statesman has discovered that a February analysis of central Hays County groundwater performed by the state water development board found that well yields and groundwater production rates can vary in the area. (The report was not about the Electro Purification project in particular.)

“Therefore, predicting pumping capabilities and the effects of pumping are difficult,” the state agency reported.

Neighbors of the project and their elected officials remain staunchly opposed, worried the Electro Purification will rob them of their own groundwater.

Given all the water and transportation planning the county has undertaken, a project like the Electro Purification one “is like a punch in the gut,” said Will Conley, the Hays County commissioner whose district includes the well fields. The company has “come into our backyard and flipped those plans upside down.”

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