Monthly Featured Story - April, 2012 | Texas Water Development Board

Desired Future Conditions April 2012

Groundwater availability in Texas is determined by groundwater conservation districts through a joint planning process, originally established by House Bill 1763 (2005). Groundwater conservation districts are required to meet at least annually with other districts within their groundwater management areas, and a key component of the joint planning process is to establish desired future conditions for the relevant aquifers within the management area.

Desired future conditions are defined in Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code as "a quantitative description, adopted in accordance with Section 36.108, of the desired condition of the groundwater resources in a management area at one or more specified future times." Established by the districts within groundwater management areas, desired future conditions are a policy goal, or target, for what conditions the groundwater resources should be in approximately 50 years.

The first deadline to adopt desired future conditions was September 1, 2010, which all groundwater management areas met. Desired future conditions are required to be readopted every five years, although they can be readopted as often as the groundwater conservation districts in each groundwater management area desire. Districts are now beginning their second round of joint planning and, if necessary, revising their desired future conditions. During this second round, districts will have to incorporate changes from Senate Bill 660 (2011) into the planning process. This includes: a 10-day notice for joint planning meetings, consideration of 9 factors before voting on a proposed desired future condition, a 90-day comment period and public hearings at the district level, district summary reports that compile relevant public comments and suggested revisions, and compilation of an explanatory report for the management area after the final adoption.

Desired future conditions adopted in the first round of planning included water level declines, percent of volume in storage, and maintaining stream/spring flow. Districts in each groundwater management area determined whether different conditions were set for aquifer subdivisions or geographic areas. This resulted in a variety of different formats for desired future conditions. For example, some districts set their conditions as an average water-level decline for the entire management area, while others established conditions on a county-by-county, or district-by-district, basis. Some districts determined conditions for each aquifer subdivision; others were lumped together. Multiple desired future conditions in a groundwater management area are required under the Texas Water Development Board's (TWDB) administrative rules to be physically possible, individually and collectively. Joint planning takes place through public meetings within the groundwater management area and conditions are established for not only areas with districts, but for the unprotected areas as well. Desired future conditions submitted by districts in groundwater management areas can be found on our desired future conditions page.

After adoption, the desired future conditions are submitted to the TWDB and staff calculates or verifies modeled available groundwater. Modeled available groundwater is defined in Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code as "the amount of water that the executive administrator determines may be produced on an average annual basis to achieve a desired future condition established under Section. 36.108." Methods and information used to calculate modeled available groundwater include groundwater availability models, water budget calculations, and district-provided data.

The TWDB provides modeled available groundwater numbers to each district and regional water planning group located wholly or partly within the groundwater management area. Districts must incorporate these numbers into their groundwater management plans and take them into consideration when issuing permits. The districts must also address the desired future conditions as a goal in their groundwater management plans and develop rules to implement the desired future conditions.

Regional water planning groups are required to use modeled available groundwater numbers as groundwater availability in the regional plans, which are rolled into the state water plan. When developing regional water plans, the regional water planning groups are required by Senate Bill 660 to use the modeled available groundwater based on the desired future conditions that were in place as of the date of adoption of the most recent state water plan.

Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code also allows for filing a petition with the TWDB that appeals the reasonableness of a desired future condition. Petitions appealing reasonableness may be filed by a person with a legally defined interest in groundwater in the management area, a groundwater conservation district in or adjacent to the management area, or a regional water planning group for a region in the management area.

The TWDB is responsible for reviewing the petition and associated evidence and holding a public hearing on the petition. TWDB staff prepares a summary and analysis of evidence and provides a recommendation to the TWDB's governing Board whether to find the desired future condition reasonable or not. If the conditions are found to be not reasonable, the TWDB will submit a report to the districts with a list of findings and recommended revisions. The districts are then required to hold at least one public hearing, consider all public and TWDB comments, revise the conditions, and resubmit them to the TWDB. For more information on the appeal process, as well as to view petition documents and exhibits, hearing transcripts and exhibits, and staff reports, please visit our Desired Future Conditions Petitions page.

Another petition process related to desired future conditions allowed under Chapter 36 is for an affected person to file a petition with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The petition may request an inquiry by TCEQ when districts do not participate in joint planning; do not adopt the applicable desired future conditions that were adopted at a joint meeting; fail to update their management plan before the second anniversary of the adoption of the desired future conditions at a joint meeting; fail to update their rules to implement the applicable desired future conditions before the first anniversary of when the management plan was updated with the conditions; fail to adopt rules to achieve the desired future conditions; fail to adopt rules that adequately protect groundwater; or fail to enforce the rules.

If a petition is accepted by TCEQ, a review panel will be selected. The panel is tasked with reviewing the petition and associated evidence, conducting public hearings (if directed to by TCEQ), and compiling a report that will be provided to TCEQ. The report will summarize evidence taken at any public hearings on the petition, provide a list of findings and recommended actions for TCEQ to take, and provide any other information the panel finds appropriate. TCEQ may then take action to implement any of the recommendations.