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Victoria gets the OK for more water

By Sara Sneath
May 12, 2014 at 12:12 a.m.


The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved two water permit amendments allowing the city of Victoria to draw 4,936 more acre feet of water from the Guadalupe River.

The water permit amendments come before summer conditions that could be comparable to the 1950s drought of record.

"This year is already worse than last year," said Jerry James, director of the city's intergovernmental relations department. "There is a better than 50 percent chance we are going to get an El Nino this fall. But there is no certainty to it."

About four years of ongoing drought has made the city more creative with its water usage. Victoria was the first in the state to put groundwater from its aquifers into the river in exchange for the surface water it takes out, James said.

The new water permits amendments were contingent upon an agreement between Dow Chemical and the city of Victoria that the groundwater the city puts into the river would not affect the water the plant takes from the river. A possible increase in the level of silica from Victoria's groundwater was the plant's main concern, James said.

"We entered into a separate contract with Dow ensuring them that we would not allow our water to exceed the levels of silica established," James said. "But groundwater is very stable, so we were comfortable with that."

The city's new water permit amendments took over water rights from two local ranches.

The city's primary water permit is for 20,000 acre feet of water from the Guadalupe River. Victoria uses about 10,000 acre feet per year.

In order for the city to draw water, the flow of the river must be at least 200 cubic feet per second in May. That standard changes depending upon the month.

The city's surface water for groundwater exchange allows it to pull water when the river flow is lower than the standard. But the city must replace enough water to bring the flow back to 200 cubic feet per second in May.

It is more efficient for the city to continuously use water from the river than to switch from river water to groundwater and back, James said. To make the switch, the city would have to flush the pipes, which essentially means throwing water away. But with the water exchange, the city is able to replace the water it draws from the river gallon for gallon.

The city only implements the water exchange in Stage 3 drought conditions. The procedure was used in 2009, 2011 and 2013 and is expected to be necessary again this year.

"It's very timely that we got these permits completed because drought conditions being as they are, it's anticipated that we'll need to do the groundwater-surface water exchange sometime in the next few months," James said.

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