Rural residents drill deeper, spend thousands for drinking water

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

Aug. 30, 2014 at 7:39 a.m.

A relentless, several-year drought has driven rivers and lakes across the state to record low levels. And it's also failed to recharge drinking water below the surface, which feeds rural Texas.

Dorothy DeVoucalla was "rather surprised" when she learned about the drop in the water table. A company inspecting her sister's well in Nursery - a well that reaches 70 feet into the ground - found the resource dry.

"I think we may have gotten as many as five drops that it managed to bring to the surface," DeVoucalla said. "Which is sad. But that's the facts."

Drilling a well farther into the water table can cost thousands of dollars, a price tag more rural residents will pay if the drought continues, according to experts.

The company that came out to service DeVoucalla's well, Leeper Water Well Services, has noticed shallow water wells, which pull water between 60 and 80 feet below the ground, are drying up. The company began noticing the trend last year, said Leland Truax, who works for Leeper Water Well Services.

"If you've got a little shallow well, start putting your pennies together cause you're probably going to eventually need a new well," Truax said.

The first 100 feet of drilling a new well costs $3,000. Customers pay $20 for each foot deeper, Truax said. When the cost of a pump and equipment is added, a new well can cost more than $5,000, he said.

Rural residents in Goliad County are paying the hefty price tag, too, said Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District President Raulie Irwin. Irwin thinks the drought is the main cause of the drop in Goliad County's water table.

"We don't have any fracking going on in Goliad County yet that we know of, and we don't have any water sales out of Goliad County that we know of, so it can be attributed to just the drought," he said.

Scattered showers in the Crossroads have done little to recharge the underground water supply.

The district's most recent countywide survey, which is about two years old, shows an average decrease in the water table of about 61/2 feet across Goliad County. But in some areas the drop has been as severe as 20 to 25 feet, Irwin said.

"We have not calculated it recently but suspect that the water table has dropped even more," he said.

A lack of rain, which would recharge the water table, also drives people to use more groundwater, creating a compounding problem, said Victoria County Groundwater Conservation District General Manager Tim Andruss.

Drilling shallow wells is a common practice among rural households because the deeper the well, the more expensive it is to construct, Andruss said. But shallower wells are more susceptible to fluctuation in the water table.

"It's analogous to putting your straw in the very top part of your cup as opposed to sinking it all the way to the bottom of your cup," Andruss said. "As more people place their straws in the very top part of their cup - so to speak - you'll see the fluctuation."

The most recent seasonal drought outlook predicts above average rainfall for most of Texas in September and October. But the prediction is slightly less certain for east Texas, said David Miskus, a meteorologist with Climate Prediction Center.

"Things are looking hopeful, but they've got to materialize," Miskus said.

Heavier showers predicted during the winter months, when there is less evaporation and plants to soak up water, will bring water deeper into the ground. But it would take years of above average rainfall or multiple heavy rain storms to replenish water supplies above and below ground, Miskus said.

"We have not had any significant rainfall that is going to increase the water in our aquifer in several years," Irwin said. "It's an issue that is developing constantly, and I think it's going to be an issue all across Texas if we don't get some rain."

DeVoucalla's home is near her sister's. She also gets her water from a well, which reaches about 150 feet into the ground - a well she'll be watching closely so she is not unprepared.

"Be careful with your water if you've got some, and just be aware that it could happen," she said.



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