For Immediate Release (Thursday, May 12, 2011):
For More Information: Ken Kramer, 512-476-6962
(office), 512-626-4204 (cell)
Comments of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club on
HB 2826 – Legislation Making a Change to Current Law on “Municipal Setting Designations” (“Groundwater Sacrifice Zones”)
– Submitted to the Senate Natural Resources Committee as written testimony – May 12, 2011
The Sierra Club opposes the
passage of House Bill 2826 – a bill that would
set a precedent for removing one important safeguard
that currently puts a check on the implementation
of an existing bad law.
In 2003 the Texas Legislature – over the objections of environmentalists and others – enacted a statute that allows for the creation in municipal areas of “groundwater sacrifice zones” (known euphemistically in the statute as “municipal setting designations.”) These are areas of overlying contaminated groundwater sources that following the designation of these groundwater sacrifice zones do not need to be cleaned up to high water quality standards – on
the assumption that they will never be used for drinking water purposes.
The existing law is questionable because it may allow areas that someday might be needed for drinking water or other high quality uses to continue to be contaminated and unusable. Moreover, it essentially leaves private parties who were responsible and/or are liable for the contamination to escape having to clean up contaminated groundwater to potable standards.
One check on existing law allowing the designation by TCEQ of these groundwater sacrifice zones is that any municipality or retail public water supplier potentially impacted by such a designation must adopt a resolution affirmatively supporting the designation.
The proposed HB 2826 would set a precedent by eliminating
that safeguard if the property for which the designation
is set is located in Houston (“a municipality that has a population of two million or more”) – requiring the applicant for such a designation only to submit documentation that no municipality or retail water supplier (“retail public utility”) had adopted a resolution in opposition to the designation. This would make it easier to get such a designation, especially in those instances where a potentially impacted municipality or retail water supplier – even if notified of the potential designation – has
not been able to act quickly enough to pass a resolution
opposing the designation (perhaps due to procedural hurdles,
the press of other business, or lack of resources to
respond expeditiously when notified).
This legislation was proposed but not passed in 2009
and initially was not limited to situations in Houston.
The bill that year did not win suspension of the rules
on the Senate floor. This year’s bill at least limits the geographic coverage of the loophole to Houston, and so it s probably going to be considered by Senators as a “local
But HB 2826 sets a bad precedent that may well lead to
other entities coming to the Legislature asking for this
loophole to be extended to their areas. In the future
rapidly growing areas of Texas may need to depend upon
virtually every source of water available to meet the
Multiplying the number of groundwater sources to be sacrificed
to contamination is not good public policy. It may or
may not be problematic in the short term. It may be couched
in terms of allowing “brownfields” development to proceed
and providing the economic benefits of such development.
In the long term, however, future generations may well look back at our unwillingness to clean up groundwater contamination or require responsible parties to pay the costs of cleanup and question our sanity in writing off groundwater sources, even if those groundwater sources at the present time are not extensive or needed.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit these comments.