The Groundwater Management Area Process in Texas

Want to learn more about the groundwater conservation districts that work together in this process?  Click here to read about the basics of Texas groundwater law.The Texas Groundwater Management Area Process was created by legislation passed in 2005 (House Bill 1763). This legislation established the process as a framework for regional collaboration between local groundwater conservation district managers with shared aquifers.Most groundwater districts are organized by county, and thus are able to manage only a portion of an aquifer. Districts that manage a shared aquifer must now coordinate with neighboring districts within their Groundwater Management Area (GMA) on issues such as management goals and groundwater availability determinations. The state is currently divided into 16 groundwater management areas.

Desired Future Conditions

Groundwater conservation districts within each Groundwater Management Area are required to define “Desired Future Conditions” for the groundwater resources within the Groundwater Management Area. A Desired Future Condition (DFC) is a quantifiable future groundwater condition.

These conditions, called metrics, can be a particular groundwater level, a level of water quality, a volume of spring flows or another condition. The chosen conditions serve as management goals and define how an aquifer will look in the future.

Developing permitting targets

Based on the chosen Desired Future Condition, the Texas Water Development Board determines how much groundwater is available (now termed “modeled available groundwater” and was originally termed “managed available groundwater”) for withdrawal. These volumes in turn become the permitting targets for the groundwater districts and will be used in the state’s regional water planning process. This process is a key way for communities to maintain local and regional control of their groundwater.

What is the timeline?

Texas statute requires submission of updated plans, and updated Desired Future Conditions, to the Texas Water Development Board at least once every five years.

The first Desired Future Conditions submission was in 2010. These conditions were then included in Texas Water Development Board’s Groundwater Availability Models to determine the Modeled Available Groundwater for each region.

How do Desired Future Conditions relate to surface water use?

Some Desired Future Conditions clearly recognize the interconnectivity between ground and surface water; others do not.

For example, Groundwater Management Area 7, where groundwater flows feed springs critical to preserving the flow of the Nueces, Frio, Llano and San Saba rivers, has a Desired Future Conditions based on preserving spring flow. Unfortunately, Groundwater Management Area 9, where groundwater feeds springs of the Guadalupe and Blanco rivers, has adopted a Desired Future Condition that ignores the groundwater/surface water interaction with these rivers, as well as recharge to the Edwards Aquifer.

Regardless of whether a Desired Future Condition explicitly acknowledges surface water connections, many rivers will cease to flow consistently if groundwater is pumped too rapidly as a result of inadequately protective Desired Future Conditions and management plans.