Water Woes

We are eternally grateful for the outpouring of community support given to Tecolote Farm during our three year water trial. While Travis County chose to hide behind the Rule of Capture and not do anything to help alleviate the damage caused to our groundwater supply and our financial well-being, we learned so much about how much Austin community members value their local farmers.  From your letters, emails, and phone calls to showing up at County court hearings and helping build our networking base, we felt held in the heart of all that is good about Austin. We believe our efforts would never have made it as far as they did without the incredible support our CSA customers, farmers market shoppers, neighbors, and community liaisons made on the behalf of this local, organic farm. One County Commissioner member estimated the County received over 15,000 pleas via email and telephone to “help the farm”.  If that wasn’t a mandate on publicly elected officials, what is?

Good News is: We did drill a well at one of the sites suggested by the UT study, and now have a low production well on our property again. We are very grateful to the Hydrology students led by Jack Sharp for the preliminary work they did, which facilitated finding the well site.  Because the water production from this well isn’t sufficient to run the farm, we have also purchased additional property in agriculture-friendly Bastrop County next to another organic farm. There we will raise more beautiful organic produce, with a more reliable water source to keep our future steady! Hallelujah for the USDA’s Farm Security Administration’s low interest loans.

Following are some notes from when we first tried to get the website up and running in 2009. Funny how what the County said they would do (especially Commissioners Eckhardt and Huber) one day was reversed the next time it came before them. The help they offer in this account was never acted on. The financial total they offered was $5,000, in exchange for our full and final release of their liability in our water loss.  Needless to say, it didn’t begin to put a dent in the losses we suffered (over 10 times their offer), and we didn’t accept the bone.

historical notes (now hysterical!)

Tuesday’s County Court session was followed by a closed-door executive session, resulting in the Commissioners’ unanimous agreement to provide initial support to water-seeking endeavors on the farm. The plan was to approve a project wherein UT Professor Jack Sharp’s class will perform non-intrusive study (as its spring semester project) involving electromagnetic technology to attempt to find the best places on our farm where producible groundwater may be located.  After that, the County will pay for the drilling of 5 test holes to see if indeed water is there.  This plan was an alternative to our request for access to well water on a County easement.

Prof. Sharp offered this idea to us months ago as a mutually beneficial project: to give his students a hands-on, real needs situation and to provide us with information about the geology surrounding the smaller Decker Creek alluvial aquifer. While this is an even smaller water source than the Gilleland Creek alluvial aquifer, there is a chance that we could strike it lucky. The beauty of this aquifer is that there are not other large straws in it.

MEDIA COVERAGE ON THE HIGHWAY ROBBERY OF OUR GROUNDWATER BELOW. Texas’ Rule of Capture is long in need of revision. Fight for your food! Farmers need water!

5-24-2008 Austin American Statesman “Wells Dry the Farm”

6-20-2008  KXAN Article and Video #1 “Family’s East Austin’s Organic Farm Drying Up”

7-11-2008 Austin Chronicle “Well of Controversy: Water Hogs Threaten Farm”

11-14-2008 Austin Chronicle “Drying on the Vine: Water shortage forces family farms into survival mode”

3-04-2009 KXAN Article #2 Jim Swift’s report on our first day in Court with the Travis County Commissioners: “Farm: County to Blame for Dry Well”

3-05-2009 KXAN Article and Video #3 “Experts Duel over Dry Water Wells” and News 8 Austin #1 story and video: “Tecolote Farm Grapples with Travis County over Water”

3-24-09 News 8 Austin #2 piece  on our proposal to trade County water for our produce for County jail inmates: “Struggling organic farm awaits county decision”

6-1-2009  News 8 Austin #3 “College students hunt for water source on local farm”

Edible Austin story by Erin Flynn: Water in Texas: The Crisis Underground

July 2010 Cover story of Texas Observer online

And this one has a problem with the website archives:

Commissioners to help organic farm | KXAN.com

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Travis County Commissioners Court agreed late Tuesday to help a local organic farm with its water woes. From the beginning, county officials vowed to help Tecolote if it could be established the county did dry up the farm well. .. (It’s funny that even the reporter understood that the County had vowed to help from the beginning!)

Many thanks to Twisted String for use of her yummy veggie photos!