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Presidio County Water Managers Offer Answers, but Citizens Have More Questions

A chart made by Presidio County Groundwater District manager Rudy Garcia showing the amount of water used by the city of Marfa (blue squares) and the corresponding level of the supply aquifer (purple squares).

Two weeks ago a small group of citizens vocalized concerns over Marfa’s practice of selling bulk water to clients outside the city.

"Our water is too cheap. It needs to be expensive. We need water conservation. We need to think about that," said Buck Johnston.

Two weeks ago the Marfa resident formed a small protest to block tanker trucks using city water for their oil and gas speculation. The protest worked briefly but soon the trucks were rerouted to other spigots.

Later, it was announced that no oil or gas was found. And though the trucks disappeared from Marfa city streets, the concern about water use in Presidio County hasn’t.

Rudy Garcia, a retired geologist who is the manager of the Presidio County Underground Water District has been keeping charts of the levels of the county’s underground aquifers since 1996 since he moved to Marfa, now in a more official capacity. He contends that since 1965-- the year Marfa produced it’s peak water usage at 400 million gallons-- the aquifer level hasn’t changed much. In fact, his graphs show an fairly consistent aquifer level with very little variation since 1948.

He says, "The aquifers of Presidio County are supporting the present demand for water."

How can that be? Explained Marfa City Manager Jim Mustard, "I think the easiest way to explain it is we don’t have a bathtub with a straw in it, it’s closer to a straw in a river."

Nick Terry is a Marfa citizen who has joined up with Buck Johnston and others to discuss ways to conserve water. He says while Garcia’s information is somewhat comforting, he is still unconvinced about aquifer levels.

"It’s impossible to know how much we have and how long we’ll have it," he says.

One of the problems toward calculating future water sustainability is that both Marfa and Presidio have no obligation to limit water use if asked to do so by Presidio County Groundwater District. This is due to a loophole for small cities called “The Midland Exemption.” But how can you monitor a county's water supply if you aren't monitoring the cities?

"My opinion is if the water district is supposed to manage the water in the county it makes sense to me that all the water in the county should be managed by the district," Garcia says.

Yet, even with the Midland Exemption leaving out Presidio and Marfa, Garcia still isn’t worried about the water supply.

"I don’t see any reason to be concerned about the supply, now you can complain about what it is being used for but that’s something, well, you know. It's a matter of whatever," he says.

That “whatever” is actually where the crux of the issue lies. Tanker trucks filling up on city streets definitely set locals on edge. Letters to the editor ran, including one that read, “that is sure a lot of water. I’m not sure I’ve very happy about this.”

Marfa Mayor Dan Dunlap says that about 500,000 gallons of water were sold in bulk, an insignificant amount, he says, compared to the 180 million gallons the city sells to private citizens and local businesses every year.

On top of that, he says the water was sold to the client at $20 per 1000 gallons -- up from $4 per 1000 gallons just a few years ago. That sale brought in an extra $10,000 for the city budget.

Said the mayor, “they drilled a dry hole and we still made $10,000. It’s hard to find fault with that.”

"So, it's great news that the city was able to use a resource to raise those funds, no doubt about it," says Nick Terry, "I think what was alarming about it to everyone - especially the people that literally parked their cars in front of the hydrants to block this process of extracting water out of town-- is the potential of it happening again and again."

On August 28 the ongoing water issue will appear on the Marfa City Council agenda. Rudy Garcia will present his water calculations and citizens will be able to ask questions and present comments at that meeting.

The Mayor says he doesn’t know if a large crowd will attend.

“People tend to run hot and cold,” he says.

...Just like the water.

-Reported by Paige Phelps