Texas scientists study Hill Country aquifers ahead of water crisis

HAYES COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Texas researchers are taking a closer look at the future of the Trinity Aquifer. The aquifer that provides much of the Texas Hill Country’s drinking water has suffered a sharp decline amid rapid growth and years of extreme drought. The research could help conservationists plan for the area’s future and ensure residents have something to drink in the near future.

“We’re looking at the possibility that in 50 years the growth and water demand in Hays County will be almost three times what it is today,” said Brian Smith, chief hydrologist at the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District.

Smith directed the research at Jacob’s Well. His team dug an observation well near the popular swimming hole. Inside the well, the team placed devices that monitor water levels and pressure with the Trinity Aquifer.

Earlier this summer, Jacob’s Well ran dry for the fourth time in recorded history. The well is fed by the Trinity Aquifer. Smith said that for many people, Trinity is the only source of drinking water.

Discovery of new layers in the Trinity Aquifer

Devices Smith and his team at the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District installed something unique. “When we put that well in and started collecting data, we saw these perched aquifers,” Smith said.

Think of the Trinity Aquifer as a house. There are three floors – upper, middle and lower Troitsa, in which there is water. Smith said his research found what the rooms in the house essentially were.

There is water in each of these rooms, but the amount of water is not always the same. Sometimes water can easily flow from one room to another. This is because the rock is more permeable or karst.

Other times the doors between the rooms are closed. The water is trapped. Whatever water is in the room stays in the room. “We’re really looking at these, these different subunits and seeing which ones are most vulnerable.”

Your home may be above the dining room, full of water and no doors, while your neighbor may be above the second-floor guest bathroom — the door is closed. No water enters.

Using aquifer research to prepare for the future

The study, conducted by the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District, was paid for by the Texas Water Development Board.

“One of the primary functions of the groundwater division at the Texas Water Development Board is to collect data and store data and make it publicly available,” Natalie Ballew said. Ballew is director of the groundwater division at TWDB.

She said all data collected from the study would be made available to the public. “All of that goes into our models so that we have the best science available to make … long-term predictions.”

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