Lehigh Cement Co. has settled a lawsuit that alleged it pumped millions of gallons of water from the Trinity Aquifer without approval, and agreed to pay attorneys’ fees and to formally apply for the necessary permits.
The Southern Trinity Groundwater Conservation District took legal action in July, filing suit in the 414th Judicial District. It claimed that beginning no later than Dec. 6, 2007, Lehigh Cement began to make groundwater withdrawals without the district’s consent, failed to monitor and report the withdrawals and failed to pay fees to the district for water.
The allegations involve the Lehigh Cement Co. plant on U.S. Highway 84, not far from the Waco Regional Landfill. The suit also named Lehigh Hanson Inc., which produces materials used to make cement.
While not admitting any wrongdoing, Lehigh will pay the district, by no later than Dec. 15, 2017, $11,000 in attorneys’ fees, as well as $30,000 to pay an intern provided by Baylor University to assist the district in 2018 and $15,000 for an intern in 2019, according to the settlement signed by Scooter Radcliffe, general manager of the water district, and Gary Milla, president and general manager of Pennsylvania-based Lehigh.
Also, the agreement states Lehigh will pursue a Non-Historic Use Production Permit to pull water from the aquifer, and if it fails to secure such a license will file an application to plug the well in accordance with district rules. The water district has pledged to “make all reasonable efforts” to assist Lehigh in securing a permit, the agreement states.
The agreement specifies that Lehigh must comply with its payment schedule by Dec. 18, 2017, or the water district will take additional action that includes filing a new lawsuit for breach of the agreement.
Lehigh has continued to pull water from the aquifer since the filing of the lawsuit, and has registered its meter with the district and submitted reports on the history of its water use, the agreement states.
“There will be a technical review of how much water is available and how much they request to meet their needs,” said Deborah Trejo, an attorney representing the water district, speaking by phone. “The application process has not yet begun, and we may have to come back and push against their initial request. There is a limit to how much water can be taken from the aquifer, and that must be considered.”
The Texas Legislature created the Southern Trinity Groundwater Conservation District in 2007 to protect groundwater resources in the Trinity Aquifer and the Brazos Alluvium Aquifer.
The district set up a permitting program to regulate the “drilling, equipping, operating or completing of” non-exempt water wells within the district.
According to the lawsuit, the Texas Water Development Board notified the water district in March that Lehigh had been pumping groundwater from the Trinity Aquifer since before 2007. The board’s records show Lehigh pumped about 57 million gallons in 2007, 36 million gallons in 2008, 37 million gallons in 2009, 56 million gallons in 2011, 46 million gallons in 2012, 46 million gallons in 2013, 16 million gallons in 2014, 49 million gallons in 2015 and 8 million gallons in 2016.
The district charges 3 cents per 1,000 gallons pumped, sometimes 4 cents or more, Radcliffe said. At the 3-cent rate, Lehigh would owe about $1,700 in groundwater production fees on 57 million gallons, he added.
Radcliffe visited the Lehigh plant on March 20. Employees told him the company has a well with a 75-horsepower motor that produces 147 gallons per minute, according to information the district provided.