LIBERTY HILL, Texas (KXAN) — Dustin Baxter’s front yard is scorched yellow and dried out other than a few green patches. 

“We managed to keep all the stuff right around our house alive by hand-watering,” Baxter said. “It’s hard to say if the if the lawn will come back, we’ll probably end up losing quite a bit of our landscape.”

Homeowners in the western portion of Georgetown's service area area limited to only hand-watering. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)
Homeowners in the western portion of Georgetown’s service area are limited to only hand-watering. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

Baxter has been limited to only hand-watering since July. His neighborhood and others are under stage 3 water restrictions and on the western edge of Georgetown’s service area. The city extended water restrictions because of the drought and supply challenges. 

“We have continued high demand for water in our water district, as well as we’ve had some issues with getting contracted water. And then having some of our capital improvement projects that were planned to be online this summer had not been online yet,” City Manager David Morgan explained.

He added that the capital improvement projects include the expansion of one of the city’s water treatment plants and rehabilitation of another anticipated to be complete by October. 

Long-term solution 

The city has also been looking at long-term demands as growth continues in the area. 

In August, it entered into an $11.8 million, two-year agreement to reserve treated groundwater from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in Robertson County which is northeast of Austin. 

“Right now, what we’re doing is a reservation agreement — preserves our rights to contract for that water. And then over the next two years, we’re going to be working on a water supply agreement, which will outline the timing and how that water will get within our water territory,” Morgan explained. 

He added that it could happen by 2030 and the cost will be shared with customers through a rate increase projected to be over 10% as early as January. 

“This is not a project, again, that is an agreement that’s just satisfying a need for the next two to three to five years. This is satisfying needs for decades to come,” Morgan said. 

The city said it gets the majority of water from Lake Georgetown and Lake Stillhouse Hollow in Bell County. Morgan explained that a small percentage comes from groundwater right now. 

“As we look at future resources we’re not — we’re not anticipating being able to get any additional groundwater in Williamson County. There may be other residents… other property owners in Williamson County that they would have a very different perspective given — given their circumstances,” Morgan explained. 

‘It’s the wild, wild west’

Keith Elliston lives in part of the county that relies on groundwater. 

“There’s no city water pipes that are running to much of the western part of Williamson County — 50% of this area relies solely, in some cases, 80% of the rural areas are solely dependent on groundwater for their drinking water,” Elliston said. 

Landowners share the impact of the drought in Williamson County. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)
Landowners share the impact of the drought in Williamson County. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

The family has a well and is under what Elliston described as “self-imposed water restrictions.” His land is crumbling and opening up due to the drought. 

“Wells are running dry, we’re having to dig deeper wells,” Elliston explained. “We want to preserve the resources that we have.”

Elliston, who gets his water from the Trinity Aquifer, explained that the county needs a groundwater conservation district that regulates the spacing and production of water wells. 

“It’s the wild, wild west in Williamson County,” Elliston said. “We have water authorities that take care of our critical infrastructure above ground. We have no authority over the water that sits below the ground.”

Elliston helped form the Aquifer Conservation Alliance which just refiled a petition with Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District in Bell County to annex western Williamson County. 

“Today, one person can pump unlimited amounts of water out, water their lawn… you know, provide drinking water for their home, wash their cars. Meanwhile, the two neighbors on either side are doing everything they can to conserve the resource — this one will make everyone lose their water — And there’s no remedy for those that are being harmed,” said Elliston. 

He added that the petition is being reviewed and they should know more in the coming months. 

Stage 3 water restrictions have been in effect since July in parts of Williamson County. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)
Stage 3 water restrictions have been in effect since July in parts of Williamson County. (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

“I am very concerned about protecting our water resources, but I am against Williamson County residents having to pay taxes to another taxing entity. That is still my position in regard to either creating a groundwater conservation district or being part of an already established district,” explained Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell. 

End in sight 

Morgan said the city is working to get customers out of stage 3 water restrictions as quickly as possible. 

“It would be nice to see the state step in and supplement or offer up, you know, tax credits, things like that for people to make that switch because it’s expensive to move over to like a xeriscape or, you know, natural habitat, low water usage scenario,” Baxter said.

Georgetown is looking into increasing rebates to encourage xeriscaping. The city also offers other rebates which include an irrigation check-up, smart controller replacement, spray-to-drip irrigation conversion, rain barrels, and turf conversion.