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

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

Smith led the research at Jacob’s Well. His team dug a monitoring 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 dried up for the fourth time in recorded history. The well is fed by the Trinity Aquifer. Smith said for many people, the Trinity is their only source of drinking water.

Discovering new layers to the Trinity Aquifer

The devices Smith and his team with the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District installed something unique. “As we put in this well and started collecting data, we saw these perched aquifers,” Smith said.

Think of the Trinity Aquifer as a house. It has three floors — the upper, middle and lower Trinity that have water in them. Smith said his research discovered what are essentially rooms in the house.

Each of these rooms has water in them, but the amount of water isn’t always the same. Sometimes water can travel from one room to another room easily. This is because the rock is more permeable or karstic.

Other times, the doors between rooms are shut. Water is trapped. Whatever water is in the room, stays in the room. “We’re really looking at these, these different sub-units and seeing which ones are most more vulnerable.”

Your home could be over the dining room, filled with water and no doors, while your neighbor could be over the guest bathroom on the second floor — door shut. No water getting in.

Using aquifer research to prepare for the future

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

“One of the major functions of the Groundwater Division at the Texas Water Development Board is to collect data and house data and make it publicly available,” said Natalie Ballew. Ballew is the director of the Groundwater Division at the TWDB.

She said all the data collected by the research will be made available to the public. “It all goes into our models so that we have the best available science to make… long-term projections.”