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Commissioners ok authority to fight polluters under water code in wake of Skull Creek incidents

April 10, 2019 - 00:00
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COLUMBUS — In the wake of a third contamination incident at Skull Creek occurring sometime over the weekend, Colorado County Commissioners Monday morning voted unanimously to authorize the county judge to exercise enforcement power available to the county under Chapter 7 of the Texas Water Code following an executive session lasting just under an hour.

Chapter 7 of the Texas water code, among other things, allows counties to institute civil suits against those who violate provisions of the water code in the same manner as the authority exercised by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Counties are not allowed to exercise enforcement powers under the Texas Water Code to remedy violations of either the water code or the Texas Health and Safety Code unless the commissioners court adopts a resolution authorizing the exercise of its enforcement powers.

The resolution adopted by the commissioners court allows the exercise of enforcement powers for “past, existing, or future” violations of the Texas Water Code.

The resolution authorizes the county judge to take any actions necessary to exercise the county’s newly adopted powers under the Texas Water Code, including pursuing and initiating civil suits for violations or threatened violations of the water code or health and safety code.

The power includes seeking injunctive relief, civil penalties, or both.

The resolution is effective immediately.

Although the court’s agenda for the meeting included language saying the commissioners could discuss contemplated litigation with the county attorney, the court didn’t vote on authorizing any litigation, although the authority to institute such now rests with the county judge under the resolution passed.

The action comes more than two months after an oily, black substance was discovered in Skull Creek near Altair.

County officials have been highly critical of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s response to two separate incidents at Skull Creek. TCEQ is investigating the incident along with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and Texas Railroad Commission.