FORT STOCKTON, Texas (May 30, 2023) — Belding Farms, a a pecan grower in Fort Stockton that is seeking to stop renewal of a groundwater permit to export water out of Pecos County, was denied its legal request to halt the process on Tuesday.
A state district court judge refused to hear the emergency restraining order that sought to prevent renewal of the permit by the Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District, and instead granted a procedural challenge to the request. The district general manager renewed the permit after learning of the restraining order request and before a court hearing could be held.
Belding Farms said it would appeal the court’s order to the 8th Court of Appeals, where two other similar challenges by the pecan grower are pending.
“We look forward to our day in court where these serious legal issues can be heard on their merits rather than on procedure,” said Ernie Cockrell, chairman of Cockrell Investment Partners, which owns Belding Farms. “Our concerns are two-fold - that the permit conditions are too lax to adequately protect the aquifer and that the groundwater district rules are too weak to predict and prevent increased pumping impacts.”
Other groundwater users across the state voiced similar concerns to lawmakers during the legislative session that ended on May 29, Cockrell noted. Belding Farms wants to protect its water rights and those of other users as well as ensure the sustainability of the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer.
Moreover, Belding Farms argues that the permit is invalid because construction of the groundwater export project didn’t start within three years after issuance, as required by the Texas Water Code. The permit is held by Fort Stockton Holdings, which is owned by the Williams Family, and originally was issued by the Middle Pecos GCD in 2017.
If renewed, the groundwater would be exported from Pecos County to the cities of Midland, San Angelo and Abilene.
Belding Farms is not opposed to water exports as long as adequate rules are in place to protect the Edwards-Trinity Aquifer, Cockrell explained. Still, aquifer sustainability is just as critical for the cities planning to import water as it is for the exporting area, Cockrell said.
Belding Farms uses groundwater to irrigate its pecan orchard and has invested millions of dollars to increase the efficiency of its water usage.
ABOUT BELDING FARMS
Belding Farms (beldingpecanfarms.com) is owned by Cockrell Investment Partners, LP, and has operated for more than 55 years in Pecos County. The farm produces an average of 5 million pounds of pecans a year on 2,200 acres of land. The operation invests $2 million annually in employee payroll and processing plant and has invested millions of dollars in irrigation efficiency over the years. Belding Farms is one of the oldest commercial establishments in Fort Stockton.
Belding Farms Contact:
Zachary Swick, General Manager
Ryan C. Reed, Partner
Pulman, Cappuccio & Pullen, LLP
Water Policy Contact: