Bids for drilling a test well to determine whether it will be feasible to use groundwater to supplement Lake Brownwood supplies could be in the hands of the Brown County Water Improvement District No. 1 within six weeks.

 Members of the water district’s board on Tuesday unanimously approved a lease agreement with Jeff Lemmons for a site where the well would be drilled.

 “We want to find out if the water is there,” water district General Manager Dennis Spinks said. “And if it is, is it feasible as a new source?”

 Estimates for the cost of the test well have varied, ranging from $300,000 to $600,000. But a larger well drilled to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality standards for domestic use would cost as much as $1 million more, officials said. However, if water available from the test well produces adequate quality and quantity, it could be used for irrigation, helping to offset some of the expense. Meanwhile, the test well could give the district confidence to proceed with the more costly production well or wells.

 Spinks, who at one point in the meeting conceded the test well is something of a gamble, said the district might need to revise well specifications if the cost comes in too high.

 Conservation steps have been in place in the

district since late 2011, and district officials see groundwater as the most feasible way to supplement water from Lake Brownwood.

 The board Tuesday also authorized advertising for bids for a driller. Specifications are still being finalized, but after a bidding period, interested contractors will meet with district officials to review the project. A timetable with a minimum of six weeks to an award decision by the board was projected, and Spinks said if the bid deadline falls between monthly meetings, a special meeting could be called.

 “There is no cost to the district for the site,” Spinks said regarding the lease. Under its terms, the property owner could receive up to 41 acre feet of irrigation water a year in return for the use of the land. Any additional water could be sold to neighboring irrigators. If the water is not usable, the well would be capped and the property would be returned to its original condition, or better.

 “I think it’s a win-win situation for the district and for the property owner,” Spinks said.

 The district is seeking a secondary water supply to supplement what has been its only source for decades. The level of Lake Brownwood, which in 2011 dipped to record lows due to drought, has recovered somewhat since then, standing at 10.63 below spillway Tuesday. Long-range forecasts do not promise drought-breaking rains, and strict conservation restrictions remain in place.

 Meanwhile, the City of Brownwood has state approval and funding available to begin construction of a plant to purify for domestic use the treated wastewater that is ultimately being discharged into the Pecan Bayou.

 Spinks said other property owners, including the City of Brownwood, are also willing to host the test well. The selected site one-fourth mile south of the former Hot Wells Swimming Pool has the advantage of being within several feet of the district’s Lateral 11, should irrigation distribution be needed. It is also near a required high-capacity electrical line.

 “The city offered us sites, and we do appreciate that,” Spinks said. “We may still take them up on it for a production well.”

 Spinks said the test well will sample water from the shallow Ellenberger aquifer, where more promising water supplies are expected to be found. It will also drill deeper into the Hickory Sands, which elsewhere have been found to harbor a radon level that’s costly, but not impossible, to treat to drinking standards. Spinks said it is unlikely the Hickory Sands will produce usable water, but it’s possible.