Lone Star Groundwater Conservation: Importance of the November 2018 Election

Published 09/20/2018

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The Woodlands will have one seat on this new seven-member Board. But every Woodland’s voter will be able to vote for three candidates- one for the Woodlands Seat, one for the At Large Seat and one, depending on where they live, for either a Precinct 2, 3 or 4 Seat. Woodlands Voters should do their homework, vet all the candidates and VOTE! The list of candidates who have filed can be found at https://www.lonestargcd.org/2018-election/

The LSGCD Board does not set our water rates. For Woodlands residents this is the job of our MUDs and the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), our wholesale water supplier. But the results of this election could have a significant impact on:

  • The future availability of water.
  • The ability to sustain our acquirers.
  • Mitigate the adverse effect of future land subsidence.

We need new Board Members that will vote to support future decisions by the new LSGCD Board which will not adversely impact South Montgomery County and Northwest Harris County though over pumpage of our aquifers. An increase in pumpage greater than the current 64,000 acre-foot goal may help settle the current legal dispute with Conroe and other major water suppliers but will do so at the expense of those of us living in South County. We need to vote for those candidates that will support an aquifer management plan dedicated to the goal of aquifer sustainability.

SJRA has been the water supplier to The Woodlands since 1971. They own all the water/sewer treatment plants, the water wells and the large distribution systems. The cost of their service is shown on our water bills as the SWC Fee. Due to the LSGCD mandated Ground-Water Reduction Program (GRP), The Woodlands along with five other entities (Conroe, Mid-South Synergy, Rayford Road MUD, Southern Mont Co MUD, and Oak Ridge North) converted to using surface water provided from Lake Conroe. Today, approximately 50% of our total water is coming from the SJRA water wells with the remaining 50% coming from Lake Conroe. The Lake Conroe water costs The Woodlands residents 19 cents/1000 gallons (7.2%) more than they pay for well water. In return, we now enjoy stable water levels and a cheaper conversion than we could have achieved on our own. 
 
Although no one likes any increase in our water bills, I view them to be minor in return for insuring our future water supply and to mitigate the risk of damage from land subsidence. I lived in the Clear Lake Area from 1967 to 2008 and witnessed the result from the over pumpage of their aquifers. In that case, I witnessed property owners lose title to their property when it slipped beneath the tidal waters owned by the State, increased flooding, increased building costs and damage to homes and businesses. Given the past and future growth with the Woodlands and Montgomery County, the availability and supply of water should be of great concern to all of us. In addition, land subsidence caused by over pumpage of our aquifers should be of equal concern.

Today, The Woodlands has a population of approximately 115,000 and is expected to grow to around 132,000 within the next 7-10 years. When George Mitchell began his Woodlands journey, no one thought The Woodlands would as successful as we see today. No one believed The Woodlands would grow to be the premier urban center of employment and residences we see today.  Many thought The Woodlands would remain a small, rural community. At the beginning of this journey, it was thought The Woodlands could exist through only using ground-water. However, even in the 1960s there was a suspicion by Mr. Mitchell that the additional use of surface water might be needed to sustain a community of our eventual size.

The Gulf Coast Aquifer System has been the primary water source for our region’s water supply. The Chicot, Evangeline, and Jasper Aquifers are the three primary aquifers within the Gulf Coast System, with the Chicot being the shallowest and the Jasper being the deepest. The Jasper Aquifer is the most heavily-used aquifer in Montgomery County, especially by The Woodlands.

When aquifer water-levels decline from excessive groundwater withdrawal, the pressure within the aquifers also decline which further leads to a decrease in aquifer pressure within the numerous aquifer clay layers. This causes these clay layers to begin to compact and collapse. Due to this over-production, declining groundwater supplies have been a problem in the Gulf Coast region surrounding Houston since before the 1950s. The Harris-Galveston Coastal Subsidence District (HGCSD) reported that from 1906-2000 Harris County and Houston experienced over 6 feet of land subsidence. In addition, they reported from 2013-2017 the greatest rate of subsidence has been experienced in Northwest Harris County and South Montgomery County.  Water suppliers in Harris, Galveston, and Fort Bend Counties had to begin reducing their groundwater use and converting to surface water beginning in the late-1970s. Land subsidence has generally eased once the conversion to surface water occurred. A similar decision now faces Montgomery County.

A recent report completed by the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District has determined that the Jasper Aquifer could experience land subsidence with any over development causing a significant decline in water-levels.  Unforunately, the District did not quantify the magnitude of this risk, leaving the subjectt to subsequent studies. The data is clear that the sustainable pumpage amount for Montgomery County is somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000acre-feet per year, the estimated aquifer recharge rate. If pumpage is consistently increased beyond the 60,000- and 70,000-acre-feet aquifer sustainability level, we will see significant declines in aquifer water levels, which will lead to subsidence and an increased risk of flooding.  A decline in water levels will also create an expensive proposition for existing water suppliers to lower their wells to keep pace with the declining water levels. In October 2017, LSGCD proposed to the City of Conroe that LSGCD’s annual pumpage rate be eventually increased to 100,000 acre-feet, a 59% increase! This very significant increase in aquifer pumpage will exceed the estimated aquifer recharge rate, resulting in a predicted 200-300 foot plus decline in aquifer water levels.

When you get right down to it, this is the real question in this election- will the new LSGCD Board attempt to increase the pumpage rate or even try to do away with such limits? Allowing any aquifer pumpage significantly above sustainable rates will have potential negative consequences.  In Harris, Galveston, Fort Bend, Jasper, and Wharton counties, water level declines of as much as 350 feet have led to land subsidence. Why would increased aquifer pumpage in our area produce different results? Luckily, a majority of the other four Ground-Water Conservation Districts (GCD’s) in our region have not approved any change.

What will be the future direction of the new LSGCD Board in managing our aquifer ground-water supply?  I am sure you have read about the various lawsuits involving Conroe/Magnolia and other major water suppliers vs. LSGCD/SJRA. Conroe et.al. are asserting that there is plenty of water available and land subsidence is not a cause for concern. From their narrow perspective there is some truth to this argument. Communities north of SH 242 have not suffered the effect of land subsidence to the same degree as South County.  Conroe et.al. believe there should be no regulation as to how much water is pumped from our aquifers. It seems this view flies in the face of what our neighbors to the south have learned. What is good for Conroe may not be in the best interest of The Woodlands.

Making an over optimistic decision in determining how much ground-water to allow to be removed has a high a risk, as Harris and Galveston County can attest. The negative impact of the wrong decision is irreversible.  The new Board should be cautious and conservative in making such decisions.

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MIKE BASS retired in 2000 from Accenture, a large international business consulting firm. Prior to moving to The Woodlands in November 2008, Mike served in various appointed and elected positions with the General Law city of Clear Lake Shores. This included serving as President of the City’s Economic Development Corporation, a member of City Council and Chairman of the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission.

Since moving to The Woodlands, Mike has become known for his breadth of community involvement and contacts within The Woodlands. He has served in many community roles such as Sterling Ridge Village Association Board, the Sterling Ridge Residential Design Review Committee and the Design Standards Committee, the Vice Chairman of the Township Board of Directors, Chairman of the Township’s Ad Hoc Transportation Committee and Audit Committee, The South County Chamber of Commerce’s Mobility Committee, a Director of the Woodlands Road Utility District and Vice Chairman of the Conroe/The Woodlands Urbanized Transit Zone.

Mike is currently is a member of Rotary and George’s Coffee Club.

 

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