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Importance of the November 2018 Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Election to the Future of The Woodlands

by Mike Bass
ground water

I urge all Woodlands residents to pay special attention to the upcoming November 2018 elections. In this election, a new seven Member Board for the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) will be up for election. Not Reelection! The District will be converting from a fully appointed board to a fully elected one. The following candidates have filed:

The Woodlands will have one seat on this new seven-member board. Every Woodlands 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. The Woodlands voters should do their homework, vet all the candidates, and VOTE!

The results of this election could have a significant impact on:

  • The future availability of water at a reasonable cost.
  • The ability to sustain our acquirers.
  • Mitigating the adverse effect of land subsidence.

Do not believe those who would assert that the conversion to water from Lake Conroe has doubled our cost of water. It has not! We need new board members who will vote to support future decisions that 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 Montgomery County. We need to vote for those candidates who will support an aquifer management plan dedicated to the goal of aquifer sustainability.

San Jacinto River Authority (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 line distribution systems. The cost of their service is shown on our water bills as the SWC fee. Due to the LSGCD mandated Groundwater Reduction Program (GRP), The Woodlands along with five other entities (Conroe, Mid-South Synergy, Rayford Road MUD, southern Montgomery County MUD, and Oak Ridge North) converted to using surface water provided from Lake Conroe. Today, approximately 35% of our total water is coming from the SJRA water wells with the remaining 65% coming from Lake Conroe. The Lake Conroe water costs The Woodlands 12 cents/1000 gallons or 4.68% more on a weighted average than we pay for well water. 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 mitigating our risk of damage from subsidence. I lived in the Clear Lake area from 1967 to 2008 and witnessed the result of 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 of The Woodlands and Montgomery County, the availability and supply of water should be of great concern to all of us. In addition, subsidence caused by over pumpage of our aquifers should be of equal concern.

Today, The Woodlands has a population of approximately 116,000 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 be as successful as it is today. No one else 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 groundwater. 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.

A recent report completed by the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District has determined that the Jasper Aquifer could experience subsidence with any over development causing a significant decline in water-levels. The data is clear that the sustainable pumpage amount for Montgomery County is somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000 acre-feet per year, the estimated aquifer recharge rate. If pumpage is allowed to consistently increase beyond the 60,000 and 70,000 acre-feet level, we will see significant declines in aquifer water levels, which will lead to subsidence and an increased risk of flooding. 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 224 foot plus decline in aquifer water levels.

  • How would this decline in water levels impact on the pressure within the aquifer?
  • How much subsidence could result from such a large decline?
  • Why hasn’t the District considered the compressibility of the Jasper aquifer, and any resulting subsidence, before considering allowing any expanded pumpage from this aquifer?

Luckily, the other four Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCD’s) in our region have not approved this change.

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 type of 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 subsidence. In addition, they reported that from 2013-2017, the greatest rate of subsidence has occured 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. Subsidence has generally eased once the conversion to surface water occurred. A similar decision now faces Montgomery County.

What will be the future direction of the new LSGCD Board in managing our aquifer groundwater supply? I am sure you have read about the various lawsuits involving Conroe/Magnolia and other Major Water Suppliers vs. LSGCD and SJRA. Conroe et.al. are asserting that there is plenty of water available and subsidence is not a cause for concern. From their perspective there is some truth to this argument. Communities north of SH 242 have not suffered the effect of subsidence to the same degree as south Montgomery County. Conroe believes 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 groundwater to allow removed has a high a risk, as Harris and Galveston County can attest to. The negative impact of making the wrong decision is irreversible. The new board should be cautious and conservative in making such decisions.

The current “lame duck” board is now faced with a quandary - by law they must approve a 2018-2022 Management Plan before December 17, 2018 or be in default of the Texas Water Code. This decision should rightfully be the purview of the new board, but they will not be seated until January 2019. I believe it is critical that the current board approve a plan which reaffirms the current 64,000 acre-feet pumpage rate.

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