GMA-14 Adopts Desired Future Conditions, But Not Without a Fight from LSGCD

On Friday, April 9, 2021, Texas Groundwater Management Area-14 (GMA-14), which comprises 21 counties in Southeast Texas, finally adopted metrics for Desired Future Conditions (DFCs). These define how much groundwater each conservation district can pump from aquifers and how much subsidence they will tolerate until 2080.

However, Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) continued to fight a subsidence metric even though they repeatedly claimed subsidence was not an issue for them. They fought to make the subsidence metric optional in Montgomery County. When that failed, discussion shifted to how much flexibility LSGCD has to implement goals adopted by the group.

Below, I summarize meeting highlights. The time codes below will take you to the relevant portions of the video. You can access it by clicking this link. It will take you to a registration page. Fill in your name and email, and click register to view the video.

Opening Comments

Public comments, a motion to approve minutes from previous meetings and a request by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for feedback on the state water plan took up the first twenty and a half minutes.

General Discussion of DFCs

At 20:33, the group started discussing Agenda Items 7 and 8 regarding the DFCs. For the next half hour they discussed, in general terms:

  • What happens if GMA-14 and Lone Star disagree on DFCs (18:30)
  • The process of evaluating proposals (25:30)
  • What DFCs mean (30:30)
  • Which goals are most relevant where (32:00)
  • Limiting factors within each district and how each gets to decide the best way to achieve goals in its Groundwater Reduction Plans (37:15)
  • DFCs considered by the group in previous months (38.30)
  • The importance of measuring subsidence (41:30)
  • How Lone Star wants the flexibility to determine which metrics apply to itself, i.e., not measuring subsidence (46:20)

First Motion

Having laid the groundwork for voting on DFCs, at 50:30, the group began making motions. The first was to adopt Resolution 2021-04-09. This is resolution features multiple metrics based on the Houston Area Groundwater Model approved by the TWDB. Specifics include:

  • No less than 70% of available drawdown will remain in wells by 2080 (defined by the average height of water columns in wells to well bottoms).
  • One foot of additional subsidence on average across a county
  • A pumping increase of no more than 30,000 acre feet per year
Cover page of first motion to be approved, complete with “whereas’s”

John Martin, the chairman of GMA-14, stated that he believes this is the “most centrist” of the different scenarios the group had been examining. (52:30)

Samantha Reiter, general manager of the LSGCD in MoCo, said that she had quite a few issues with this motion. Her board did not approve it, therefore she opposed it. She also stated that she believed “each county should be able to adopt its own metrics. That’s critical.”

At 56:20, members vote. The motion carried 4 to 1. Only LSGCD voted No. Everyone breathed half a sigh of relief. But it didn’t end there.

Second Motion (LSGCD’s First)

At 57:20, Reiter made the first of three alternative, rapid-fire motions. She requested members adopt a resolution that she sent to them for review at 11 p.m. the previous evening. This motion gave groundwater conservation districts the flexibility to adopt metrics that work best for them. Reiter claims “subsidence is not a limiting factor” in MoCo, so she “can’t support it.”

Editorial comment: She’s saying in essence, “Subsidence is irrelevant because it won’t come into play. Then she argues tooth and nail against including the metric as she has for months. Why? It makes one suspicious.

Bob Rehak

At 61:30, she recapped key elements of her motion. They included:

  • Leave 70% of groundwater in place by 2080 for those counties where that’s a limiting factor
  • No more than 1 foot average subsidence for those counties where that’s a limiting factor
  • Each district can adopt the metric it chooses based on “Model Run D.”

During the discussion, Reiter also claims, “This doesn’t impact anyone else.” A critic points out that that is false. He also points out that Model Run D was not in the written resolution she submitted.

The motion fails: 2 FOR, 3 AGAINST.

Third Motion (LSGCD’s Second)

When that motion failed, Reiter immediately made another at 1:07:15. Key elements included:

  • Leave 70% of groundwater in place
  • Optional subsidence metric.

This motion also died.

Fourth Motion (LSGCD’s Third)

At 1:11:30, Reiter immediately made her third alternative motion: “That we approve two alternative motions, the one already approved and the one I just laid out” (with an optional subsidence metric). She wants to put BOTH out for public comment.

At 1:12:50, the representative from TWDB says, “I don’t see a provision under Chapter 36 for competing proposals.” He adds, “That’s not what the GMA is tasked with doing.”

A lawyer observes at 1:17:30 that the motion needs to be clear enough for people to provide public comment. He also worries that if one of the alternatives is substantially modified after public comment, that they might need a second round of public comment.

Reiter then modifies the motion at 1:19:30. She stripped from her proposal the wording of the previously approved, written resolution. She also suggested that they vote only on the metrics which are virtually identical to those approved in the very first motion. Then she calls on Stacey Reese, Lone Star’s legal counsel, who chimes in at 1:21:30. Reese explores the nooks and crannies of legal nuance with the other lawyer and the TWDB. She asserts that:

  • They don’t need to vote on a full resolution with explanatory text.
  • They can make two proposals.
  • If you propose multiple alternatives for public comment, it’s no violation of the rules. Therefore, there would be no need to go back out for public comment a second time.

Members attempted to clarify the motion at 1:19. Basically, the “resolution” turned into a statement of metrics from the very first motion (minus the “whereas’s”).

They never do circle back to whether a subsidence metric would be optional.

At 1:24:30, Martin asks what the purpose of all that was. That question remains.

At 1:28:30, the motion passes unanimously. The cost of not printing a lengthy legal notice in newspapers appeals to some of the members. This apparently superseded the first motion; but that was never clarified.

Next Steps

GMA-14’s technical consultant will craft language to be specific about what the motion does or doesn’t include. (1:30:30). According to Martin, at a minimum, the statement of Proposed DFCs will include two metrics:

  • No less than 70% median available drawdown remaining in 2080
  • No more than 1 additional foot of average subsidence between 2009 and 2080.  Then they set the next meeting for the first Wednesday in October and adjourned.

Then the statement will be put out for public comment. More news to follow.

How those metrics were explained in the first resolution adopted earlier.

LSGCD Meeting 6 PM Tonight

The regularly scheduled April meeting of the LSGCD board is tonight. It will be interesting to see how Reiter spins the results of the GMA-14 meeting. Here’s the agenda and background information. Pay particular attention to Items 9 through 12. They include discussion of the second phase of a subsidence study, results of the GMA-14 meeting, and a discussion of the legal implications. Here’s how to watch it live. If you want to make public comments, see the instructions in the agenda. The fun starts at 6 p.m.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/13/2021 (Updated at 6pm to revise time codes per newly posted video).

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The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.