The time for sitting on the sidelines of the subsidence debate is over. Groundwater Management Area 14 (GMA-14) has finalized its proposed desired future conditions (DFCs). Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) is fighting them. It wants to exclude any mention of subsidence. So if you disagree with that point of view, speak up now or live with the consequences. LSGCD will hold a board meeting Monday at 2 pm to hear public comments. You can also register your opinions in writing until July 19, 2021.
See more below about the background of this crucial debate including a discussion of the issues; pros and cons; how you can make your voice heard and where you can get more information.
How GMAs Set Goals
GMA-14 comprises most of southeast Texas. See map below. It includes five groundwater conservation districts and two subsidence districts and four counties that have neither.
One purpose of a GMA is to bind the people of a region together to meet common goals. Significantly, if one county wants to abandon surface water and pump unlimited amounts of cheaper groundwater, it must first get permission from the other members of the GMA. That’s because pumping groundwater has consequences. It can cause neighboring wells to go dry, leaving rural ranchers without options.
It can also cause subsidence, in which one area sinks relative to surrounding areas. That can alter the gradient of rivers, causing water to move slower and back up more. Subsidence can also trigger geologic fault movement, disrupt pipelines, damage homes, and crack pavement.
Because of subsidence, some areas near the coast have actually sunk beneath the waves. Others farther inland have created giant bowls in the landscape that contribute to flooding.
In setting goals, GMAs also consider factors such as economic development and population growth. They typically plan 50 years or more ahead to ensure adequate water supplies.
Proposed Desired Future Conditions for GMA-14
GMA-14 has debated its next set of desired future conditions (DFCs) since 2016. At its last meeting, members finally adopted the following statement.
Let’s break that down:
- “In each county” means the numbers below represent county-wide averages or medians.
- “70% median available drawdown remaining in 2080” means counties cannot draw down their aquifer(s) more than 30%. Seventy percent must remain at the end of the period – 2080. Each district controls this by monitoring aquifer levels and adjusting annual well permits to meet the goal.
- “No more than an average of 1.0 additional foot of subsidence between 2009 and 2080” defines 2009 as the starting point for measuring subsidence and 2080 as the end.
Lone Star GCD Tries to Break Away
LSGCD has used a variety of arguments to fight the subsidence metric in DFCs. All failed to convince other GMA-14 members. Now LSGCD claims it will reach the drawdown limit before it reaches the subsidence limit, so subsidence should not be included in the limits.
At the last MoCo Commissioners Court Meeting, the LSGCD board chair made pled with commissioners to support omitting subsidence as a metric, even though, he claims, it would never limit pumping.
Many observers have repeatedly commented on this position. “If it’s not a limiting factor, why fight it so hard?” they ask. LSGCD keeps repeating the argument without offering a satisfactory answer or showing proof. That raises even more suspicions. It’s like when your kid comes home and brags how well (s)he did in one class and refuses to discuss grades in others.
Pros and Cons
Surface water costs more than groundwater for several reasons. In this part of the world, surface water must be trapped in man-made lakes, treated extensively, and then shipped to users via canals or a pipeline network. In contrast, wells can be drilled near users on very little land.
But if everyone used well-water exclusively, aquifers would deplete rapidly, wells would run dry, and subsidence would kick in.
Aquifers can eventually recharge if you leave them alone long enough. But subsidence is forever. It occurs when “clay lenses” get smashed due to dehydration. Rehydrating them is impossible. One water professional used this analogy: Imagine smashing a brownie and then pouring water on it. It won’t return to its original state.
Also consider that the proposed subsidence limit is an average. In its sparsely populated northern reaches in the Sam Houston National Forest, MoCo has little water demand. However, in southern MoCo is growing by leaps and bounds.
Subsidence has already proven to be an issue there. It has triggered faults and cracked home slabs. Many feel they are now more susceptible to flooding because their homes sit in bowls between faults.
Critics of LSGCD’s move to eliminate a subsidence metric point out that without it, groundwater pumpers could exceed the drawdown limit and simply claim that aquifers would magically recharge in the last few years of the plan.
Some neighborhoods in The Woodlands ALREADY SUBSIDED BY ALMOST A HALF FOOT BETWEEN 2009 and 2019. And four of those years followed a conversion to surface water that reduced the rate of subsidence 75%. So it’s real.
Modeling also shows that Kingwood and Humble could subside 3 feet because of excessive groundwater pumping in MoCo while the Lake Houston Dam subsides only one foot. That could raise water floodwaters at the top of Lake Houston another 2 feet relative to the spillway at the dam.
What Happens Is Up to You
Some people may prefer cheap water today and not care about the future or downstream neighbors.
People downstream from Montgomery County in Harris and Galveston Counties have already seen the damage subsidence can cause. They have decided collectively to move to more surface water. And they have invested heavily to bring more of it to the area and treat it – with the Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project and the City of Houston’s new Northeast Water Purification Plant.
The irony is that SJRA already built a surface water treatment plant, which some now advocate abandoning.
What’s more important to you? Short- or long-term savings? Leveling a foundation; repaving your driveway; repairing cracked walls and ceilings; and recovering from a flood cost far more than a few dollars a month on your water bill.
How To Register Your Concerns
Submit comments to LSGCD by:
Email: email@example.com with the subject line “DFC Comments” no later than 11:59 p.m. on Jul. 19, 2021.
In Person: 2PM AT THE LONE STAR GCD OFFICE IN THE JAMES B. “JIM” WESLEY BOARD ROOM, 655 CONROE PARK NORTH DRIVE, CONROE, TEXAS 77303.
Via Webinar: Register at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_VnPqSCCnSFGfHMQDZ6pd_Q. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. You can pre-register for the webinar at any time.
If you pre-register via the URL meeting link above, a password will be emailed to you in advance of the webinar. If you use the password to log, you WILL have the opportunity to provide live comments during the meeting. Use Webinar ID: 861 0914 6147 Password: Received via pre-registration.
To see a live broadcast, but not comment: https://lonestargcd.new.swagit.com/views/58.
For More Information
A group of informed and concerned MoCo residents have started a website called StopOurSinking.com. Click on their Learn More Page for videos, FAQs, presentations, and news stories. And don’t miss, the legal page “Does a groundwater pumper have the right to cause sinking?”
You can also find several articles on this website. The easiest way to find them is by going to the index page and searching for GMA-14, Groundwater Management Area 14, Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, LSGCD, or subsidence.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/6/2021
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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.