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Fault Movement and Property Damage Linked to Aquifer Depletion in Montgomery County

A new report just released by the SMU Department of Earth Sciences draws several important conclusions that bear on the groundwater management debate in Montgomery County. The report links aquifer depletion and subsidence with fault movement, road damage, home damage, and damage to other structures.

Subsidence in the north Houston/Montgomery County region from a separate report by the HGAC.

Aquifer Depletion Linked to Fault Activation/Property Damage

Significant findings include:

  • Excessive groundwater production has resulted in water-level declines, subsidence, and fault movement.
  • Subsidence and fault movement are not just limited to the Evangeline aquifer; they also occur in the Jasper aquifer.
  • Fault movement has damaged roads, highways, homes, wells, pipelines, and other surface structures.
  • Timing and location of fault movement correlates to timing and location of water-level declines and subsidence.
  • Damages from fault movement go beyond The Woodlands area. They extend as far north as the Conroe Aquatics Center near downtown Conroe.

Peer Reviewed Research Funded by NASA and SMU

NASA and SMU co-funded the peer reviewed research which appeared in the June 25, 2019, issue of the journal Remote Sensing.

Some key quotes:

“Hundreds of paved roads and homes in the Houston area are being offset by faults and require frequent maintenance.”  (p. 1)

“The newly discovered fault activation appears to be related to excessive groundwater exploitation from the Jasper aquifer in Montgomery County.  The continuous mining of groundwater from the Jasper aquifer formed new water-level decline cones over Montgomery County, corroborating the intensity of new fractures.” (p. 1)

“Our study seems to validate that subsidence and related shallow subsurface fault activities in northern [Greater Houston] relates to mining of aquifers.” (p. 17)

“Faulting activities were in connection with the spatial distribution and density of water-level decline and ground subsidence.”  (p. 16)

“…the newly discovered fault activation appears to be related to the stress associated with fluid pressure reductions caused by excessive water extraction from Montgomery County aquifers.” (pp. 17-18)

Corroborates Other Research

The results of this SMU report further corroborate recent findings published by the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District in May, 2018. The subsidence district concluded that the Jasper aquifer is compressible and that the potential for subsidence increases in the northern portions of the Jasper where it is being used for freshwater supply.  

For Full Report

For the full report, see: Qu, F.; Lu, Z.; Kim, J.-W.; Zheng, W. Identify and Monitor Growth Faulting Using InSAR over Northern Greater Houston, Texas, USA. Remote Sensing. 201911, 1498.

Need for Full-Cost Accounting

Last year, I observed that we should have full cost accounting for sand mining along the river. If we had such a thing, sand mining practices might be different. The same could be said for groundwater pumping. As a famous oil-filter commercial once said, “You can pay me now or pay me later.” Yet another Montgomery County mystery to ponder.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/12/2019

682 Days since Hurricane Harvey