Those who watched recent Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) and Groundwater Management Area 14 (GMA-14) meetings were treated to some jaw-dropping, head-spinning doublespeak on the subject of subsidence. On January 20, 2021, at a GMA-14 meeting, LSGCD rejected any mention of subsidence in their Desired Future Conditions (DFCs). Then on 2/9/2021, three presenters told the Lone Star board that they were still considering subsidence. Then on 2/24/2021, the same three presenters told GMA-14 they still rejected subsidence.
Pardon My Whiplash!
As if that wasn’t enough, during the three-hour 2/24 GMA-14 meeting, they also:
- Claimed that their groundwater withdrawal plan won’t create subsidence, but insisted on removing subsidence as a measure of their performance.
- Believe they are entitled to their fair share of subsidence.
- Insisted they should be measured on nine factors (which included subsidence), but then argued to take subsidence out of the mix.
Why? Samantha Reiter, LSGWCD General Manager, listed four reasons in a six-page, 3716-word letter which she read to GMA-14. I have summarized her arguments below for readability and to make concise responses possible.
Argument #1: Modeling
Modeling shows that projected water draw-downs won’t create subsidence in excess of one foot on average across Montgomery County, so why worry?
Response: Subsidence models have not yet been validated for the aquifer from which Montgomery County would predominantly pump – the Jasper. Moreover, while aquifers can rebound from overpumping, subsidence cannot. Without a subsidence metric as a check, private water utilities, such as Quadvest, could merrily pump as much water as they wanted for 40 years and claim they would make it up in the last ten. But the subsidence damage at that point would be permanent.
Argument #2: Can’t Control Harris County
LSGCD can’t control Harris County pumping which affects subsidence in MoCo.
Response: True, but MoCo has already shown that surface water can dramatically reduce subsidence, even where subsidence is worst – in the heavily populated, southern part of the county. Moreover, SJRA’s surface water treatment plant has space to quadruple its capacity. While MoCo is arguing to increase its reliance on groundwater, Harris County is desperately trying to reduce its.
See more below under “More on Argument #2.”
Argument #3: Unfairness
It’s unfair to limit subsidence in MoCo to an amount less than Harris County experienced.
Response: Is LSGCD really arguing to make the same mistakes Harris County did? Is it really worth damaging peoples’ foundations, walls, doors, cabinets, ceilings, roofs and driveways to make a philosophical point about fairness?
Argument #4: Measurable Goals
Goals must be measurable and LSGCD does not have enough monitoring sites or equipment to measure subsidence throughout Montgomery County.
Mike Turco, head of the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District answered this in the GMA-14 meeting. You can monitor subsidence with GPS, LIDAR and other readily available technologies for much less than the cost of a network of extensometers.
More On Argument #2
Of the four arguments posed above, #2 seems strongest. Excessive pumping in either Harris or Montgomery County can produce subsidence across the county line. So how do you determine who’s causing how much in each location?
This is a question for scientists to answer. However, it seems to me that if one county is reducing its reliance on groundwater and the other is increasing its, any increase in the rate of subsidence should be easy to trace.
And this is precisely the scenario we face. Harris is reducing its dependence on groundwater; Montgomery is arguing to increase its.
In Harris County, the City of Houston is investing heavily to move people off groundwater. The $351 million Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project will bring more water to Lake Houston. And the new $1.4 billion Northeast Water Purification Plant will supply that water to Houston as well as surrounding municipalities, counties and utility districts. Montgomery County already has a lake that’s 3-4X larger and a water treatment plant that can supply its growing population with enough water to reduce subsidence to a negligible rate. With the Montgomery County investment already made, why risk subsidence?
We Need Fewer Filibusters, Less Doublespeak, More Debate
I wish the LSGCD would engage in debates, not filibusters. By its own admission, LSGCD has tried to come up with a statement of Desired Future Conditions since 2016. That’s five years! How long does it take to study a problem and write a sentence!
In my opinion, verbose, rambling, repetitive 3-hour meetings filled with doublespeak have been designed to cloud tradeoffs, not find the best balance. It shouldn’t take smart people three hours to articulate a problem. And until we can get at what the real problem is, we will never find a real solution.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/5/2021
1284 Days since Hurricane Harvey
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.