Tag Archive for: GMA14

Doublespeak Continues to Cloud MoCo Subsidence Debate

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.

Their main point? In essence, “We reject subsidence as a measure of our performance.”

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.

Much of the groundwater in Montgomery County used for human consumption is pumped from the Jasper aquifer which also affects Harris and Galveston Counties. However, models predicting subsidence from the Jasper have not been validated as they have for the Chicot and Evangeline Aquifers. Source Harris-Galveston Subsidence District.

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.

When The Woodlands began using more surface water in 2016 after completion of a surface water pipeline, the rate of subsidence dropped 75%.

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?

These front steps in The Woodlands dropped almost 10 inches due to subsidence before conversion to more surface water. Photo courtesy of Mark Meinwrath.

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.

To see Ms. Reiter’s full text, click here. Her subsidence discussion starts on page 4.

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?

Expansion of Houston’s Northeast Water Purification Plant will quadruple its capacity. It will soon provide 320 million gallons of treated water capacity per day, more than three times the entire water demand in Montgomery County. Looking NE toward Lake Houston in background.

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.

Someone’s Trying To Tilt Lake Houston Toward Your House

Recently released subsidence maps show that excessive groundwater pumping in Montgomery County could lower the northern end of Lake Houston by two feet or more relative to the spillway at the southern end of the lake. While subsidence would lower the area near the spillway by a foot, it would lower areas near the county line even more – from 3 to 3.25 feet.

Subsidence Estimates are Conservative

And those estimates are conservative because:

  • Models under-predict subsidence; they currently model nothing from the Jasper Aquifer, which Quadvest, a MoCo water supplier, wants to pump heavily from (see more below).
  • Montgomery County factions are threatening legal action to let them pump more than their counterparts in the 15-county Groundwater Management Area #14 (GMA14) think is safe.

So how did we get to this point?

Groundwater Vs. Surface Water

The rest of the world is trying to convert to surface water to avoid subsidence. However, Simon Sequeira’s family-owned business, Quadvest, still pumps much groundwater in Montgomery County. He’s at war with the world. While others recognize subsidence and the science behind it, Sequeira denies it’s a problem – at least in Montgomery County.

At the last GMA14 meeting, lawyers were reportedly lining up to get a piece of his action and licking their lips.

Broken Promises And Legal Battles

Several years ago, Sequeira led a fight to get the board of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District elected rather than appointed. Then he backed candidates who favored unlimited groundwater pumping and promised to Restore Affordable Water.

While groundwater is cheaper than surface water, water bills reportedly failed to come down. However, he has stopped paying the SJRA a fee designed to encourage conversion from groundwater to surface water. Sequeira says he is setting aside that money in a special fund in case he loses his legal battle. But his legal battles go far beyond the SJRA. He and the board of the Lonestar Groundwater Conservation District are also taking on the rest of GMA14. See map below.

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GMA 14 includes the 15 colored counties above. Each color represents a different Conservation District. Montgomery County (dark blue) has the Lonestar Groundwater Conservation District.

Purpose of Groundwater Management Areas

GMA stands for “Groundwater Management Area.” GMAs were set up years ago, in part, to make sure that one county doesn’t hog groundwater, depriving surrounding areas and creating subsidence. So the other counties in GMA14 get to approve (or not) the groundwater withdrawal rates in Montgomery County.

They do that by defining “desired future conditions.” How much drawdown in an aquifer is acceptable? How much subsidence can people and infrastructure tolerate?

GMA14 wants Sequeira to leave 70% of the water in aquifers intact and to produce no more than 1 foot of subsidence. But the pumping levels proposed by Sequeira would produce far more subsidence, according to GMA14.

Hired-Gun Experts Defy Scientific Consensus

Ever since, Sequeira took on this fight, his hired-gun experts have been trying to prove subsidence doesn’t pose a threat in Montgomery County. Unfortunately, data and models don’t agree with him. His pumping has already created subsidence in MoCo and now threatens northern Harris County, too.

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Front steps of Woodland’s homeowner Dr. Mark Meinrath in 1992 and 2014. Part of Meinrath’s home straddles a fault which subsidence triggered. Relative to the rest of his house, these front steps dropped 9.9 inches in 22 years.

Strangely enough, while science has shown – and the rest of the world believes – that unlimited groundwater pumping causes subsidence, Sequeira does not. His profit margin depends on cheap groundwater, unfettered by fees designed to encourage people to convert to surface water.

Five Alternative Plans Considered

Sequeira and company originally proposed three alternative plans to GMA14 that involved pumping enough groundwater to cause:

  • 900 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer
  • 700 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer
  • 250 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer (Similar to “Run D” scenario, modeled below.)

Of those three, GMA14 only considered the last. GMA14 also came back with two more scenarios. They involved pumping even less groundwater:

  • 115,000 acre-feet per year (Also similar to Lone Star’s “Run D” scenario. See below).
  • 97,000 acre-feet per year
  • 61,000 acre-feet per year

Note: Lone Star and GMA14 use different criteria to describe the volume pumped. GMA14 uses acre-feet-per-year instead of feet-of-decline in a specific aquifer. Nevertheless, experts say Sequeira’s last scenario is roughly comparable GMA14’s first.

The two sides are still arguing about how much can be pumped safely. And that’s why the lawyers are drooling.

Models Show Unacceptable Subsidence from Sequeira’s Least-Damaging Plan

Subsidence can alter the landscape in ways that cause water to collect in areas that otherwise might not flood. The maps below model projected subsidence in south Montgomery and northern Harris Counties. And we know that this model under-predicts subsidence. That’s because it doesn’t model ANY subsidence from the Jasper aquifer.

Sequeira’s least-damaging plan would cause up to 3.25 feet of subsidence in southern Montgomery County and up to 3 feet in northern Harris County, according to GMA14. See below.

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Pumping 115,000 acre feet per year would cause up to 3.25 feet of subsidence in southern MoCo. That’s far more than the 1-foot in the Desired Future Conditions defined by GMA14.
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The same amount of pumping would cause up 3 feet of subsidence in parts of Kingwood and Huffman, and a foot or more in much of the rest of Harris County.

Effect on Humble, Kingwood, Atascocita, Huffman Areas

If you live in the Lake Houston Area and you stare at that last subsidence map long enough, eventually you will come to a jaw-dropping realization.

The Lake Houston spillway is only subsiding by a foot. But the headwaters of the lake are subsiding up to 3 feet. Imagine filling a bowl with water and then tilting it toward one side.

Homes and businesses in the headwaters of Lake Houston will be lowered 2 feet relative to the spillway.

That’s a huge amount. Those who built homes a foot above the hundred year flood-plain could find themselves a foot below it. Those who had a couple inches of water in their homes during Harvey could have more than two feet in a similar future event because of subsidence.

Battle Lines Drawn

So the battle lines are drawn. Sequeira wants to allow up to 900 feet of decline in the Jasper aquifer. And GMA14 wants no more than 1 foot of subsidence with 70% of the aquifer intact. That would mean pumping less than 100,000 acre feet per year.

The presence of so many lawyers in the last GMA14 meeting reportedly has the smaller groundwater management districts nervous. One observer used the word “intimidated.” Some don’t have financial resources to fight Sequeira.

And that should make every homeowner in the Lake Houston Area nervous, too.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/22/2020

1181 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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