Tag Archive for: LSGCD

Jace Houston Resigns as SJRA General Manager Under Pressure from Subsidence Deniers

Jace Houston, the San Jacinto River Authority’s (SJRA) General Manager and point person on subsidence issues, resigned yesterday, 5/25/23, to avert a political war with Montgomery County subsidence deniers that could have taken down the entire SJRA board.

Houston had been with the SJRA for 16 years after spending 10 years with the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District. While at the SJRA, the lawyer/engineer helped put together a Groundwater Reduction Plan that included 80 municipalities and municipal utility districts (MUDs) across Montgomery County. He also helped the SJRA construct a surface-water treatment plant on Lake Conroe.

Goals of Effort to Preserve Groundwater

The half-billion dollar plant supplies surface water to the major population centers in Montgomery County, such as Conroe, The Woodlands and Oak Ridge North. Converting the population centers to surface water preserved groundwater for less populated and rural areas where water pipelines become uneconomical.

When the plant came online in 2015, it also virtually neutralized subsidence (see below).

When The Woodlands began using more surface water in 2016 after completion of a surface water pipeline, the rate of subsidence virtually leveled off.

The groundwater preservation effort proved effective at eliminating subsidence. It also helped water utilities avoid major costs associated with declining aquifer levels.

What costs? When water levels in wells drop, suppliers must move pumps deeper and use more electricity to pump water to the surface. In extreme cases, utilities may not be able to get water to the surface at all. Then they must drill new wells, often into deeper aquifers at hefty costs.

Declining well levels are especially worrisome in drought years when/where no alternative sources of water are available. Lack of water can limit population and economic growth as well as agricultural production.

However, preserving groundwater came at a cost. All members of the plan paid a fee to help pay for the surface water treatment plant even if they didn’t buy water from it. The need for such a plan became apparent more than 20 years ago, long before Houston joined the SJRA.

Need to Use Less Groundwater Validated by Legislature, But…

The Texas Leglislature validated the need to use less groundwater when it created the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) in 2001.

But in recent years, all that was forgotten. The LSGCD board denied subsidence was a problem and advocated unlimited groundwater pumping as a way to lower water costs.

In the meantime, subsidence has returned. So have water well declines.

As you can see below, since the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District began moving to deregulate groundwater usage, well levels have dropped significantly across the county, setting up a day of reckoning in the future.

Water-level changes in representative area wells. Source: Harris-Galveston Subsidence District 2022 Annual Groundwater Report.

A Shot Across the Bow of the Board

Undeterred by these signals, the City of Conroe and the LSGCD board took their fight to the state legislature. They got State Representative Will Metcalf of Conroe to propose an amendment to the SJRA Sunset Review Bill that would replace Jace Houston. The amendment passed and emboldened Metcalf, Conroe and the LSGCD.

The amended bill then went to the Senate Water, Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee where the Conroe/LSGCD contingent testified again. But Senator Charles Perry, the committee chair, talked his fellow members out of adopting their proposals.

However, during the committee debate, Senator Lois Kolkorst, who represents Magnolia, fired a shot across the bow of the SJRA. She suggested making SJRA board-member terms one year.

That would have been disastrous, according to one seasoned SJRA board member, “It takes a year just to learn the job,” he said.

After defeat of all suggested amendments in Perry’s committee, it didn’t take long for back-channel rumors to mushroom. A whisper campaign suggested that sympathetic senator(s) might offer the Metcalf amendment or a one-year board amendment when the bill came up for a vote on the Senate floor.

Within days, the SJRA called a special board meeting to discuss Houston’s employment. While Houston reportedly had many supporters on the SJRA Board, he ultimately chose to resign and avoid a political battle royal that could have damaged the SJRA.

Board Accepts Houston’s Resignation

An article in Community Impact quoted SJRA Board President Ronald Anderson as saying: “At today’s meeting, the SJRA board of directors received and reluctantly accepted a resignation letter from our general manager, Jace Houston. Jace has served with honor and distinction for almost 16 years and has made the SJRA one of the most respected water agencies in the state of Texas.”

Anderson continued, “Even through these recent circumstances involving the legislature, Jace has once again placed the best interests of our organization and customers above his own, and the board wishes him the best in his future endeavors, which we know will be marked by continued success.”

Houston will remain at the SJRA until June 30th. But even on his way out the door, he seems less concerned about his own future than Montgomery County’s water future.

Impact of LSGCD on Water Future of MoCo and More

When asked about the impact of the LSGCD moves, Houston predicted, “They’re not going to regulate the aquifers. They’re going to allow pumpage to increase significantly.”

Houston added, “A lot of great work has been done to put a program together that allows Montgomery County to be able to afford the future water supplies it needs. And all of that is at risk. This just puts the county’s future at risk. They don’t understand the science. LSGCD is just dead wrong on the science.”

Because aquifers flow toward the coast, depleting groundwater in Montgomery County affects Harris and Galveston communities as well. But Metcalf and the LSGCD board never seemed to consider the impact on neighboring counties even though Metcalf’s district represents only about one thirtieth of the population in the San Jacinto watershed.

Because of differential subsidence, the impact of unlimited groundwater pumping in southern Montgomery County could actually tilt Lake Houston toward the north. That’s because the Kingwood/Porter area would subside more than the Lake Houston Dam by about two feet. And that could put many homes near floodplains into floodplains.

Projected subsidence in the northern Lake Houston Area could be 3.25 feet.
subsidence in Harris County
Meanwhile, projected subsidence at the Lake Houston Dam would only be 1.25 feet.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) should release new, updated models later this year that could affect the rates shown approve (plus or minus).

In the meantime, for anyone who doubts the relationship between water-well declines and subsidence, USGS has published a 432-page scientific report on the subject based on 120 years of data from northeast Texas aquifers.

Houston’s resignation seems to have averted a San Jacinto showdown for now. But some fear this fight isn’t over yet. Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of “As the Swamp Sinks.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/26/2023

2096 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.

Harvey: A 5-Year Flood-Mitigation Report Card

Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. Many in the Lake Houston Area have asked, “Are we safer now?” The answer is yes, but we have a long way to go to achieve all our goals. Here’s a five-year flood-mitigation report card. It describes what we have and haven’t accomplished in 29 areas. So get ready for a roller coaster ride. I’ll leave the letter grades to you.

Lake Houston Area Mitigation

1) Dredging

The most visible accomplishment in the Lake Houston Area since Harvey is dredging. The City and Army Corps removed approximately 4 million cubic yards of sediment blocking the West and East Forks. Before dredging, River Grove Park flooded six times in two months. Since dredging, it hasn’t flooded once to my knowledge.

west fork mouth bar before dredging
West Fork mouth bar after Harvey and before dredging. Now gone, but not forgotten.

State Representative Dan Huberty secured additional funding during the last legislature to continue maintenance dredging. That includes clearing drainage canal outfalls into the lake, such as the entrance to Rogers Gully. The dredging operation is now moving around the lake, according to the City’s District E office.

2) Adding Floodgates

Engineers keep looking for a cost-effective alternative. They first identified 11 options in a preliminary review. They then studied the most promising – spillway crest gates – in more detail. Now they’re looking at tainter gates in the earthen portion of the dam. In case the Benefit/Cost Ratio still doesn’t meet FEMA requirements for moving forward with construction, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin is also exploring additional funding sources. But so far, no construction has started on additional gates. Martin hopes to reveal a recommendation in September.

Lake Houston Dam, area for new gates
Potential location for new tainter gates east of the spillway portion of the dam (out of frame to the right.
3) Upstream Detention

To reduce the amount of water coming inbound during storms, the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Study identified 16 potential areas for building large stormwater detention basins. Unfortunately, they had a combined cost of $3.3 billion and would only reduce damages by about a quarter of that.

So, the SJRA recommended additional study on the two with the highest Benefit/Cost Ratio. Their hope: to reduce costs further. The two are on Birch and Walnut Creeks, two tributaries of Spring Creek near Waller County. Expect a draft report in February next year.

Funding these would likely require State assistance. But the Texas Water Development Board’s San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group has just recently submitted its first draft report. The draft also recommended looking at detention basin projects on West Fork/Lake Creek, East Fork/Winters Bayou, and East Fork/Peach Creek.

Building them all could hold back a foot of stormwater falling across 337 square miles. But funds would still need to be approved over several years. We’re still a long way off. Results – on the ground – could take years if not decades.

4) “Benching”

The Regional Flood Planning Group also recommended something called “benching” in two places along 5 miles of the West Fork. In flood mitigation, benching entails shaving down a floodplain to create extra floodwater storage capacity. Like the detention basins, benching is still a long way off…if it happens at all.

5) West Fork Channel Widening

Finally, the Regional Flood Planning Group recommended widening 5.7 miles of the West Fork to create more conveyance. But again, at this point it’s just a recommendation in a draft plan.

San Jacinto River Authority

6) SJRA Board Composition

After Harvey, many downstream residents accused SJRA of flooding downstream areas to save homes around Lake Conroe. At the time, SJRA’s board had no residents from the Humble/Kingwood Area. So Governor Abbott appointed two: Kaaren Cambio and Mark Micheletti. Cambio later resigned due to a potential conflict of interest when she took a job with Congressman Dan Crenshaw. That leaves Micheletti as the lone Humble/Kingwood Area resident on a seven-person board. However, the SJRA points out that the Board’s current president, Ronnie Anderson, represents Chambers County, which is also downstream.

State Representative Will Metcalf, who represents the Lake Conroe area, introduced a bill to limit SJRA board membership to upstream residents. Luckily for downstream residents, it failed.

7) Lake Conroe Lowering

SJRA identified temporary, seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe as a strategy to reduce downstream flood risk until completion of dredging and gates projects in the Lake Houston Area. The lowering creates extra storage in the lake during peak rainy seasons. After SJRA implemented the plan, Lake Conroe residents objected to the inconvenience. They sued SJRA and the City, but lost. After discussion with all stakeholders, the SJRA quietly modified its plan. It still lowers the lake, but not as much.

8) Lowering Lake Houston

Houston also started lowering Lake Houston, not seasonally, but in advance of major storms. The City has lowered the lake more than 20 times since beginning the program. That has helped to avoid much potential flooding to date.

9) Lake Conroe Dam Management

SJRA applied for and received several TWDB grants to enhance flood mitigation and communications in the San Jacinto River Basin. One involves developing a Lake Conroe Reservoir Forecasting Tool. SJRA has also worked with San Jacinto County to develop a Flood Early Warning System.

Finally, SJRA’s Lake Conroe/Lake Houston Joint Reservoir Operations Plan is on hold pending completion of the City’s plan to add more gates to the Lake Houston dam. Such projects may help reduce the risk of releasing unnecessarily large volumes of water in the future.

Coordination between Lake Conroe and Lake Houston has already improved. You can see it in the SJRA’s new dashboard. It shows releases requested by the City of Houston to lower Lake Conroe.

10) Sediment Reduction

Huge sediment buildups in the West and East Forks of the San Jacinto clearly contributed to flooding. The Army Corps stated that the West Fork was 90% blocked near River Grove Park. To reduce future dredging costs, SJRA also studied the use of sediment traps. SJRA may implement a pilot study soon on the West Fork near the Hallett mine.

However, the location is controversial. Geologists say it wouldn’t reduce sediment in the area of greatest damage. Environmentalists worry that it could increase sedimentation through a “hungry-water” effect and open the door to river mining. And I worry that, even if successful, the pilot study would not be extendable. That’s because it relies on partnerships with sand miners. And other tributaries to Lake Houston do not have sand mines or as many sand mines.

Sand bar blocking West Fork after Harvey. The Corps has since removed it.

Federal Funding

It’s hard to get good grades on your flood mitigation report card without funding.

11-18) Appropriations

In March this year, Congressman Dan Crenshaw secured appropriations that should help advance projects in the San Jacinto Basin. They included:

  • $1.6 million for HCFCD for Taylor Gully  stormwater channel improvement. 
  • $1.6 million for HCFCD for Kingwood  Diversion Channel improvement. 
  • $1.67 million for Harris County for the Forest Manor drainage  improvement project in Huffman.
  • $8.2 million from FEMA the Westador Basin stormwater detention project on Cypress Creek.  
  • $9.9 million from FEMA for the TC Jester storm water detention basin on Cypress Creek.

Crenshaw also has backed community requests for more funding in Fiscal 23. They include:

  • $8 million for the Lake Houston Dam Spillway (Gates).
  • $10 million for the Woodridge Stormwater Detention Basin (see below).
  • $10 million for a Cedar Bayou Stormwater Detention Basin.

Harris County Flood Control

19) Channel Maintenance and Repair

Harris County Flood Control has already completed several maintenance projects in the Lake Houston Area. In Kingwood, those projects include Taylor Gully, Ben’s Branch, parts of the Diversion Ditch and other unnamed ditches. In Atascocita, HCFCD also completed a project on Rogers Gully. Upstream, HCFCD is working on the third round of repairs to Cypress Creek. Batch 3 includes work at 12 sites on 11 channel sections. I’m sure the District has maintenance projects in other areas, too. I just can’t name them all.

Bens Branch
Bens Branch near Kingwood High School after sediment removal.
20) Woodridge Stormwater Detention Basin Expansion

In 2019, uncontrolled stormwater from the Woodridge Village development twice flooded approximately 600 homes in Elm Grove Village and North Kingwood Forest. HCFCD and the City purchased Woodridge from Perry Homes last year. HCFCD soon thereafter started removing sediment from the site to create a sixth stormwater detention basin that would more than double capacity on the site. At the end of last month, contractors had removed approximately 50,000 cubic yards out of 500,000 in the contract. This gives HCFCD a head start on excavation while engineers complete the basin’s final design.

21) Local Drainage Study Implementation

HCFCD authorized four studies of the drainage needs in the Lake Houston Area. They completed the Huffman and Kingwood studies. Atascocita and East Lake Houston/Crosby started earlier this year and are still underway.

The Kingwood study measured levels of service in all channels and outlined strategies to improve them to the 100-year level. The first two projects recommended: Taylor Gully and the Kingwood Diversion Ditch. Neither has started construction yet. But see the notes under funding above.

The Huffman Study recommended improvements to FM2100, which TxDOT will handle. It also recommended dredging in the East Fork near Luce Bayou which the City has completed. Finally, it recommended a bypass channel for Luce. However, pushback from residents forced cancellation of that project.

22) Buyouts

HCFCD completed buyouts of 80+ townhomes on Timberline and Marina Drives in Forest Cove last month. Contractors demolished the final run-down complex in August. That should improve property values in Forest Cove.

forest cove townhome demolition
Completion of demolition of one of the last Forest Cove Townhome Complexes in July 2022.
23) Regulation Harmonization

Harris County Flood Control and Engineering have been working to get municipalities and other counties throughout the region to adopt certain minimum drainage regulations. I discussed the importance of uniformly high standards in last night’s post. So far, about a third of the governments have upgraded their regs. A third are still deciding whether to act. And the remainder have taken no action. There has been little movement in the last six months.

City of Houston

As mentioned above, the City has taken a lead role in dredging, adding gates to Lake Houston, and proactive lake lowering. In addition, the City has helped with:

24) Bridge Underpass Clean-Out

The City of Houston successfully cleaned out ditches under Kingwood Drive and North Park Drive in at least six places. Bridges represent a major choke point during floods. So eliminating sediment buildups helps reduce flood risk in areas that previously flooded.

City excavation crews working to remove sediment on Bens Branch under Kingwood Drive
Excavation of Bens Branch under Kingwood Drive by City crews.
25) Storm Sewer Inspections, Clean-Out, Repairs

The City has inspected storm sewers throughout Kingwood and cleaned those that had become clogged. It also repaired sinkholes and outfalls that had become damaged.

Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District

The lowest score on the flood-mitigation report card probably goes to LSGCD.

26) Subsidence

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District has started pumping groundwater again at an alarming rate. Projected subsidence near the Montgomery County Border equals 3.25 feet, but only 1 foot at the Lake Houston dam. That could eventually tilt the lake back toward the Humble/Kingwood/Huffman area and reduce the margin of safety in flooding. That’s bad news.

Sand Mining Regulations

Twenty square miles of West Fork sand mines immediately upstream from I-69 have exposed a swath of floodplain once covered by trees to heavy erosion during floods. Mathematically, the potential for erosion increased 33X compared to the normal width of the river. Sand mines were also frequently observed releasing sediment into the river. And the dikes around the mines often wash out.

So in 2019, the Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative (LHAGFPI) began meeting with legislators, regulators and the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association (TACA). The goal: to establish comprehensive Best Management Practices (BMPs) for the sand mining industry in the San Jacinto River Basin. 

27) Mine Plan/Stabilization Reports Now Required

TCEQ adopted new regulations, effective January 6, 2022.  They required miners to file a ‘Mine Plan’ by July 6, 2022 and also a ‘Final Stabilization Report’ when a mine is played out.

28) Vegetated Buffer Zones (Setbacks)

The new regs also stipulate undisturbed vegetative buffer zones around new mines. Buffer zones aid in sediment filtration and removal by slowing surface water. They also strengthen dikes.

The new regs require a minimum 100-foot vegetated buffer zone adjacent to perennial streams greater than 20 feet in width. However, for streams less than 20 feet wide, the buffer zone is only 50 feet for perennial streams, and 35 feet for intermittent streams.

29) Reclamation Bonds

Unfortunately, the Flood Prevention Initiative could not convince TCEQ to require ‘reclamation bonds.’ Other states use such bonds to prevent miners from abandoning mines without taking steps to reduce future erosion, such as planting vegetation.  

My apologies to any projects or parties I omitted. Now it’s your turn. Give grades to those you think have done the best job on YOUR Harvey flood-mitigation report card.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/26/22

1823 Days since Hurricane Harvey and one day from Harvey’s Fifth Anniversary

August Flood Digest: Brief Summaries of Nine Items in the News

Here’s a short digest of nine flood-related items in the news this month.

Fifth Anniversary of Harvey

This month marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact day for Harvey. The system moved off of Africa on August 13, 2017. It became a tropical storm on the 17th; moved into the Gulf on the 22nd; became a Cat 4 hurricane; and made landfall at Port Aransas on the 25th. The outer bands reached Harris County on the 26th.

Harvey dumped heavy rain over Houston for four days. It started moving back offshore on the 29th and 30th. Ninety percent of the river forecast points in southeast Texas reached flood stage; forty-six percent reached new record levels. Harvey dumped more rain than any storm in the history of North America. For more information, see the Hurricane Harvey tab on the Reports Page.

West Fork San Jacinto During Harvey. Looking NE toward Kingwood from the Townsend Park N Ride.

New SJRA Director From Lake Conroe

Most flooding in the Lake Houston Area during Harvey happened after the SJRA started releasing 79,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) from Lake Conroe to save homes there. Many Lake-Houston-Area residents blamed the absence of downstream representation on the SJRA board for what they saw as disregard for their property.

After touring the extensive damage by helicopter, Governor Abbott appointed two Lake-Houston-Area residents (Kaaren Cambio and Mark Micheletti) to the seven-person board. Cambio later resigned to avoid a conflict of interest when she joined Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s staff. Last month, the Governor appointed a Lake Conroe resident to fill her vacancy, Stephanie Johnson. That now leaves Micheletti as the lone downstream representative.

Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Elections

Sometimes it seems that the main requirements for membership on the LSGCD board are half a brain, a willingness to kiss Simon Sequiera’s ring and indifference to science. Sequiera owns Quadvest, the largest private groundwater pumping company in Montgomery County. And excessive groundwater pumping in MoCo has been linked to subsidence and flooding. But concerned citizens will have a chance to take back the LSGCD board from a slate of directors backed by Sequiera. The deadline for applying is August 22. This page on the LSGCD site is all about the election and how to file if you are interested.

Edgewater Park

Harris County Precinct 3 is trying to jumpstart the development of Edgewater Park at 59 and the San Jacinto West Fork. The county has stated it is hiring a new consultant to re-design the park and that construction could begin 1 to 2 years from now. Quiddity Engineering will get the nod. The project will provide a boat launch, an additional park for the Humble/Kingwood Area, and a connection to the Spring Creek Greenway hike and bike trail. Quiddity’s contract will cover design, engineering, and other pre-construction expenses. Quiddity is the new name for Jones and Carter.

Houston Planning & Development Department News

The Planning and Development Department has a new initiative called Livable Places. The objective: create more housing options for Houstonians. The four options they visualize all increase housing density and impervious cover. I wrote them asking, “Won’t that increase flooding?” In essence, they said, “But it may help other places stay green.” True. But that’s not going to help flooding in the City much. Wasn’t our Drainage Fee designed to provide an incentive to REDUCE impervious cover. Oh well. These are different times. Can we get our drainage fees back now?

Flood Tunnels

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) released Phase 2 of its $30 billion flood tunnel study last month – along with a recommendation to study the recommendations in more detail. The current plan for Phase 3 is to spend the next 4-6 months:

  • Working with the Army Corps to explore possible federal involvement
  • Scoping the Phase 3 study
  • Beginning procurement.

HCFCD hopes to start Phase 3 in early 2023. Said Scott Elmer, P.E. CFM and Assistant Director of Operations for HCFCD, “We expect it to take approximately 3 years to complete.” For the complete Phase 2 study, click here.

GLO HARP Program Deadline

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) announced that applications for its Homeowner Assistance and Reimbursement Program (HARP) will close at 5 p.m. on Aug. 31, 2022. Those include applications for repairs/rebuilds from Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019. To be eligible, you must submit applications by the deadline … unless funding runs out first. So hurry. 

The program includes repair or reconstruction of owner-occupied single-family homes and reimbursement up to $50,000 for certain out-of-pocket expenses incurred for reconstruction, rehabilitation, or mitigation. Repayment of SBA loans is also eligible for reimbursement.

The GLO has $71,604,000 to help residents of Harris, Chambers, Liberty, Jefferson, Montgomery, Orange, and San Jacinto counties. HARP is only available for a primary residences, not second homes. Interested homeowners should visit recovery.texas.gov/harp to apply online or download an application.

Harris County Attrition and Pay Reports

As reported in April, the loss of employees and managers in dozens of Harris County departments has created a brain drain that impacts delivery of county services. On Tuesday, 8/2/22, Commissioners considered two related reports. The first had to do with attrition. The second had to do with pay and benefits.

Commissioners did not discuss the first, but they did discuss the second at length. They also voted unanimously to have the Office of Management and Budget investigate pay disparities. Certain commissioners wanted to apply equity guidelines to low-paid employees and freeze pay for those making more. I didn’t hear the words “Pay for Performance” once during the discussion.

In the end, commissioners recommended having HR create a job architecture, pay structure, and new evaluations that would determine pay increases or freezes. More in future posts.

New Bond Package

Discussion of a new $1.2 billion bond package consumed the last 90 minutes of commissioners court this week. The County Administrator still cannot say where the money is actually needed. Commissioners Adrian Garcia and Rodney Ellis want to apply equity guidelines to this bond. And neither wants to say which projects they would spend the money on. Garcia even threatened in a previous meeting that Republican-leaning precincts would not get ANY of the money if their commissioners voted NO on the bond.

When Hidalgo suggested guidelines for distribution of the money, Garcia stomped out of the meeting. He later reluctantly agreed to a split that would give his precinct and Ellis’ $380 million each while Republican precincts would get only $220 million each.

During the debate, it came out that much of the money from the 2015 bond program still has not been spent. That raised the question, “Why do we need another bond?”

Bragging About Trickery on One Bond While Pitching Another

Also, Commissioner Rodney Ellis publicly bragged that he purposefully didn’t define “equity” in the 2018 flood bond. “It was side language,” he said. “It was not in the language that was on the ballot, but that was the side agreement we agreed to.”

Ellis later said, “Those poor neighborhoods are the ones who have gotten the short end of the process.” But the HCFCD July flood-bond update shows that Halls, Greens, White Oak, Brays and Hunting Bayou Watersheds have received $400 million out of the $1 billion spent to date from the flood bond. Twenty percent of the watersheds are getting 40% of the money. Short end?

I personally don’t plan to vote for another bond until I start seeing some benefit from the last two. Especially when there’s no guarantee how, where or on what the money will be spent. To me, this looks like a $1.2 billion dollar slush fund for Garcia and Ellis.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/6/22

1803 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.

Flood Digest: Updates on TWDB Grants, Affordable Housing Investigations, Subsidence

Below are updates on three items recently in the news: Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) Grants, Affordable Housing Investigations, and Subsidence.

Texas Water Development Board Grants Affecting Houston Region

Last week, I posted a story about flood mitigation assistance grants being considered by the TWDB. The Houston region qualified for eight and the TWDB approved them all…unanimously. However, the checks aren’t in the mail yet.

TWDB approved the following subject to FEMA final approval:

  • 32 structures in Houston, Jersey Village, Pearland and Taylor Lake Village will receive financial assistance for elevating structures.
  • 1421 structures in Bear Creek Village (near Addicks Reservoir and Highway 6) will see their drainage improved by Harris County Flood Control District HCFCD).
  • 61 repetitive loss structures will be bought out by HCFCD.
  • 1 hotel with a severe repetitive loss history dating back to 1979 will also be bought out by HCFCD.
  • 40 repetitive-loss structures in Montgomery County will also be bought out.

FEMA requested more information for further review on each project. So when/if FEMA gives final approval to each of the above, they should be good to go. That usually happens by January.

Texas projects considered for further review by FEMA

Clear Lake Apartment Complex Recommended by Mayor

On September 21, the former director of Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department (HCDD) turned whistleblower and accused the mayor of recommending a multi-family housing deal in Clear Lake that was not in taxpayers’ best interests. It turns out the Mayor’s former law partner would have benefited by $15 million from the deal, but the department’s recommendations would have provided four times more affordable housing for essentially the same amount of money.

That ignited a firestorm in the media and on City Council. HUD, GLO, the County Attorney, and the City Attorney (with the help of two US Attorneys) and City Council are all investigating.

In the face of this withering onslaught, the Houston Chronicle today reported that the Mayor has dropped his recommendation to back his former law partner’s project in Clear Lake. The Mayor said he didn’t want it to become a “distraction.”

However, getting the genie back in the bottle may not be that simple. Since the Clear Lake deal imploded on September 22, 2021, more allegations of financial mismanagement arose in City Council last week.

Also this afternoon, investigative journalist Wayne Dolcefino issued a press release about a Federal lawsuit he filed. It alleges a cover-up at the Houston Housing Authority on other housing deals that appear to be linked to the same players Tom McCasland and the Mayor.

This has the stink of Watergate about it.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner at Kingwood’s last town hall meeting in October of 2018.

GMA-14 Makes Subsidence DFC Optional

For several years now, the state’s Groundwater Management Area 14 (GMA-14) in southeast Texas has struggled to define Desired Future Conditions (DFCs). These are long-term goals that address groundwater conservation and the maximum amount of subsidence allowable.

The Lonestar Groundwater Conservation District has denied subsidence exists in Montgomery County and stonewalled efforts to include a subsidence metric in DFCs.

Going into a board meeting last week, GMA 14 had proposed DFCs that read:

In each county in GMA 14, no less than 70 percent median available drawdown remaining in 2080 and no more than an average of 1.0 additional foot of subsidence between 2009 and 2080.

Initial DFCs

However, days before the final vote on this statement, State Senator Robert Nichols, intervened. He wrote a letter to each of GMA-14’s groundwater conservation district leaders “urging” them to make the subsidence metric optional. At that point, the debate ended. The final DFCs adopted by GMA-14 read:

In each county in Groundwater Management Area 14, no less than 70 percent median available drawdown remaining in 2080 or no more than an average of 1.0 additional foot of subsidence between 2009 and 2080. 

Final DFCs

This “opt-out option” defeats the purpose of even having a GMA and a subsidence metric.

This revised statement was quietly approved on October 5, 2021. At its January 5, 2022, meeting, GMA-14 will approve the report that accompanies the DFCs when they are submitted to the TDWB.

Of the five groundwater conservation districts in GMA-14, four voted for the new DFCs and one abstained. The new DFCs will likely be challenged in court by areas threatened by subsidence.

Makeup of Groundwater Management Area 14

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/11/2021

1504 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.

LSGCD Finally Approves Phase II of Subsidence Study, Only One Problem…

At its April 13, 2021 board meeting, the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) finally approved Phase 2 of its Subsidence Study. Approval of the study had been on the agenda for months, but kept getting postponed. It was only after Groundwater Management Agency 14 (GMA-14) insisted on a subsidence metric in its Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) last Friday, that LSGCD finally approved the study this Tuesday.

Samantha Reiter, General Manager of LSGCD, has repeatedly stated for months that subsidence is not a limiting factor in Montgomery County, so it shouldn’t be included in DFCs for Montgomery County. She made three motions in the GMA-14 meeting last week that would have let LSGCD avoid a subsidence limitation that she claimed did not apply.

The study – which might or might not support that conclusion – will take 60 weeks to complete. But the Texas Water Development Board deadline for DFCs from all groundwater management areas is January 5, 2022 – in 38 weeks.

The study will cost $122,700 and arrive 22 weeks after the train leaves the station.

For the full details of the study scope of work, costs, and timetable that LSGCD approved last night, click here.

Scope of Work to Focus on MoCo

A thorough reader will also note that while LSGCD has been trumpeting “subsidence is not a limiting factor here,” the scope of work acknowledges that Phase One of the study was basically a literature review of pre-existing studies. Most of those were based in other counties.

The ostensible purpose of the Phase Two study is to develop data specific to Montgomery County and LSGCD (see pages 1/2). So it appears, they may not really obtain data to prove or disprove their claim until long after DFCs must be finalized by statute.

Lone Star Still Hopeful It Can Avoid Subsidence Metric

To her credit, Ms. Reiter admitted later in the board meeting that GMA-14 rejected her three alternative motions to make a subsidence DFC optional. However, during that discussion, she also said she thought part of the pushback came because she circulated her motion(s) for review at 11 p.m. the night before the meeting. That angered some people who said they had been begging for motions to review, even if only in draft form, for months.

Reiter stated last night to her board that she hoped those GMA-14 members would reconsider her motions in October. That would happen after the public comment period on the DFCs adopted last Friday. However, making a major change at that point might trigger a second 90-day public comment period. That’s going to be tight. Only 91 days exist between October 6th (the next GMA-14 meeting) and January 5, the state’s mandatory deadline.

Two Potential Issues with Study Scope

First, LSGCD said it plans to review the DFCs with stakeholders. But many of the people impacted are outside Montgomery County and they aren’t considered “stakeholders.” For instance, models show that at the rate LSGCD wants to pump groundwater, it would cause approximately 3 feet of subsidence in the Kingwood, Humble, Atascocita and Huffman areas but only 1 foot of subsidence at the Lake Houston Dam. That would essentially bring floodwaters two feet closer to upstream homes in Harris County. But we’re not considered LSGCD stakeholders.

Subsidence in Harris County that could be triggered if Lone Star pumps as much water as it voted to.
Lake Houston Dam During Harvey had five times more water going over it than goes over Niagra Falls on an average day. More than 16,000 homes and 3,300 businesses in the Lake Houston Area flooded during Harvey.

Second, the scope of work for the Lone Star subsidence study says, “we will evaluate logs up to 10 miles beyond the Montgomery County boundary to aid in constraining the interpolation of surfaces within LSGC.” Said another way, it appears that they won’t evaluate their impact on Harris County. The purpose of a groundwater management area is to bind all the people of a region together in a common cause. But that doesn’t seem to be happening here.

Fortunately, Harris County residents will still have an opportunity to provide input directly to GMA-14 or the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District.

People must stay engaged on this issue. We should not assume it is behind us simply because GMA-14 adopted some proposed DFCs for public comment.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/14/2021

1324 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.

LSGCD Votes to Almost Double Groundwater Pumping, Treat Subsidence as PR problem

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) board voted Wednesday in a special meeting to throw caution and conservation to the wind. In a long-delayed vote, the board unanimously agreed to adopt “Desired Future Conditions” (DFCs) that allow groundwater pumping to increase from approximately 60,000 acre fee per year to 115,000. This was the third of three alternatives they considered and the one that caused up to 3.5 feet of subsidence in southern MoCo. The board also voted unanimously NOT to include a subsidence metric in their DFCs and to hire an Austin PR firm, The Mach 1 Group, to handle the PR fallout.

Still No Action to Initiate MoCo Subsidence Study

For the third meeting in a row, the board also took no action to initiate Phase II of its subsidence study. The LSGCD Phase I report stated that Phase II would assess subsidence and flooding. However, having decided to ignore subsidence, the fate of Phase II remains unclear. (As of this writing, the board has not yet posted its agenda for the regularly scheduled April 13 meeting, nor has it posted the video of the April 7 meeting.) (Update: as of 4/12 at noon, video of the meeting was still not posted.)

Stage Set for Showdown

All of these decisions set the stage for a showdown at the Groundwater Management Area 14 (GMA-14) meeting this Friday at 9 a.m. Approval of LSGCD’s DFCs requires a two-thirds vote. Because GMA-14 has five voting groundwater conservation districts, approval will require at least three others.

GMA-14 will meet tomorrow at 9 a.m. to discuss its options. See meeting details below if you wish to participate.

More Troubling Contradictions Emerge from Meeting

Those who follow this debate have noted many troubling contradictions on the part of LSGCD and yesterday’s meeting was no exception.

The virtual meeting started 14 minutes late due to connectivity issues. The few hardy souls who persisted through the delays and poor audio quality, were treated to lengthy presentations that covered old ground and several contradictory comments from staff and board members.

For instance:

  • LSGCD claimed at the last GMA-14 meeting that it needed another month to hold stakeholder meetings before they could vote on DFCs. But last night’s reports on the stakeholder meetings did not mention subsidence, only the need to improve communications. This set the stage for the motions to ignore subsidence in DFCs and to hire a PR agency. It would be interesting to learn whether stakeholders expressed concerns about subsidence that weren’t reported.
  • QuadVest, which reportedly funded the campaigns of current board members, previously threatened to sue everyone in sight if they didn’t get their way. However, in yesterday’s meeting, they claimed they now had no plans to sue anyone. (Note: Previous to voting on yesterday’s motion, the board discussed litigation in executive session.) Winning through intimidation!
  • The board claimed it could not measure subsidence, although tools to do so are cheap and readily available. And the LSGCD staff was told so in the last GMA-14 meeting.
  • The board also insisted its problems were based on misinformation, but failed to acknowledge one example. Neither did they acknowledge their own role in spreading disinformation.
  • For instance, LSGCD claimed Harris County had no subsidence metric in place, ignoring the facts that the goal of the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District is to eliminate subsidence and that HGSD has extensive regulations in place to get people off of groundwater.
  • The key argument seemed to be that aquifer decline, not subsidence, was the only limiting factor on groundwater pumping. But modeling showed that at the pumping rate they adopted, subsidence would exceed three feet in places.
  • The board also argued that pumping in Harris County affected subsidence in MoCo. While true in certain cases, that ignores the fact that they approved an increase in MoCo pumping while pumping in Harris County is declining.
  • They talked a lot about property rights, but never specified whose. QuadVest believes they have a right to pump water from beneath your house.
Modeled subsidence in MoCo if pumping reaches 115,000 acre feet per year.

Who Benefits?

QuadVest gets to pump more water, the raw material of its business. QuadVest previously backed efforts to get the LSGCD board elected rather than appointed by local regulated entities. QuadVest then reportedly backed a slate of candidates promising to “Restore Affordable Water.” However, according to MoCo residents who get QuadVest water and have contacted me, water rates have not come down.

Who Loses?

Consequences of subsidence are widespread. Differential subsidence measured over wide areas can alter the gradient of ditches, pipelines, streams, rivers and lakes. For instance, models show that the subsidence associated with pumping 115,000 acre feet per year in Montgomery County would cause 1 foot of subsidence at the Lake Houston Dam but 3 feet in Kingwood and Huffman. That would put tens of thousands of upstream residents 2 feet closer to floodwaters.

Rescue efforts in Kingwood on Valley Manor during Harvey flood in 2017. Almost two miles from West Fork of San Jacinto.
Rescue efforts in Kingwood on Valley Manor during Harvey flood in 2017. 2.1 miles from West Fork of San Jacinto. 110 homes in this subdivision flooded. Imagine if water were 2 feet higher.

Subsidence can also crack roads, foundations, walls, ceilings, and roofs, especially near fault lines which are plentiful in southern MoCo and northern Harris Counties.

Subsidence triggered by groundwater pumping at a Woodlands home near a fault line.

Avoiding Checks and Balances

If subsidence isn’t really a danger as the LSGCD board contends, why not include a subsidence metric in its DFCs? Aquifers can rebound over time, but subsidence is forever. Over-pumping could cause irreversible damage as you see above.

GMA-14 Meeting Details

The GMA-14 meeting is April 9, 2021 at 9 a.m. To make a public comment, sign up here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 8, 2021

1318 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.

Crucial Week for Future of Subsidence, Flooding

Three meetings will make this a crucial week for subsidence and flooding for large parts of Montgomery and Harris Counties. For months now, the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) has adamantly opposed any mention of subsidence in its Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) while it argues for increased groundwater pumping. But LSGCD must get the other members of Groundwater Management Area 14 (GMA-14) to approve its DFCs before they can allow increased pumping. And opinions regarding those DFCS are far from unanimous. GMA-14 members are pushing for a metric that limits subsidence; LSGCD is fighting that.

TownshipFuture Meeting Tuesday

With that in mind, a group called TownshipFuture will host a Zoom webinar featuring experts from the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), the Houston-Galveston Subsidence District (HGSD), and The Woodlands Water Authority (WWA). Says Robert Leilich, president of Woodlands MUD #1 and a steering committee member of TownshipFuture, “The meeting will explore how the cost of water is related to the potential for more flooding and what you can do about it. Upcoming proposals from the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District could lead to increased subsidence, causing residents to pay more for water. These proposals could also increase the risk of physical damage to homes and the risk of flooding in flood-prone areas of The Woodlands.”

The TownshipFuture Meeting is Tuesday, April 6, at 7PM. The Zoom webinar is free and all are invited. To register, go to https://forms.gle/GYcG1Q1uekCGbrCz6. You will be sent an email with instructions how to sign into the webinar.

TownshipFuture has also launched a petition opposing the desire of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District to increase groundwater pumping. To view the TownshipFuture petition to the GMA 14 Board of Directors, click here or go to https://townshipfuture.org/home/our-advocacy/petition-to-limit-groundwater-pumping-in-montgomery-county/.

GMA 14 has the authority to approve or disapprove any increase in LGGCD’s groundwater pumping. To support the petition, add your name at the bottom.

LSGCD Meeting Wednesday

Then, on Wednesday, April 7, at 4PM, the LSGCD will hold a special board meeting. According to the agenda, the board will go into executive session immediately after public comments to consider litigation. (However, they don’t disclose the nature of the litigation.) They will then take up two matters:

  1. Proposed Desired Future Conditions for GMA 14.
  2. Hiring a PR firm.

LSGCD staff recently finished a series of stakeholder input sessions. But the agenda does not list a report to the board on staff findings.

The hiring of a PR firm is a highly unusual move for a group of this nature. According to some observers, it indicates that LSGCD failed to convince scientists of their position on subsidence and is now taking its case to the public. One insider, though, claimed the board just feels “misunderstood.” They feel they are the victims of “misinformation.”

The LSGCD meeting will also be a Zoom webinar. To register, visit https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_cxsukkSBSg2VQE9uiUayRA. For other participation options or to make public comments during the meeting, see the instructions at the start of the agenda.

GMA-14 Meeting Friday

On Friday, April 9 at 9AM, GMA-14 will take up the matter of DFCs. It has a statutory deadline to meet to finalize DFCs: no later than January 5, 2022.

However, GMA-14 has a May 1 deadline to formulate proposed DFCs for 14 counties. So if LSGCD and the other members can’t reach a suitable compromise this week, they will need to schedule another meeting before the end of the month. And they are already pushing up against a public notice requirement for a second meeting.

Between May and January deadlines, GMA-14 must solicit public comments for 90 days on the proposed DFCs; review and publish the comments; adopt or modify the DFCs; and submit them to the TWDB. Final adoption of the DFCs requires a two-thirds vote of all the members of the groundwater management area.

At the last GMA-14 meeting, LSGCD requested more time to meet with stakeholders and its board before finalizing a DFC statement. The big questions are, “Will LSGCD request more time to finalize a proposed DFC statement for Montgomery County?” And if so, “Will it include a mention of subsidence?”

You can attend the GMA-14 meeting via the GoToMeeting App. Register here. Click here for the meeting agenda. And click here if you wish to make a public comment.

How Subsidence Relates to Flooding

USGS is a non-political, scientific agency. It states in its research that the “land subsidence in the Houston-Galveston Region … partially or completely submerges land”, “disrupts collector drains and irrigation ditches”, and “alters the flow of creeks and bayous which may increase the frequency and severity of flooding.” To read the full research on Texas Gulf Coast Groundwater and Land Subsidence, please visit: https://txpub.usgs.gov/houston_subsidence/home/

Other scientists have also documented links between subsidence, flooding, and other damages. Check out these studies.

Subsidence exposes inland areas to increased risks of flooding and erosion by altering natural and engineered drainage-ways (open channels and pipelines) that depend on gravity-driven flow of storm-runoff and sewerage. 

Expected subsidence in Harris County if GMA-14 lets Montgomery County pump 30% of its aquifers (70% remaining). The assumption going in was that this could cause up to 1 foot of subsidence, but modeling shows it creates far more.

Differential subsidence, depending on where it occurs with respect to the location of drainageways, may reduce or enhance preexisting gradients. Gradient reductions decrease the rate of drainage and thereby increase the chance of flooding by storm-water runoff. See https://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/circ1182/pdf/07Houston.pdf.

Other studies show that:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/5/2021

1315 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.

Flood Notes: Quick Updates on Multiple Flood Related Topics

Below are updates on seven flood-related topics from around the Lake Houston Area and Texas.

Plugging of Noxxe Wells in Forest Cove Delayed

Peter Fisher of the Texas Railroad Commission reports that its Oil & Gas Division is about eight to 10 weeks away from plugging the NOXXE wells in Forest Cove. Noxxe abandoned the lease when Harvey cleanup costs forced the company into bankruptcy. The Commission’s General Counsel notified Fisher on March 4th that another operator is attempting to take over the NOXXE leases.  “At this time we do not know for sure which wells they are interested in.  Therefore, we are currently in a holding pattern on plugging the NOXXE wells,” said Fisher. TRRC has already finished cleanup of the rusting tanks in Forest Cove, but several wells still appear to be leaking based on aerial photos that show oil on ponds and in the public water supply.

Black substance in West Fork/Lake Houston stretched for about a half mile on December 7, 2020, next to one of many abandoned Noxxe wells.

Texas GLO and Houston Declare Truce for Time Being

Last year, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) tried to claw back funds allocated to the City of Houston for several Harvey-related disaster assistance programs. Why? The City fell seriously behind deadlines, even as the reimbursement program was expiring. Then the two sides reached a settlement and the City took back some programs. Houston will continue to administer $835 million in programs – Homeowner Assistance (reimbursement program), Single Family Development, Multifamily Rental, Small Rental, Homebuyer Assistance, Buyout, Public Services and Economic Revitalization Programs.

However, the GLO included strict program benchmarks with language that includes: “Program Benchmarks: Subrecipient’s failure to achieve a Program Benchmark in the Subrecipient Agreement may result in the termination of the Program and/or funds being removed from the Contract, at the GLO’s sole discretion.” HUD’s rules include that funds be expended – not allocated – by August 2024, plus one more year for close out, or else HUD will retain the funds.

City’s Homeowner Assistance Applications

In the meantime, the GLO is keeping the City’s Homeowner Assistance Program. Many who first applied through the City have been caught in limbo due to missing, incomplete and poorly formatted documents.

On December 30, 2020, the GLO received 48,000 documents that had no discernable naming conventions, were not grouped by applicant, and were mostly unsearchable. The GLO had to open each document to determine which applicant it belongs to and file accordingly. On January 27, 2021, the GLO received a transfer of additional files that appear to be mostly environmental assessments, but once again, were not organized. The GLO has sorted the files from the City of Houston and the GLO team is contacting applicants to request missing or outdated documentation to move them towards construction.

We received data for 7,176 files, but nearly half had none or only one of the documents needed for a complete application to achieve HUD eligibility. “We are in the process of contacting all applicants to determine which ones still wish to participate and request the documents we need to complete their files,” said a GLO spokesperson.

Court Reverses Air Quality Permit for APO

Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining announced that on March 5, a district court in Austin struck down an air-quality permit for a quarry. Alabama-based Vulcan Construction Materials needed the permit to proceed with a controversial project.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had initially granted the permit in 2019 after two years of heated legal wrangling between Vulcan, the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates, and an alliance of Comal County citizens, community groups and Comal ISD.

459th Civil District Court Judge Maya Guerra Gamble ruled that:

  • TCEQ’s assertion that the quarry would not harm human health or welfare was not supported by evidence.
  • Vulcan’s emissions calculations were not representative and not supported by substantial evidence.
  • Vulcan’s air quality analysis did not account for cumulative impacts or emissions from the quarry and roads.
  • Vulcan’s choice of background concentration was arbitrary or capricious.
  • In the contested case hearing, the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) judge erred in allowing Vulcan to hide behind “trade secret” claims.
  • Plaintiffs were denied due process when the SOAH judge allowed Vulcan to conceal data using the “trade secret” excuse and did not allow plaintiffs to cross-examine Vulcan.

Vulcan’s proposed mining operation in the Texas Hill Country would stretch across nearly three miles of the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, the primary water supply for over two million people in New Braunfels and San Antonio.

Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Punts on Subsidence Again

After several filibusters, the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Board again deferred publicly adopting a position on subsidence or approving the second half of its subsidence study in a mercifully brief March 9th meeting. The District’s general manager and counsel are reportedly querying stakeholders on the subject. But time is running out before GMA-14 meeting. The LSGCD may have to call a special meeting before the next GMA-14 meeting on April 9th to resolve those issues. It will be interesting to see what they come back with. Simon Sequeira, of Quadvest, one of the largest independent water pumpers in the county is a stakeholder.

Kerr County Commissioners Support Best Management Practices for Local APOs

The adoption of best management practices by sand mines in the San Jacinto watershed has been a legislative goal of area groups since Harvey. It was during Harvey that floodwaters swept through mines and flushed sand downstream where it contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses. Now the Hill-Country group, Texans for Responsible Aggregate Management reports they have achieved a victory of sorts.

On March 1st, 2021 the Kerr County Commissioners’ Court unanimously passed a resolution supporting TRAM’s legislative goals, as well as a resolution encouraging Kerr County APOs to adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) in order to minimize adverse health effects and nuisance issues. The resolution was sparked by concerns over West Texas Aggregate LLC’s desire for a permanent rock and concrete crusher facility near the airport east of Kerrville.

LCRA Adopts Commercial Dredging Moratorium on Highland Lakes

On February 24, 2021, The Lower Colorado River Authority Board of Directors adopted a one-year moratorium prohibiting commercial dredging on the Highland Lakes until new rules are established. This action states that LCRA will not review pending permit applications such as the Collier Materials Inc. permit application for commercial dredging on the Llano River and cancelled the public meeting scheduled for March 10, 2021.

The Board determined that new rules are necessary to address commercial dredging projects and their potential impact on water quality, aquatic life and public safety on the lakes. Over the next year, LCRA will review potential water quality impacts of commercial dredging, coordinate with other entities, and conduct a robust public and stakeholder input process.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/18/2021

1297 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.

LSGCD to Discuss Issue of Subsidence Tonight

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District will meet tonight starting at 6PM. On the agenda are two items of interest for those concerned about subsidence in Montgomery and Harris Counties.

  • 11) Receive information from District’s technical consultants regarding subsidence studies and/or discussion regarding the same – Samantha Stried Reiter and/or District’s technical consultant(s)
    • a) Discussion, consideration, and possible action to approve Subsidence Study Phase 2 Scope of Work.’
  • 12) Groundwater Management Area 14 – update the board on the issues related to joint planning activities and development of desired future conditions in GMA 14 –Samantha Reiter and/or District’s technical consultant(s)
    • a) Discussion, consideration, and possible action on any items related to Lone Star GCD’s proposal(s) to and/or participation in GMA 14.

A Not-So-Instant Replay of Last Month’s Meeting?

Both sound similar to two items on last month’s agenda. However, the board deferred discussion and action on Phase 2 of the subsidence study because a large number of public comments and excessively long technical and historical presentations by staff. The presentations tried to convince any viewers still awake that LSGCD was still seriously examining subsidence – despite the fact that they had just told the GMA-14 board that they rejected any mention of subsidence in their Desired Future Conditions (DFCs). Since the last LSGCD board meeting, the same presenters again told GMA-14 that they soundly rejected any mention of subsidence…and always had.

Acting Worthy of Hollywood

The Hollywood talent scouts should be tuning in tonight. Acting just doesn’t get much better than this. After all, these are the people who promised to “restore affordable water” but in three years have yet to reduce rates.

John Yoars, a Woodlands resident submitted a three-page letter in tonight’s board packet that is so plain-spoken and common sense that the talent scouts will probably ignore him. But you shouldn’t. See pages 23-25.

Mr. Yoars begins by challenging the board to “own your problems.” Specifically, he defines the B-52 sized fly-in-the-ointment as, “How will the Board control subsidence in southeast Montgomery County?”

Map showing projected subsidence in Southern MOCO if LSGCD pumps 115,000 acre-feet per year of groundwater.

Plain-Spoken Recommendations from Woodlands Resident

Yoars advocates:

  • Acknowledging that 2-3 feet of subsidence in southeast MoCo is not acceptable. It’s an average across the entire county. The average includes 0 subsidence in the northern parts and more than 3 feet in the south. There’s no way to justify the latter.
  • Dividing southern Montgomery County into three segments to isolate the problem.
    • From Magnolia west, there’s no problem, he says.
    • The south-central Conroe/Woodlands corridor already has access to surface water and has shown they can acceptably manage subsidence with it … when they aren’t at war with the SJRA.
    • Southeast MoCo is where the real problem is. He advocates working with the Porter Special Utility District to bring East Fork San Jacinto River water into their system to reduce the projected 3-3.75 feet of subsidence there.
  • Pumping groundwater only in the less populated areas where subsidence will not really be an issue in the foreseeable future.
  • Starting to talk about solutions instead of arguing about irrelevant issues.

That’s the kind of thinking that could help Texans win back their reputation for straight talk. Even if you don’t buy every one of Yoar’s points, his hypothesis is testable and could get us further down the trail than the current crew has.

Porter probably doesn’t not have enough money to build its own surface water treatment plant. Extending the SJRA pipeline from the Woodlands to Porter might be more cost effective. But again, engineers can easily estimate those tradeoffs.

View Discussion Starting at 6PM

LSGCD has three ways for you to participate

  • Live Broadcast Link (watching only): https://lonestargcd.new.swagit.com/views/58
  • Participate Via Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_oqaz9Z_5SJyQRd_9dynxwQ Register beforehand. You will then receive a confirmation email with a password. Use the password to join the webinar. You WILL have the opportunity to provide live comments during the designated portion of the hearings or meeting.
  • Dial in: Call +1 346 248 7799; enter the meeting ID: 854 2178 5781#. You will then be prompted to enter a participation code or press #. Press #. You do not need a participation code.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/9/2021

1288 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.

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

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