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