Tag Archive for: quadvest

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.

LSGWCD Rejects Subsidence Limit as Any Part of Desired Future Conditions

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGWCD) thumbed its nose at the rest of Southeast Texas when it rejected any mention of subsidence limitations in “desired future conditions (DFCs)” for Montgomery County. The statement came two hours, seven minutes and 15 seconds into a Groundwater Management Area (GMA) 14 meeting last month.

“At this time we can’t support the use of DFCs for subsidence in Montgomery County,” said James Beach, an engineering consultant for LSGWCD.

It’s unclear who authorized the consultant to make this statement. Those who follow LSGWCD meetings cannot remember the board discussing such a statement in any open meeting.

Bad Timing

This comes two months before a deadline to finalize DFCs for the entire GMA and two years after the debate about subsidence started. Since 2018, LSGCD and GMA 14 partners have debated various groundwater withdrawal/subsidence scenarios.

Run D was the most popular scenario for a long time. It called for leaving 70% of groundwater in place and causing no more than 1 foot of subsidence. However, withdrawing 30% of groundwater produced far more subsidence in Harris County.
The same models showed 2.5 feet of subsidence in south Montgomery County.

GMA 14 covers most of southeast Texas. It includes 19 counties clustered into 7 groundwater conservation districts. Rules adopted by the group apply to every conservation district and county in the area.

Members of GMA 14

LSGWCD has argued in favor of virtually unlimited groundwater pumping ever since its board became elected. Quadvest, a large, private water producer in Montgomery County successfully backed candidates running for the LSGWCD board on a platform of “restoring affordable water.” Both the Board and Quadvest have argued ever since – contrary to scientific evidence – that subsidence is not an issue in Montgomery County. They even produced a study (Phase One) to prove the point. It basically amounted to a survey of scientific literature mashed up with public comments.

HARC Study Points Out Limitations of LSGWCD Study

However, a report issued today by HARC calls several of the report’s conclusions “misleading” regarding:

  • Compaction data of various aquifers in Montgomery County.
  • Not mentioning well-known limitations on use of models for Montgomery County aquifers.
  • Focusing more on subsidence in Harris and Galveston Counties than on subsidence in Montgomery County.

The HARC Study also points out limitations on the use of data in LSGCD’s Phase One study. For instance, the latter was:

  • Primarily a survey of scientific literature, not conditions in Montgomery County.
  • It didn’t discuss drought.
  • Nor did it discuss oil and gas production.
  • It drew unjustified conclusions from limited data.
  • The language was imprecise and subjective.
  • It relied more on public comment than scientific data.

To read the full Phase 1 report and an Executive Summary, follow the links at the bottom of their Subsidence Page.https://www.lonestargcd.org/subsidence

Two Subsidence-Related Items On LSGWCD Agenda for Tuesday

LSGWCD will hold a board meeting Tuesday night starting at 6 pm. The agenda contains two related items.

  • 14. 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.
  • 15. 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.

Re: the second point, a water expert I queried said there is no way LSGWCD can opt out of GMA 14. The reference is likely to whether they want to participate financially with other groundwater conservation districts in funding the operations of GMA 14.

How to Attend In Person or Online

In-Person Participation

If you choose to participate in person, you WILL have the opportunity to provide live comments during the designated portion of the hearings or meeting.

Online Participation

If you choose to participate via the Zoom webinar link below, you WILL have the opportunity to provide live comments during the designated portion of the hearings or meeting.

If you choose to participate in the webinar via the Zoom App, you will need to pre- register via the URL meeting link above to get a password emailed to you in advance of the webinar. You will use the password emailed to you during pre- registration when you log into the app to join the webinar. You WILL have the opportunity to provide live comments during the designated portion of the hearings or meeting.

Participation via the videoconference webinar is not required and only necessary if you plan to make public comment during any hearing or the meeting. If you plan to make public comment during any hearing or meeting, please contact the District at (936) 494-3436 or info@lonestargcd.org to register as a speaker during public comment. 

Please indicate whether you would like to make public comment during the management plan hearing, permit hearing and/or board meeting. You must also register as a speaker when logging into the webinar by providing your name and email address. You can pre-register for the webinar. Any person participating in the meeting must be recognized and identified by a moderator before they speak.

Watching or Listening but Not Commenting

If you do NOT want to make live public comment and/or you choose to participate in the public hearings and meeting using the conference call number or live broadcast link below, you will NOT have the opportunity to provide live comments during the designated portion of the hearings and meeting. The conference call phone number is provided for LISTENING PURPOSES ONLY, and the live broadcast link is provided for LISTENING AND WATCHING PURPOSES ONLY.

You can submit written comments in advance to info@lonestargcd.org.

Telephone conference call phone number: +1 346-248-7799 Meeting ID: 886 2954 3383# 
You will then be prompted to enter a participation code or press #. Press #. You do not need a participation code.
Live broadcast of the hearings and meeting via the link below or on the meetings tab on the District’s website at https://www.lonestargcd.org/meetings

Live Broadcast Link:https://lonestargcd.new.swagit.com/views/58

To Learn More About the Implications of Subsidence

ReduceFlooding.com has posted several times about subsidence in south Montgomery and North Harris Counties. See:

Those Who Deny History are Doomed to Repeat It: Subsidence in 1974 and 2019

Someone’s Trying to Tilt Lake Houston Toward Your House

Truth is the First Casualty in Water Wars, Too

MoCo Water War Escalates, Putting Millions in Crossfire

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

One thing is for sure. The next two months will be exciting.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/8/2021

1259 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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20201120-GMA14_GCD-1024x791.jpg
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Meinrath-1024x500.jpg
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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Slide2-1024x576.jpeg
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.
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Slide3-1024x576.jpeg
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

TCEQ Fines Quadvest for 48,000 Gallon Sewage Spill in Colony Ridge

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has fined Quadvest $5,625 for a 48,000-gallon sewage spill in Colony Ridge, a large and growing development in Liberty County near the San Jacinto East Fork and Plum Grove. Quadvest supplies water and sewer services for the development.

The violation occurred in Camino Real, a Colony Ridge subdivision with almost 3500 lots. It happened at a lift station approximately 1,000 feet north-northeast of the intersection of Paul Campbell Loop Road and Plum Drive.

Discharge with Bluish Color Kills Fish

The complainant alleged that the discharge had a bluish color and killed fish. The TCEQ complaint says people were exposed to unsafe levels of pollutants, however, no deaths were reported in relation to the incident except for fish.

Photo of discharge in Maple Branch Creek

TCEQ says Quadvest “failed to prevent the unauthorized discharge of wastewater into or adjacent to any water in the state. Specifically, on July 22, 2019, an electrical failure at Camino Real Lift Station-H located at 342 Road 5002 caused the pumps to fail, resulting in approximately 48,000 gallons of wastewater being discharged into Maple Branch Creek, killing approximately 30 fish.”

Cleanup and Fine Cost Quadvest More Than $105,000

In July, 2019, Quadvest cleaned up the mess. TCEQ estimated the cost at more than $100,000. Then in June 2020, Quadvest CEO Simon Sequeira agreed to pay an additional penalty of $5,625.

Previous Related Violations

During the year before the unauthorized discharge, the TCEQ issued four other notices of violations to Quadvest for:

  • Sewage overflowing from a manhole at an estimated rate of 10-25 gallons per minute
  • Failure to maintain an operational alarm system for emergency conditions
  • Twice failing to secure its lift station from intruders (August and November 2018)

None of the violations was self-reported. Click here for the full TCEQ report.

Part of Larger Problem

Since this incident, other sewage problems have occurred in Colony Ridge. Stormwater can wash this fecal contamination into adjoining streams and bayous which empty into the East Fork and Lake Houston, the source of drinking water for 2 million people.

More Colony Ridge fecal contamination bubbling up from underground and flowing toward Tarkenton Bayou. Photo taken in June 2020.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/4/2020

1132 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 381 since Imelda

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.

Hidden Cost of Fecal Contamination: Removing It

Fecal contamination of water can have many health consequences. It can also have consequences for your wallet in terms of hospital bills and water treatment costs. The expansion of Houston’s Northeast Water Purification Plant will cost $1.765 billion.

Persistent Sewage Leaks at Colony Ridge

Yesterday, I reported on 48,000 gallons of sewage documented by the TCEQ in ditches and streams near Colony Ridge in Liberty County just before Imelda struck last year. Stormwater from that area flushes into the San Jacinto East Fork and Lake Houston. Any sewage not cleaned up from that particular spill likely wound up in the main source of the City of Houston’s drinking water.

Had it been a one time affair, it could have been explained as an accident. But the problems recur. Neither the developer, sewage contractor, County, nor State have managed to eliminate the frequent leaks.

Sewage Coverup

In fact, yesterday’s post contained photographs of one incident where the leak remained. A bulldozer had simply covered up sewage that leaked into the ditch adjacent to a road. It was as if the people responsible were saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” The sewage leak remains, though, and without remediation, the pollution will eventually wash down toward Tarkington Bayou, which also enters the East Fork.

Putting Water Test Results in Context

Two recent tests of samples taken within Colony Ridge by Eastex Environmental Labs showed fecal contamination on the order of 3,000 to 5,000 “colonies” per 100 milliliters. Just what does that mean?

One-hundred milliliters equals a little more than six tablespoons.

A website called Water Research Center contained a very helpful article that explains what fecal contamination can do in those concentrations. In addition to concentrations, it also discusses sources of contamination, health/environmental consequences and more. It said that the current US EPA recommendations for:

  • Body-contact recreation (i.e., swimming, diving, water skiing) is fewer than 200 colonies/100 mL
  • Fishing and boating is fewer than 1000 colonies/100 mL
  • Intake at water treatment plants for domestic water supply is fewer than 2000 colonies/100 mL.

The drinking water standard AFTER TREATMENT is less than 1 colony total coliform bacteria/100ml with E. coli ABSENT.

The presence of fecal contamination is an indicator that a potential health risk exists for individuals exposed to this water. Diseases and illnesses that can be contracted in water with high fecal coliform counts include but are not limited to:

  • Typhoid fever
  • Hepatitis
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Dysentery,
  • Ear, nose, eye and cut infections. 

Cost to Make Drinking Water Safe

On my last flight over Lake Houston, I flew over the expansion of the Northeast Water Purification Plant. Until you’ve seen this in person, it’s hard to believe how large it is.

The new plant will quintuple the amount of pure, fresh water available to customers in this area. The City is adding 320 million gallons per day (MGD) to the existing 80 MGD capacity for a total of 400 MGD.

In addition to conventional treatment processes, the new plant will include an advanced oxidation process called ozonation. Ozonation helps disinfect water to help ensure that harmful organisms such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium are eliminated. Ozonation also helps eliminate taste and odor causing compounds.

The intake facility shown below will finish next year, but the plant itself won’t finish until mid 2025.

The cost of this project is $1.765 billion.


Photos of New Intake for Plant

All aerial images below were taken on 6/16/2020. While the plant expansion will make drinking water safe, it won’t make all the water in Lake Houston safe as long as people allow fecal contamination to leak into it.

The expanded plant lies more than a mile from the intake in the foreground.
The expansion will occupy approximately 150 acres of the City’s 252 acre site.
The new intake pump station will be located approximately 900 feet from the shore of Lake Houston to draw water from a deeper depth than the current intake. That, say the partners, will alleviate some water-quality challenges.
Construction of the intake pump station should finish in about a year.
The pipelines carrying water back to the treatment plant will measure 108″ in diameter.
That’s nine feet tall. About the height of that cargo container used as a construction office! Photo cropped and enlarged from wider image above.

The City and its partners have produced an easy-to-understand, yet informative website that documents construction of this project.

This PowerPoint, posted as part of the latest update is packed with photos that may inspire your kids and grandkids to become engineers someday. It shows the meticulous planning and attention to detail that goes into such a project.

Objectives for Project

According to the web site, the project has two objectives:

  • To support the region’s growth
  • To reduce subsidence

But the partner’s sell themselves short. The fundamental reason is to provide safe, clean drinking water, despite the pollution from places like Colony Ridge.

For the record, lest you think I’m picking on Colony Ridge, there are many other sources of water pollution. They include livestock, leaky septic tanks, runoff from streets and more.

We can all help by reporting spills and leaks to City, County and State authorities when we see them.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/24/2020

1030 Days after Harvey and 279 since Imelda

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.

48,000 Gallons of Fecal Contamination Found in Liberty County’s Colony Ridge Ditches, Streams; Problems Persist

Last year, the TCEQ found sewage coming from a lift station and sewers in Liberty County’s Colony Ridge development, the world’s largest trailer park. TCEQ estimates Quadvest, the water and sewer supplier in Colony Ridge, released as much as 48,000 gallons of sewage into Maple Branch Creek, a tributary of the East Fork, at a minimum, causing a fish kill (Page 51).

More recent independent laboratory testing has verified fecal contamination in at least two drainage ditches in Colony Ridge. Moreover, residents claim they have found fecal contamination in other Colony Ridge ditches and streams, too. It’s not clear whether those additional spills have been tested.

During heavy rains, fecal contamination can quickly wash downstream and eventually wind up in Lake Houston.

A major concern of residents is the frequency of sewage leaks.

Results of TCEQ Investigation

Maple Branch Creek carried black water into the East Fork.
In addition to the stench, neighbors noticed a fish kill. These two photos correspond to a TCEQ investigation in July 2019.

TCEQ cited Quadvest L.P., the sewage and water provider for Colony Ridge, for “unauthorized discharge of wastewater which resulted in a documented serious impact to the environment.”

A month after TCEQ documented this discharge, 33 inches of rain fell on nearby Plum Grove during TS Imelda.

More Recent Tests by Eastex Environmental Labs

Eastex Environmental Labs in Cold Springs collected and analyzed at least two sets of samples this year. The first was for Liberty County. The second was for Maria Acevedo, a concerned resident.

Both show significant fecal contamination.

First Eastex Report shows Fecal Contamination

Here are results of the first test and pictures of the sewage.

The first site on a ditch next to County Road 5023 showed 3090 and 3130 units of fecal coliform, with none detected in the control sample. Maria Acevedo photographed this problem on June 4, 2020.

Photo on June 4, 2020 by Maria Acevedo on CR 5023 where Eastex took samples.
Sludge oozing down same ditch.

Second Eastex Report Shows VERY STRONG Fecal Contamination

Samples collected and analyzed by Eastex Environmental Labs, eliminating chain of custody issues.

In the second lab report obtained by ReduceFlooding.com, Eastex Labs found 5120 units of fecal contamination per 100 milliliters in Frances Ditch on 6/19/2020. A second sample taken from the same location found 4870. A control sample detected none.

The lab told Acevedo that they found “very strong fecal contamination.”

Maria acevedo

Residents who wish to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, contacted me about this site a week before Eastex sampled it.

Location of Second Sample Photographed on 6/12/2020

I photographed that ditch on Friday, 6/12/2020. It’s on the southeast corner of Colony Ridge. While there, I photographed cloudy water bubbling up out of the ground and running down a ditch toward Tarkington Bayou (see photos below).

Foul water and trail of greenish-brown sludge (left) bubbling up through ground…
…then flowed into ditch toward Tarkington Bayou at bottom of hill.
Close up of water/sludge in ditch.
Silt fence in ditch was propped up, ensuring foul water could ooze under it.
Farther down the ditch, contaminated water was pooling, and turning green and black.
In places, it had dried due to extreme heat. Temp was in 90’s.

Photos Taken Two Days Later Show Attempted Coverup

I came back two days later on 6/14 to explore the same area some more. The foul water still bubbled up, but someone with a bulldozer attempted to cover up the evidence in the ditch.

Sludge and contaminated water bubbled up from same hole on 6/14/2020.
However, the evidence in the ditch near the road had been freshly covered up by a bulldozer.

The Leaks Go On

If the incidents above were isolated, one might dismiss them. But they seem to be part of a larger, recurring pattern that neither Colony Ridge, Quadvest, nor Liberty County have stopped.

A resident says this sanitary sewer was leaking for more than two months into a ditch in a residential neighborhood and stunk like sewage. Photo by Maria Acevedo on CR5006 on March 18, 2020.

The largely Hispanic residents complain among themselves. But few reportedly file reports for fear of raising their profiles with authorities and perhaps answering difficult questions in court. Meanwhile, the sewage leaks go on. Both Colony Ridge residents and those downstream pay the price.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/23/2020

1029 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 278 since Imelda

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.

World’s Largest Trailer Park Has Only a Handful of Fire Hydrants

The world’s largest trailer park in Liberty County, Colony Ridge, currently covers more than 10,000 acres and has only a handful of fire hydrants. This may sound unrelated to flooding, but it shows the general quality – or lack thereof – of development practices. That same lack of quality in other practices contributes to flooding, which I will discuss later in this post.

Three Hydrants Spotted in 8,400 Acre Portion of Development

In four hours of driving through Colony Ridge, I saw only three hydrants. Two were at a school under construction and behind fences. The Plum Grove Volunteer Fire Department directed me to the third. It services an 8,400 acre portion of the development.

When I got there, a pumper truck from the Cleveland Fire Department (10 miles to the north) was filling its water tank. I followed it to a fire almost two miles away.

Member of Cleveland, TX, fire department re-filling his pumper to fight a fire almost two miles away.

At the fire, it joined four other pieces of equipment fighting the same fire.

Firefighters from Porter, Cleveland and Plum Grove responded to a brush fire that threatened several homes.

Brush Fires Common Threat

The Cleveland firefighter told me that brush fires were the most common call they received from Colony Ridge. In fact, while driving around, I saw a dozen brush fires that people deliberately started to help clear their property. Most fires were contained, but on a windy day, the risk soars with the embers. The risk above got out of control.

Another brush fire near the one that got out of control. Residents commonly burn brush cleared from their property.

It felt as though homes on every block had brush piles near them. Burning reduces disposal costs but also creates a high fire risk and air pollution. Therefore, most areas forbid such burning. But it is a common practice in Liberty County, especially in Colony Ridge.

Note brush pile on left behind house.

What Happens When There’s No Water Near the Fire

Pumper trucks are one of the most common pieces of fire fighting equipment, especially in rural areas. They bring water to a fire when hydrants are not available. But Colony Ridge is far from rural at this point. It covers an area almost as large as Kingwood. Kingwood has four fire stations. It also has hydrants every few hundred feet.

This area is big enough and densely populated enough that it should have its own fire station. Plus fire hydrants on every block. Instead, firefighters must shuttle pumpers.

Ten Minutes of Water Per Load

The firefighter from Cleveland told me that most of their pumper trucks hold 1,000 gallons of water. Some hold 2,000. But fighting a fire requires 100 gallons a minute, he said. That means they usually run out of water within 10 minutes. And that means they must shuttle multiple pumper trucks to a fire.

Because firefighters can’t directly hook into a hydrant for a continuous supply of water, some must fill tanks while others fight the fire. He also said, it usually takes at least 5,000 gallons of water to put out a house fire of the size they usually encounter in Colony Ridge.

“In a water-shuttling operation, you’ll have someone dumping, someone refilling and someone on the way to refill. It’s a continuous operation and very labor intensive,” said a fire expert in this Houston Chronicle article.

Fighting Other Obstacles on Way to Fires

Just getting to a fire in Colony Ridge can take valuable time. With washed out roads, limited access, heavy traffic and firefighters coming from up to 10 miles away, fires can consume homes before units even arrive.

The Challenge of Multiple Fires

I wondered, “What would happen if there were multiple fires?” When I got home, I learned that there WERE multiple fires on Sunday afternoon. While I was photographing one, a second grass fire occurred in another part of the development. Two firefighters monitored it to make sure it didn’t spread. Luckily, it was in an area where homes had not yet been built.

Such are the joys of living in a development where fire hydrants are virtually non-existent.

Drone photo showing grass fire on Sunday 6/14/2020 in an as-yet-undeveloped portion of Colony Ridge.

Colony Ridge No Longer Rural

In rural areas, pumper trucks may be the only cost-effective alternative. Stretching water lines from ranch to ranch just is not financially feasible. But in urban areas, it’s a different story. Firefighters prefer hooking up to a hydrant so they can pump water continuously. Colony Ridge turned from rural to urban overnight.

The infrastructure no longer supports the new reality of the development.

In a development designed for tens of thousands of people, you would think county authorities would require hydrants.

In the not too distant future, thousands of additional residents will crowd into this area. With the one fire hydrant by the Dollar-General store miles away, residents will face big risks.

Cost of Adding Fire Hydrants

Ironically, the water supplier for this area, Quadvest, already runs water to all the properties.

Letter from Quadvest to resident. Rancho San Vicente is one of the subdivisions within Colony Ridge.

It would be easy to add hydrants, but they cost money. How much?

A 2011 Houston Chronicle article about the cost of installing fire hydrants said it cost about $1,500 to $2,000 to purchase and install one in The Woodlands at the time. There, developers pay for the cost of the hydrant and are reimbursed by the municipal utility districts, who own the hydrants.

Recommended spacing for hydrants is every 500 feet in most urban areas. If hydrants were installed in Colony Ridge at that spacing, it would cost millions of dollars. Neither Quadvest nor the developer has yet seen fit to make that investment and Liberty County has not required it.

Same Story with Ditches

Here’s where the story comes back to flooding.

This same cut-rate approach permeates other facets of development such as drainage.

Harris County requires the banks of ditches to be planted in grass. But that requires seeding and mowing. In Colony Ridge, they avoid those costs, but pay a price in erosion.

Heavily eroded drainage ditch in Colony Ridge sends sediment downstream. Water from this ditch blew out FM1010 (Plum Grove Road) during Harvey and it has not yet been fixed.

Where roads cross the ditch in the photo above, small pipes constrict the outflow. However, the water under pressure in those pipes starts jetting. Turbulence on the downstream side further erodes the beds and banks of such ditches. Eventually, they will collapse and require extensive maintenance.

Water flows right to left. Notice erosion downstream of bridge from turbulence caused by water jetting through pipes.

This is a common hazard of inline detention.

Ditch using small check dams or weirs for detention in Montgomery County. Note how the weirs cause downstream turbulence and erosion. Water flows from the bottom to the top of the photo.

As one flood expert said, “These homeowners may wake up someday to find the ditch in their backyards.” Such ditches will also be in rivers and streams.

Harris County discourages inline detention, such as you see in the photos above for another reason. First, offline detention is more efficient. It can capture more water, hold it until after a flood, then release it slowly.

Developers tend to like inline detention, though, because it lets them sell more lots. Meanwhile, others downstream pay the price.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/15/2020

1021 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 270 since Imelda

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.

Those Who Deny History Are Doomed To Repeat It: Subsidence in 1974 and 2019

My post about Conroe escalating the Montgomery County water wars and putting millions of people in the crossfire from subsidence drew a response from Simon Sequeira, president of Quadvest. Sequiera is one of the litigants arguing for unlimited pumping of groundwater. On Facebook, he dismissively said, “Rehak has an elementary understanding of the issues.”

Who are Simon Sequiera and Quadvest?

Quadvest claims to be the “fastest growing, privately-owned utility company in Southeast Texas.” It has aggressive growth goals. Unlimited pumping of cheap groundwater would help them attain those goals. I consider Mr. Sequeira’s criticism with that in mind. He has some self-interest in this fight. If he wins, he gets even richer. Unfortunately, for millions of people in the Gulf Coast region, money has a short memory.

Denying History Means Learning the Hard Way

The history of Quadvest goes back only 40 years, so this 1974 Texas Monthly article about subsidence may not be part of Mr. Sequeira’s or the company’s institutional memory. William Broyles wrote it. Broyles helped found Texas Monthly and won numerous national magazine awards, one of the highest honors in journalism. Broyles later went on to a distinguished film career as a screenwriter.

The article, titled Disaster, Part Two: Houston, discusses subsidence. It begins with the story of a home – built less than 10 feet above sea level – that had subsided 10 feet in the previous 30 years, three of those feet in just the previous 10 years. The home was separated from the shore and surrounded by sand bags when Broyles wrote the article.

It was one of 448 homes in Brownwood, an exclusive subdivision in Baytown, that actually sank into Galveston Bay.

Cause of Subsidence

In the next paragraph Broyles discusses the cause: “Across the Houston Ship Channel, … the booming plants and industries of the world’s largest petro-chemical complex and the nation’s third largest port had set in motion an inexorable geologic process which destined their quiet neighborhood for the bottom of Galveston Bay. This great agricultural, industrial, and refining economy—and its population—have been fueled by 190 billion gallons of water a year, available easily and cheaply from industrial and municipal wells. These wells have steadily drained the Evangeline and Chicot aquifers (underground water storage systems) faster than they are refilled by annual rainfall. Each year the wells must go deeper to find water. Because of the region’s geology, water is a vital structural component of the clay and sand underlying the land surface; when it is removed, the land sinks.”

One aquifer in Montgomery County is being depleted 500 times faster than its recharge rate. This is clearly not sustainable.

Alternate Doomsday Scenario

Because of its proximity to sea level, Brownwood felt the effects of subsidence first. But the article goes on to discuss the effects of subsidence in the Sixties and Seventies on Pasadena, League City, Clear Lake, the San Jacinto Battle Ground, Galveston, Texas City, and the Johnson Space Center.

The doomsday scenario most feared then and now is a giant hurricane pushing storm surge up the Bay.

The specter of subsidence was so feared by the people of the time that it led to the creation of the Houston-Galveston Subsidence District by the Texas Legislature in 1975, just months after Broyles wrote the article.

Of course, most of Montgomery County is higher than the area bordering Galveston Bay. So why should Montgomery County residents worry?

Red contours show subsidence in last century. Blue contours show subsidence in first 16 years of this century. Note how the small red circle near Jersey Village (A) quickly expanded to the large blue circle around it. Also note (B) the widening gap between red and blue at the top of the frame. This shows that areas that depend on groundwater, i.e., Montgomery County, are subsiding faster than those on surface water, i.e., most of Harris County. Source: Harris-Galveston Subsidence District.

Water level declines start at the well locations where the aquifer is being overpumped.  They call the drawdown curves “cones of depression.” Any local district allowing unlimited groundwater pumping would be impacted first and most. Then the effects would spread to neighboring counties such as Harris and Liberty. This could reduce the gradient of the San Jacinto, causing floodwaters to move slower or accumulate in certain places. Jersey Village is already experiencing this type of flooding due to excessive pumping that put it in the center of a giant bowl.

Fault Activation and Property Damage

Broyles’ article goes on to describe another fear: the activation of faults. “Subsidence caused by massive water withdrawal from regions of high compressibility has also nudged into activity more than 1000 miles of faults. These faults, which generally run parallel to the coast, range in displacement from several inches to eight feet. Such a fault has caused the variation in subsidence at the San Jacinto Monument, where one end of the reflecting pool has sunk three feet and the other end six feet.” 

“This faulting,” continues Broyles, “… exacerbates the problems caused by relatively even subsidence; sewers, pipelines, foundations, sensitive catalytic units, and other highly sophisticated structures cannot survive faulting.”

A recent study by SMU, funded by NASA, confirms that fault activation is still a very real threat from subsidence in Montgomery County.

One economic geologist quoted by Broyles in 1975 characterized faults as “slow motion earthquakes.” There’s no shortage of pipelines, wells, and oilfield instructure. We should not forget that Humble Oil Company turned into one of the world’s largest brands, Exxon, and started right here. Also, there’s other infrastructure like roads, sewers and water distribution networks to be concerned about in northern Harris and southern Montgomery Counties.

Private Vs. Public Interest

If Mr. Sequeira is smart, he will pay close attention to the end of Broyles’ article. Broyles concludes with a discussion of a massive and messy class-action lawsuit between those fighting for unlimited pumping and those whose property was damaged.

Broyles said, “…People … endangered by subsidence are not accepting the extinction of their property … stoically.”

That should give everyone on both sides of the current water war lots to think about.

Many wells and pipelines run through the Lake Houston watershed. Hmmmm. Subsidence, faulting, ruptures, drinking water for 2 million people. It’s easy to see how this could get even uglier. Before there is any resolution, history may repeat itself.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/22/2019

692 Days since Hurricane Harvey

All thoughts expressed in this post represent my opinions on matters of public safety and interest. They are protected by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.