LCCN petitioning LSGCD’s impending 2016 regulations

Posted: Sunday, May 3, 2015 9:44 pm

The Lake Conroe Communities Network is in the process of garnering signatures for a petition urging the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District to suspend impending groundwater regulations that would go into effect in 2016.

The petition claims the regulations will cause a water deficit of 100,000 acre-feet per year by 2035 when factoring in Montgomery County population growth projections. They want the district to take time to study the viability and sustainability of using alternative methods of accessing water, including taking it from Lake Conroe.

The petition also calls upon the district to initiate other water conservation tactics instead of only cutting back on aquifer use. LCCN also wants LSGCD to distinguish the four aquifers under Montgomery County as such and not as one Gulf Coast Aquifer as LCCN claims.

“This is unprecedented as far as we’re concerned, to influence Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District through a petition,” LCCN President Scott Sustman said.

The network held a series of forums in Lake Conroe communities on April 27 and 28 introducing the petition and gaining support and signees.

“The petition deals with the economic viability, practicality and sustainability of alternative water sources,” Sustman said. “That’s actually right in the charter Lone Star Water Conservation District has, and before they constrict water usage from a particular source, they need to make sure that the alternative source is economically viable, ethical and sustainable.

“We feel there’s some question about that when they’re pointing to Lake Conroe potentially as an alternative water source because there’s a finite amount of water in Lake Conroe, and quite frankly, there’s more water in the aquifers than there is in Lake Conroe.”

Kathy Turner Jones, general manager for LSGCD, said the district has no intentions of delaying the implementation of the regulations on Jan. 1, 2016.

Jones said the district is performing studies to determine the impact of the 2016 regulations as well as the additional availability of groundwater.

“The current plan has adequate options for anticipated growth through 2070 and it will be under revision starting next year to incorporate revised population estimates,” Jones said. “Montgomery County will need to be able to draw upon a variety of diversified sources of raw water for future public needs and economic development. If additional groundwater is determined to be available it will be incorporated in the next planning round as a viable future supply.”

Jones also said the study the district is undertaking distinguishes the aquifers as separate strata and not as one “Gulf Coast Aquifer,” as does the Houston Area Groundwater Model.

LSGCD partakes in groundwater conservation education, Jones said, and it has fulfilled its statutorily mandated duties in doing so.

“The district has been active in promoting conservation for all entities within the county,” Jones said. “The district’s offices has (sic) many examples of conservation measures for outdoor water and rainwater harvesting as well as native plant landscaping for water savings. It has also assisted in the establishment of the Gulf Coast/Montgomery County Water Efficiency Network consisting of water professionals from around the region that meet regularly to share industry information and discuss conservation issues.”

The petition currently has over 400 signatures

For more information about the petition, visit www.lakeconroecn.com.

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LCCN to host ‘Save the Lake’ town halls

Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2015 9:39 pm

The Lake Conroe Communities Network is hoping for a good turnout at their “Save the Lake” town halls on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

The informational meetings will be about the LCCN’s argument against increasing Lake Conroe’s contribution to the Montgomery County water supply, as the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District intends to do starting Jan.1.

“LCCN has done a lot of research relative to the things that LSGCD wants to have transpire Jan. 1 regarding reduction of pumpage,” LCCN President Scott Sustman said. “We’re going to present information and analysis by some hydrologists that have not been involved in the process questioning some of Lone Star’s beliefs that the (main Montgomery County) aquifer is in distress.”

Sustman said they aren’t butting heads with the LSGCD, but that more information needs to be gathered before they make any decision regarding Lake Conroe.

“We need to take a little more time, do more research and gathering more facts,” he said. “Lone Star is going that to an extent with a project that’s going on but that won’t be done for a few years.”

The town hall meetings will be one hour including a 40-minute presentation by one of two experts that agree with LCCN’s position in the issue.

Bob Harden is a professional hydrologist and the president of R.W. Harden Associates. He will speak at the April Sound Country Club on Tuesday, and again on Wednesday at Walden Yacht Club.

Michael Thornhill is the president of Thornhill Group, as well as a professional geologist and hydrogeologist. He will speak at the Northshore Church in Bentwater on Tuesday and the Seven Coves Clubhouse on Wednesday.

After the presentation, attendees will also have a chance to sign a petition asking LSGCD to postpone any regulation changes.

Both presentations begin at 7 p.m. with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. For more information go to www.LakeConroeCN.com/ #Save_The_Lake.

SJRA plans study on Catahoula well site

Posted: Sunday, February 2, 2014 10:58 pm

LAKE CONROE – The San Jacinto River Authority will conduct a feasibility study to determine where it will place its Catahoula water well.

While the SJRA has shown interest in positioning the well near Entergy’s Lewis Creek power station, the utility company might connect two to three municipal utility districts in the area, SJRA General Manager Jace Houston said at Thursday’s SJRA board meeting.

The Lake Creek Reservoir is located on Lake Conroe just north of FM 1097.

“We’ll look at the cost of connecting two or three MUDs and see how financially feasible they can be,” Houston said.

Catahoula wells being drilled are classified as providing an alternative water source from the Evangeline and Jasper aquifers for the water suppliers around Southeast Texas.

The study is expected is take six to nine months, Houston said.

Drought contingency plan:

The SJRA has until May 1 to submit its revised Drought Contingency and Water Conservation plans to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The SJRA board approved a four-step contingency plan.

Stage 1: A 5 percent reduction in water use is activated when the lake level drops to 199 feet at sea level.

Stage 2: Also known as moderate drought conditions, it brings a 5 percent reduction in the winter months of October through March. There is at least a 10 percent reduction in the summer when the Lake Conroe level drops below 197 msl.

Stage 3: A 10 percent reduction in winter and 20 percent reduction in summer months. Mean sea level falls below 194 msl.

Stage 4: A reduction of 15 percent in the winter and 30 percent during the summer months are required when water depth falls below 190.

Water conservation includes the plans already in use by the residents around Lake Conroe.

TAG: LSGCD

County outgrowing water supply

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 10:33 pm

The population of Montgomery County is growing too fast for the groundwater to sustain it, and human consumption isn’t even the biggest drain on the county’s water resources; it’s lawn irrigation.

In The Woodlands, as much as 80 percent of the township’s water is used on lawns during the summer, according to data from The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency. WJPA restricts residents from watering their lawns more than twice a week. Beginning in June, residents may find an extra surcharge on their water bills if they are caught watering off-schedule.

Jim Stinson, WJPA’s general manager, said these measures along with conservation education programs are essential for responsible usage, but the rates continue to rise.

“Historically, we’ve had plenty of water resources to cover Montgomery County,” said Mark Smith, Groundwater Reduction Plan administrator for the San Jacinto River Authority. “But urbanization puts those resources under pressure.”

The county’s population doubled more than four times from 1960 to 2010, according to Census data; and as the area north of Houston continues to grow, Montgomery County will have to look elsewhere for water.

Smith said Lake Conroe holds the key, at least for now. That’s where SJRA is building two 5 million-gallon tanks and prepping to lay 57 miles of pipeline that will carry water from the lake to homes and businesses in certain areas of the county, including The Woodlands, Oak Ridge North and Conroe.

“Without that, we would have to stop growing for lack of water,” he said.

Montgomery County’s portion of the Chicot, Evangeline and Jasper aquifers can recharge by 64,000 acre feet, or 20.8 billion gallons, a year. But Montgomery County residents used more than 28 billion gallons in 2009. The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District(LSGCD), the county agency that regulates these underground bodies of water, estimates the demand will grow to more than 50 billion gallons by 2040.

The lake can sustainably provide 32.5 billion gallons of water a year. The SJRA may have to dig deeper or buy water from other counties in the future, but eventually demand will likely outpace the supply. Conservation could significantly reduce the demand for water.

“The cheapest alternative supply is to simply use less,” Smith said.

Keep off the grass

Landscaping is a point of pride in The Woodlands. Residents take care to ensure their lawns are vibrant and well-watered. Stinson said Woodlands residents triple the amount of water they use on their lawns in the summer, and about half of that is wasted.

He said grass needs only about an inch of water each week. Too much water can keep grassroots from growing deep enough, causing them to become “addicted” to the excess. He said residents routinely over-water their lawns.

Not even the drought in 2011 slowed them down.

John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist, said Texas’ 2011 drought was the worst of any single year on record.

Most of the state suffered its driest year. Temperatures topped 100 degrees on 52 separate days for most of Montgomery County. Nearly 30,000 trees died in The Woodlands. WJPA issued water restrictions as part of a drought contingency plan, and its residents used 1.8 billion gallons of water more than the previous year.

“Those numbers would have been higher had restrictions not been in place,” Stinson said.

Nielsen-Gammon said conditions won’t be as severe as they were in 2011, but Texas still is experiencing a drought. Higher-than-average temperatures and less-than-average rainfall will worsen the drought statewide.

“Things are probably going to dry faster than they normally do,” he said.

And despite water conservation programs – like Woodlands Irrigation System Evaluation (WISE Guys) implemented in early 2010, which recommends ways homeowners can reduce their water use – Stinson said residents continue “to waste this vital resource.”

A year after initiating the WISE Guys program, WJPA saw a modest decline in the township’s usage – from 67,546 gallons per person in 2009 to 67,092 in 2010. Then the drought hit in the beginning of 2011 and erased those gains in conservation.

At a time when water was most scarce, The Woodlands’ then-95,715 residents used more than 8 billion gallons of water for an average of 83,988 gallons each. In 2012, at 68,236 gallons per person, usage rates fell but were still well above the 2010 low.

And some of the township’s municipal utility districts use more than others.

The most water-frugal MUD is No. 7, which covers parts of Panther Creek and the northernmost section of Cochran’s Crossing, using 42,411 gallons per person in 2012.

By comparison, MUD No. 2, the smallest, covering 762 people in southwestern Grogan’s Mill, used nearly double the township’s average at 128,537 gallons per person in 2012.

“To have an effective conservation program is a process that takes several years,” Stinson said.

In the meantime, the county’s conservation and utility agencies continue to educate the public about watering lawns and to devise creative solutions to meet water needs. For example, The Woodlands’ golf courses water their fairways with wastewater from SJRA’s water plants.

But in the long run, no single solution will be adequate. If the region continues to grow, its citizens will be required to develop more resources and use them responsibly.

TRA, SJRA OK option agreement

Posted: Monday, April 29, 2013 10:48 pm

ARLINGTON – The Trinity River Authority board approved an option agreement with the San Jacinto River Authority Monday for the sale of up to 50,000 acre-fee per year of water from Lake Livingston.

The SJRA board previously approved the same agreement March 28.

The agreement represents a key step toward fully implementing the State Water Plan, establishing up to a 15-year option period for the two river authorities to complete all steps – including necessary approvals for an inter-basin transfer – that will move water from Lake Livingston to Lake Conroe.

“Conducting long-term water supply planning is a responsibility we take very seriously because we know it’s essential to our state’s success,” said TRA board President Harold Barnard. “We have to get water to the people who need it, and that simply can’t be done without strategic partnerships, especially between river basins. What we’ve been able to achieve through our partnership with SJRA is a great example of what Texas’ major water providers can do when they work together.”

The agreement requires the payment of an annual option fee equal to 5 percent of TRA’s approved raw water rate. For 50,000 acre-feet of water at TRA’s current rate, the option fee is approximately $238,000 per year.

At a future date, TRA and SJRA will determine appropriate timing for the delivery of water from Lake Livingston to Lake Conroe.

“This is just the first step in a long process, but it’s an important milestone for Montgomery County,” said SJRA board President Lloyd Tisdale. “Now we can look 50 to 100 years into the future and have confidence that our water supplies can keep up with the extraordinary economic and population growth that we’re experiencing.”

Created by the Texas Legislature in 1937, the San Jacinto River Authority is a government agency whose mission is to develop, conserve and protect the water resources of the San Jacinto River basin. Covering all or part of seven counties, the organization’s jurisdiction includes the entire San Jacinto River watershed, excluding Harris County.

SJRA is one of 10 major river authorities in Texas, and like other river authorities, its primary purpose is to implement long-term, regional projects related to water supply and wastewater treatment. For more information, visit www.sanjacintoriverauthority.com.

The Trinity River Authority of Texas is a conservation and reclamation district providing wastewater and water treatment, along with recreation and reservoir facilities, for municipalities within the nearly 18,000-square-mile Trinity River basin.

Each TRA operating project is an independent financial entity, and TRA receives no tax revenues or appropriations. For more information, visit www.trinityra.org.

TAG: LSGCD

SJRA taps into Trinity

Posted: Saturday, March 30, 2013 10:55 pm

With the approval of a 15-year option agreement, the San Jacinto River Authority has taken the first step to securing an alternate water source for Montgomery County.

The SJRA board voted Thursday to enter into a contract with the Trinity River Authority for the purchase of up to 50,000 acre-feet per year of water from Lake Livingston. The agreement gives the SJRA 15 years to finalize a water supply contract and complete other steps necessary to transfer water from Lake Livingston into Lake Conroe.

The 50,000 acre-feet is half of Lake Conroe’s annual yield of 100,000 acre-feet.

While a number of steps remain, SJRA board President Lloyd Tisdale calls the agreement an “important milestone” for the county.

“This agreement secures additional water for the future of Montgomery County and ensures that our water supplies can keep up with the extraordinary economic and population growth that we’re experiencing,” he stated.

The TRA board is expected to approve the proposed agreement April 24.

For years, local officials have examined various methods to increase Montgomery County’s surface water capacity. Suggestions have included creation of a second reservoir, but tapping into Trinity River Basin has long been an option.

The agreement gives SJRA the first right of refusal for the water, which requires an annual option fee equal to 5 percent of TRA’s approved raw water rate of $95 per acre-feet. That equates to $237,500 per year for the 50,000 acre-feet.

The annual option will be paid by the utilities participating in the SJRA’s Groundwater Reduction Plan (LSGCD).

“We need to understand that this is the first step of a long journey,” Conroe Mayor Webb Melder said.

When the SJRA decides to secure the water rights from TRA, the annual fee increases to approximately $1.5 million. The fee increases to $4.5 million a year once usage begins, SJRA General Manager Jace Houston said.

But that is well into the future.

“We’re staying well ahead of the curve, but we’ve got to be patient,” he said. “We don’t want to start such a project too soon. We’ll need to monitor the population growth over the next decade.”

The SJRA and the TRA will need to coordinate the arrival of Trinity River water into Montgomery County as the existing water rights in Lake Conroe won’t be utilized for several decades. As part of its GRP, the SJRA is constructing a surface water treatment plant on Lake Conroe and installing approximately 50 miles of pipeline to reduce the county’s dependence on groundwater starting Jan. 1, 2016.

A preliminary cost estimate of installing a pipeline that carries water the 30 miles between the two reservoirs is $300 million, Houston said.

Another major step facing the SJRA is obtaining the necessary approvals for an interbasin transfer of water from the Trinity River to Lake Conroe.

The permitting process could take five to 10 years and $500,000 in legal fees, Houston said.

“There are still a lot of decisions to be made,” he said. “But this enables us to look 50 to 100 years into the future and have confidence that we’re maximizing Montgomery County’s water supply options.”

Houston’s Luce Bayou project may save Lake Conroe water supply

Posted: Thursday, December 6, 2012 9:27 pm

A project that could ease the city of Houston’s future dependence on Lake Conroe surface water is facing at least one environmental challenge.

The Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer is a $297 million project designed to convey water owned by Houston from the Trinity River basin to Lake Houston. Currently that water flows into Trinity Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Galveston has studied the Luce Bayou project for more than a decade. Supported by the city of Houston, the Region H Planning Group and other governmental entities, the Luce Bayou project will serve as Houston’s primary backup water supply.

It’s a role already required of Lake Conroe. Although the San Jacinto River Authority agreed to an 80-year contract with Houston in September 2009 for control over all the water in Lake Conroe, Houston retains access to the reservoir.

Each year prior to 2025, the city can request its annual share of surface water, as it did during the drought of 2011. After 2025, the SJRA gets first crack at Lake Conroe’s water, but the city of Houston still will have access to the remaining supply available for pumping, said Jace Houston, SJRA general manager.

“It (the Luce Bayou project) has been a key part of the city of Houston’s water plans for decades,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean everyone is satisfied with the project. The Corps and the Coastal Water Authority held a public hearing Nov. 28 in Dayton to collect comments. Sierra Club representatives attended the hearing and presented USACE engineers with a 90-page document objecting to the project, said Dan Davis, a member of the Lake Conroe Communities Network.

Davis is concerned Sierra Club’s opposition to the plan will pull the plug on the project.

“They (the Sierra Club) have a lot of allies,” he said.

Davis is urging Lake Conroe residents and businesses to email support for the project. December 10 is the deadline for USACE to receive comments.

“This may be the only opportunity for the people in Montgomery County to influence Lake Conroe water levels,” Davis said.

Comments can be emailed to Jayson.m.hudson@usace.army.mil.

“Numbers of letters count in this game,” Davis stated in an email.

TAG: LSGCD

Construction on GRP’s major projects started

Posted: Sunday, December 2, 2012 11:27 pm

LAKE CONROE – With its deadline a little more than three years away, major sections of the Groundwater Reduction Plan project have started.

Those projects include the raw water intake, the surface water treatment plant and two storage tanks, said Mark Smith, GRP administrator for the San Jacinto River Authority.

Meanwhile, the first contracts for installation of the project’s 50 miles of pipeline will be awarded in March, he said.

Construction of the raw water intake is the most noticeable of the work going on along the Lake Conroe dam. Rebar reinforced concrete is being poured some 300 feet out from the dam’s shore for piers designed to support the pump station.

Three pumps will be installed, but there will be room to grow,” Smith said.

The raw water will be pumped out of the dam and into the treatment plant.

“Most of the work there right now is simply site work,” he said.

Once the foundation is completed, work on the treatment plant will include “multiple steps,” such as the pre-treatment and filtration of the water.

Designed to meet a mandated 30 percent reduction in the use of groundwater by the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD), the GRP project has a completion date of Jan. 1, 2016.

LCCN study: County insulated from lake issues

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2012 11:17 pm

By Howard Roden, Conroe Courier

LAKE CONROE – Montgomery County’s healthy, broad and diversified economy is likely to absorb any impact associated with lake level conditions at Lake Conroe, according to a study conducted by Texas A&M University.

The independent study was commissioned in 2010 by the Lake Conroe Communities Network at a total cost of $142,000 to determine what impact – if any – use of the lake’s surface water will have on the surrounding economy.

Among conclusions in the 60-page study is that the “direct economic impact” of the lake is limited to the city of Montgomery and the retail trade sector around the lake.

A study of the sales tax revenue in that area determined quarterly retail trade revenues reported to the state Comptroller’s Office decline 11.5 percent (or $1.6 million per year) in the city of Montgomery per foot of water in the lake, whenever the lake level falls more than 2 feet below the full pool of 201 feet.

However, that impact around Lake Conroe is not as “detectable” in the larger, more diverse economies of Conroe or Montgomery County, or more isolated economies (the city of Willis), according to the study’s executive summary.

“The more the business relies on the lake traffic for business the greater risk from lake fluctuations that may occur in the future,” the study stated.

Although some of the study’s conclusions came as no surprise, LCCN Director Dan Davis said A&M compiled a “very credible” study.

“The study was consistent with what people told us; not only appropriate but defensible,” he said.

County Judge Alan B. Sadler, SJRA Deputy General Manager Jace Houston, Conroe Mayor Webb Melder and Lake Conroe Association member Mike Bleier were contacted about the study, but all said they had not gone over the study in enough detail to comment.

Among other conclusions in the study included:

Lake levels are expected to fall more than 4 feet below full pool 1.6 times more often in phase one of the San Jacinto River Authority’s Groundwater Reduction Plan than in prior periods, and increase to 8.5 times more often in phase four.

Residents in lakefront communities expected a 28 percent decline in residential property values, in which case losses in real estate values would amount to $1.1 billion in the area.

In the near term, immediate proactive conservation efforts should be encouraged.

Two areas of greatest concern expressed by residents and business owners involve the lack of operational control by the local city and county officials. This may mean finding mechanisms to exert their views into operational matters or negotiating an ownership in the lake, or working toward an identifiable role on the SJRA board.

Conservation method of choice for 19 Lone Star GRPs

Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2011 12:00 am

Conservation method of choice for 19 Lone Star GRPs

By Howard Roden Houston Community Newspapers

Of the 19 plans approved by the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Tuesday, a dozen groups chose conservation as their primary strategy for attaining the mandated 30 percent reduction in groundwater usage.

While the majority of those Groundwater Reduction Plans were presented either by golf courses or homeowners associations, LSGCD board members were pleased the GRP sponsors embraced any method to reach the district’s Jan. 1, 2016, deadline.

“Our goal at the groundwater district was to see a reduction in the over-pumpage of the aquifers within Montgomery County,” Richard Tramm, LSGCD president, said.

He admitted being “pleasantly surprised” at the number of GRP sponsors relying on conservation.

“It showed a number of permittees were committed to what worked best for them,” Tramm said.

But there were other GRPs and Joint GRPs that followed a different route to acceptance.

Most notably is the San Jacinto River Authority’s Joint GRP that includes 141 large-volume groundwater users. The SJRA’s plan features development of a surface-water treatment plant on Lake Conroe and a pipeline system that will distribute that water to the city of Conroe, The Woodlands and high-growth areas along the Interstate 45 corridor.

A number of water systems in Montgomery County have pursued alternative water services. Municipal Utility Districts 8 and 9 entered into a two-faceted Joint GRP in which their contract allows them to draw surface water from Lake Conroe through a contract with the city of Huntsville.

A bed and banks permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is pending.

The MUDs’ other proposed water source is that from the Catahoula formation. Roy McCoy Jr., president of MUD 8, announced after the LSGCD board meeting that the two Walden MUDs will drill a test well in the Catahoula in the “very near future.”

“We think we will prevail on the bed and banks permit, and we’re going to do both,” he said. “We’re not worried about it. We can prevail on one or the other, but we think we’ll be successful with both.”

McCoy said all wells drilled so far in “our particular area” have contained less than the total dissolved solids required by the state. The temperature of test wells are around 105 degrees.

“Most likely, the temperature will have to be treated in some manner,” he said.

Commenting that the Catahoula aquifer is an “unproven source” of groundwater, SJRA General Manager Reed Eichelberger — an LSGCD board member — questioned whether the conservation district was “comfortable” enough to yield the necessary power to those whose alternative projects do not prevail.

LSGCD attorney Jason Hill said the GRP resolutions approved Tuesday become regulatory documents.

“Certification became the goal,” he told the board.

Eichelberger said the LSGCD viewed the SJRA as the “safe harbor” GRP, and its duty is to accept other entities that struggled.

“We’re willing to do that if they pay the pumpage fees and other financial responsibilities,” he said.

SJRA joins the hunt for brackish water

Posted: Friday, March 11, 2011 11:04 pm

By Howard Roden | 0 comments

The San Jacinto River Authority is joining other water systems around Lake Conroe in the hunt for brackish water.

Days after the municipal utility districts in April Sound and Bentwater received tentative approval for a permit to pump water from the Catahoula Formation, the SJRA announced Thursday it would consider ways to “effectively incorporate brackish groundwater” into its countywide water plan.

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District has a mandated 30 percent reduction in groundwater consumption by Jan. 1, 2016, for those water users who pump 10 million gallons or more annually.

If successful in the search for a sufficient supply of brackish water, the SJRA could save money for the participants of its Groundwater Reduction Plan and slow the draw of surface water from Lake Conroe, SJRA Deputy General Manager Jace Houston said.

The SJRA’s plan would make brackish groundwater part of a portfolio that could include implementation of wastewater reuse and water conservation, Houston stated in a release.

One advantage is a partnership between SJRA and some of its GRP participants to drill brackish wells. The city of Willis is exploring such an option.

“We’re looking long-term at running a surface water pipe to Willis,” Houston said. “If we can put a well up there instead of a pipe, we can avoid that cost.”

Ken Conatser, representing April Sound’s MUDs 3 and 4, went before LSGCD board members Tuesday seeking approval of a proposed operating permit for an alternative water well not to exceed 350 million gallons annually.

LSGCD engineer Mark Lowry recommended delaying a decision until the board’s April 12 meeting, providing more time to study the data from April Sound and Bentwater (MUD 18). Bentwater MUD officials had sought a brackish water permit not to exceed the 125 million gallons the final half of the year.

“We don’t know whether the amount of water (in the Catahoula) is sustainable. There may not be enough, but that is their problem,” Lowry said. “There is nothing I see that would prevent (LSGCD) from issuing a permit.”

Conatser is confident the Catahoula’s water production will have long-term sustainability for the GRP for April Sound and the city of Montgomery. A well drilled from 2,200 feet to 2,800 feet produced drinkable water at 2,500 gallons per minute.

Most of the wells drilled into the Catahoula south of Texas 105 at deeper depths brought forth hot, salty water, Houston said. Conatser said a test well drilled to 3,200 feet got similar results.

The SJRA plans to conduct its own long-term studies on the Catahoula’s viability.

“We still need a lot more information to determine if this is a viable, long-term supply,” stated Arthur Faiello, director of Public Works for the city of Willis. “Developing a well in partnership with everyone else in the SJRA GRP protects us all from the risks associated with testing this unproven supply.”

Interest grows in a brackish water source deep underground

Municipal utility districts and major water users in Montgomery County concerned about the need to find alternative sources of water are digging deep for a solution — and they think they have found it.

A trio of water suppliers approved by the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District are tapping into the Catahoula Formation aquifer as a new resource for providing water to their customers now and in the future. Officials expect that number to grow.

“A study has been commissioned to determine the long-term viability of the Catahoula aquifer,” said Kathy Turner Jones, general manager of the LSGCD. “We want to determine the quantity, quality and suitability of the aquifer as a water resource.”

Turner said wells have been approved for Municipal Utility District 18 in Bentwater and Stanley Lake MUD and UD 3 in April Sound. Panorama Village has been approved for a test well — and Turner said she has heard rumors of interest from other cities and organizations.

Interest in the Catahoula is especially keen because the LSGCD has, for now, determined that water coming out of it will be considered an alternate resource and exempted from a mandate to reduce groundwater usage by 30 percent by Jan. 1, 2016.

To accomplish such a reduction, 85 major water users representing 135 water systems in Montgomery County banded together under a program developed by the San Jacinto River Authority. Jace Houston, deputy general manager of administration for SJRA, said the plan covers 80 percent of the total amount of water used in the county.

Ken Conatser, general manager of UD 3, was critical of the SJRA plan — saying the plan, which requires a commitment through 2045, is outrageously expensive.

“Our projected cost is millions less than it would be if we joined the SJRA program,” he said. “The Catahoula is a cost-efficient alternative.”

Original test wells drilled to 3,200 feet produced poor quality water, but at 2,800 feet — below the Evangeline, Chicot and Jasper aquifers that provide freshwater for Montgomery County — was significantly better.

Conatser said the water is low on dissolved solids and warmer than expected — around 102 degrees — but is quite acceptable. Standard chlorine treatment water from the Catahoula is potable and a viable source for human consumption. And Conatser said water from the aquifer is abundant and plentiful.

Interest in the Catahoula has not gone unnoticed by other utility districts. The SJRA is interested in tapping into the aquifer as an alternative source that would lower its need to rely on surface water — reducing the amount of water it would have to pump out of Lake Conroe beginning in 2016.

Houston said the SJRA is working with the city of Willis on a possible program that would incorporate tapping into the Catahoula aquifer as an alternative resource.

Jones acknowledged LSGCD currently considers the Catahoula exempt from the 30 percent reduction in groundwater reduction required of major users by 2016 but said the agency still maintains supervisory control over the use of this or any water resource in the county.

“The study will go a long way to determining the future use of water from the Catahoula aquifer,” she said. “The district reserves the right to monitor or limit production in the future if it is in the best interest of the public.”

That’s worrisome for Conatser because the members of the LSGCD board are appointed rather than elected. He expressed concern that board members have no consequences for inappropriate actions. Still, he supports the concept of a local agency responsible for local water management.

“I’d rather fight the battles here in Montgomery County than in Austin,” Conatser said.

For more information about the LSGCD, visit www.lonestargcd.org.

Lake Conroe MUDs strike the mother lode on new water

By Howard Roden City editor

In the search for an alternative water supply, the residents of April Sound and Bentwater appear to have struck the mother lode.

Results from two test wells drilled by Municipal Utility Districts 3 and 4 in April Sound show the water found in the Catahoula Formation of the Gulf Coast Aquifer to be “very usable,” and that the quantity available is “far more than anyone expected,” said Ken Conatser, general manager of MUD 3.

Meanwhile, similar results were reported by officials with MUD 18 in Bentwater from its test well.

“We’ve got good quantity and quality,” board member Chris Uzelmeier said.

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District board voted Tuesday to allow the water systems to begin construction of their production wells but withheld approval to begin pumping until the LSGCD’s next meeting in March.

Conatser oversees the joint venture intended to provide MUDs 3 and 4 with a source of water other than the San Jacinto River Authority’s Groundwater Reduction Plan. While a majority of the large-volume water systems in Montgomery County have signed on with the river authority’s program, Bentwater and April Sound are among a few Lake Conroe communities looking for a more cost-effective method to achieve a 30-percent reduction in groundwater consumption by 2016.

MUDs 3 and 4 have pursued a search for so-called “brackish” water in the Catahoula, which is located below the three aquifers currently used for the county’s groundwater. But Conatser said tests show the quality of water in the Catahoula — measured by the amount of total dissolved solids — is well within acceptable limits.

“Plus, it’s a whole lot less expensive than what it would cost to join the SJRA plan,” he said.

Scott Weisinger, of Weisinger Water Well and a board member with the LSGCD, was hired by Conatser to drill the 6-inch-diameter test wells. They achieved a flow of 150 gallons per minute.

“It gave us an indication of a good supply,” Weisinger said.

A 20-inch diameter production well has been installed and will pump at speeds of 600 gallons per minute to 2,000 gpm.

The test wells also revealed that the static water level of the Catahoula is three to five times higher than that of the Jasper, Chico and Evangeline aquifers, the primary sources of water in Montgomery County, Weisinger said.

Static water level is the level of groundwater when a pump is not operating.

While the static level ranges from 300 to 500 feet below the ground in the traditional aquifers, Weisinger said water from the Catahoula test well was only 100 feet from the surface.

“It’s almost artesian,” he said.

MUDs 3 and 4 have an agreement with the city of Montgomery in which they will over-convert their water production so Montgomery can attain its 30 percent reduction.

Although MUD 18 was the first water system to drill for an alternative supply, it is not likely to begin pumping until this fall or later, Uzelmeier said.

“We still have to issue bonds to finance the project,” he said. “We took the risk and it paid off.”

Howard Roden can be reached at hroden@hcnonline.com

As Lake Conroe’s waterline sinks, concerns rise

By LINDSAY PEYTON, HOUSTON CHRONICLE CORRESPONDENT
Published 12:35 p.m., Tuesday, August 30, 2011

When the city of Houston ordered a gradual release of water from Lake Conroe on Aug. 15, concerns about the lake’s future began to rise as water levels started to drop.

On Aug. 16, the San Jacinto River Authority released 50 million gallons of water into the San Jacinto River, and the amount increased throughout the week to reach a daily rate of 150 million gallons. The water flows downstream to Lake Houston, so that reservoir remains deep enough to keep Houston’s water purification plant there operating.

Stew Darsey, president of the Lake Conroe Area Chamber of Commerce, said that the resulting lower lake levels could hurt area business owners.

If visitors to Lake Conroe opt to travel elsewhere for weekend getaways, Darsey said it could hurt service stations and hotels, as well as lakeside attractions.

Several business owners on the lake, however, maintain they are not worried.

Jim Winkler, a developer in the Lake Conroe area for more than 20 years, owns a land development on Texas 105 housing several waterfront businesses.

“It’s just what goes with lake territory,” Winkler said. “It’s what a lake does.”

Houston taxpayers years ago paid for the construction of both lakes on the San Jacinto River to secure the city’s water supply. Lake Houston, covering 12,000 acres in northeast Harris County, began operations in 1953, followed by the 21,000-acre Lake Conroe in Montgomery County in 1973.

Lake Conroe is used to hold water in reserve until it’s needed by Lake Houston’s water plant.

Winkler’s development includes the Marina at Waterpoint, offering personal watercraft and boat rentals and boat storage.

He said experience has taught him not to be too concerned. “We don’t get upset about the lake like we used to,” he said. “In business and on the lake, we go through ups and downs. We’re just going through a low right now with lake levels.”

Conroe’s current lake level is 196.6 feet above mean sea level, which is 4.4 feet below its normal level of 201 feet. The lowest the level has ever dropped is 5 feet below normal in 1989, the only other time the city of Houston ordered water withdrawn for seven months, said San Jacinto River Authority’s deputy general manager, Jace Houston.

However, if Lake Conroe is drained of this amount for two months, the lake’s water level will quickly plummet to a new all-time record low.

Houston explained the city owns two-thirds of the lake’s water and may use up all 67,000 acre-feet if there is no relief from the drought this year. The San Jacinto River Authority owns the remaining third of the water.

At the current rate of 150 million gallons released per day, the city would use its allotment sometime in January.

The city is then entitled to draw another 67,000 acre-feet per year.

“Lakes are designed to yield a certain amount for seven years,” he said. “We would have to have a seven year drought to dry up Lake Conroe.”

Houston said that the city is not using the lake at maximum capacity. The water release equates to a loss of three or four inches per week. Adjusted for evaporation during the drought and with summer heat, the lake level could decline five to six inches a week.

“It’s a hardship on residents. It’s hard for boaters and local businesses that rely on the lake, but we have plenty of water on supply,” he said.

Winkler said that when the lake levels are down, it affects real estate sales of waterfront properties.

“It makes buyers unsure, especially if they don’t have any history on the lake,” he said.

When the levels return to normal, Winkler predicts that sales will also rise.

“Everyone will forget the lake was ever low,” he said. “The water level will get back really fast when we see rain. We just haven’t seen rain for awhile.”

Gary Richardson, a partner at the Palms Marina located on FM 830, agrees that fluctuating water levels should be expected.

“The lake will fill back up. People need to realize that,” Richardson said. “All it takes is one big rain.”

Richardson said that marinas located in deep water could benefit from lower lake levels. He said people will still be able to launch their boats from those marinas.

“You just have to navigate carefully along the shoreline,” he said.

Richardson, also a broker with Prudential Gary Greene, said that negative publicity about the lower lake levels has slowed down home sales, but he also blames discussions of state and city budget issues.

“I think all real estate has slowed down. Everyone seems to not want to spend money right now,” he said.

Richardson said sales around Lake Conroe have been up from the previous year, if only a marginal amount.

“Still, it’s going in the right direction,” he said. “I think people still want to move here.”

Richardson said he and his brother have operated businesses on the lake since it was established in the 1970s and that lake levels have been fairly constant. “I watched the lake go up,” he said. “It’s been low one time before and that filled up in a few months.”

Richardson said the marina will still prepare for the worst case scenario, digging deeper down just in case the water level continues to subside.

David Mosberg, general manager of April Sound Country Club, said the largest problem he has faced is the effect on the club’s aquatic golf range.

He said the first ten feet of the range are no longer in water.

Mosberg said for April Sound residents, the issue is mainly aesthetic, but he said the views from the country club have not been affected.

“It really hasn’t affected a lot of our views,” he said. “From our dining rooms, you can’t see much of a difference.”

Some of the residents of April Sound cannot launch their boats from their own slips and some waterfront homes could now better be described as beachfront.

Darsey believes that Houston’s call for water should serve as a wake-up call for Montgomery County residents.

“I’m confident that what’s happening now will make us sit up and realize that we need to do something to establish an alternate water source,” he said. “If we wait longer still, shame on us.”

With an eye on long-term growth in the county, Darsey said water is a top concern.

“If we don’t have enough water to support the people who live here, we can’t grow,” he said.

Accompanying Photo and Caption

Lake Conroe's Low Lake LevelWaterfront homeowners in La Torretta, on Lake Conroe’s Lake southwest side, can’t use their boats or boat docks because of the low water conditions. Conroe’s current lake level is 197.3 feet above mean sea level, which is 3.7 feet below normal. The lake may be drawn down even more if the City of Houston starts drawing water from the lake. Some lake front homeowners are unable to use their boats dock and boaters are being warned to be extra careful while using the lake. Photo by David Hopper Photo: Freelance, David Hopper / freelance

Houston soon may tap Lake Conroe for water supply

Falling lake levels raise concern

Without rain soon, Houston will take emergency step to ensure water plant can still operate

By CINDY HORSWELL HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Aug. 4, 2011, 5:18AM

Along the shores of Lake Houston and Lake Conroe, many landlocked boat docks lead to nowhere while grassy islands and sandbars sprout where water once flowed.

Pieces of an old railroad, long hidden by the ample waters of Lake Houston, are suddenly visible.

Now both lakes may soon enter uncharted territory as the incessant drought and searing temperatures continue to deplete these two reservoirs’ precious water supplies.

And things could grow drastically worse if no significant rain falls in the next week and a half, authorities warn. Each lake was built on the San Jacinto River as a source of drinking water for Houston.

The city of Houston this week has alerted the San Jacinto River Authority that it may have to take an emergency step that has not been done for two decades – order Lake Conroe to release up to 150 million gallons of water a day from its dam. The water would then flow downstream to Lake Houston, so that reservoir would remain deep enough to assure the city’s water purification plant there can continue operating.

However, if Lake Conroe is drained of this amount for two months, the lake’s water level will quickly plummet to a new all-time record low.

Conroe’s current lake level is 197.3 feet above mean sea level, which is 3.7 feet below normal. The lowest the level has ever dropped is 5 feet below normal. That record was set in 1989, the only other time the city of Houston ordered water withdrawn for seven months, said San Jacinto River Authority’s deputy general manager, Jace Houston.

With water levels nearly 7 feet below the normal 44-foot elevation on Lake Houston, boaters are more often hitting stumps or becoming stranded on sandbars that have surfaced.

Officer Gary Crawford with the Houston Police Department’s Lake Patrol pointed to hundreds of old pilings now visible from a 2-mile railroad trestle crossing the lake from Huffman to Walden.

“We’re working to cut them down below the waterline,” he said. “But we could never tackle all the stumps. It would take an army to do that.”

Different kind of summer

Duesen Park has also been forced because of insufficient water to close ramps that used to provide sailboats and kayaks access to Lake Houston. Residents around Lake Conroe are likewise unhappy that their lake level is hurting.

“The number of residents using the lake this summer seems to have dropped slightly because of the low level,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden Brannon Meinkowsky.

The shallower north end, he said, appears to be suffering the most.

“I don’t have a lake now,” complained Mike Bleier, president of the Lake Conroe Association. “I used to have lake-front property. But now I have a forest.”

He cannot launch a boat or jet ski from his dock and gave up recreational use of the lake for the summer.

“It’s dangerous to be out there if you’re not familiar with it,” he said. “Your boat prop can easily hit a stump or a sandbar now.”

Nonetheless, Gary Lewis, TowboatsUS operator, said the lake continues to be populated by boaters.

“I don’t see it as all detrimental, except for those who have boathouses that aren’t usable,” Lewis said. “I just see it as having more exposed sandy beaches to play on.”

To secure the city’s water supply, Houston taxpayers years ago paid for the construction of both lakes on the San Jacinto River. Lake Houston, covering 12,000 acres in northeast Harris County, began operations in 1953, followed by the 21,000-acre Lake Conroe in Montgomery County in 1973.

Lake Conroe is used to hold water in reserve until it’s needed by Lake Houston’s water plant.

“The water level on Lake Houston cannot fall below 37 feet or the water plant’s intake pumps won’t work,” explained Alvin Wright, Houston’s public works spokesman.

Down 3½ inches a week

The water level on Lake Houston currently stands at 37.6 feet, dangerously close to the mark that triggers withdrawals from Lake Conroe. The level is dropping by as much as 3½ inches a week.

“We’re experiencing much higher water usage, while water pipes are also breaking from the extreme heat,” Wright said. “Usually we have 250 repairs pending, but now we’ve got 600 repairs.”

Plus, the municipal water supply is dwindling because of greater evaporation from triple-digit highs and no rain to replenish the losses.

“Houston’s mayor and public works director will make the call to order any release from Lake Conroe. We’re still hoping that won’t happen,” said Wright, who said the city wants to avoid dipping into its reserves until absolutely necessary.

However, he stressed that Lake Livingston, Houston’s main drinking water supply, is nearly full, and the city has sufficient reserves to last two years.

cindy.horswell@chron.com

City of Houston May Request Water from Lake Conroe – SJRA Press Release

City of Houston May Request Water from Lake Conroe

Although an official notice has not yet been received, the City of Houston has given preliminary indications that it will soon request a measured release of water from its two-thirds share of the water rights in Lake Conroe to meet the City’s operational needs in Lake Houston. An exact quantity and start date is not yet known, but initial estimates are that the City might request a release of up to 150 million gallons per day beginning sometime within the next two weeks. This equates to approximately half an inch per day.

Engineering staff for the City of Houston have indicated that the purpose of the release is not to raise the level of Lake Houston but simply to stabilize the lake level for operational needs at the City’s Northeast Water Purification Plant. The amount of water requested from Lake Conroe would be adjusted daily based on weather conditions in the Lake Houston watershed, and the releases would likely continue until the current drought conditions begin to abate.

Lake Conroe was built as a joint venture between the City of Houston and the San Jacinto River Authority, with the City owning two-thirds of the water rights in the reservoir, and the SJRA owning the other one-third. In September of 2009, the SJRA and the City executed a long-term water supply contract that secured the SJRA’s right to use all of the water in Lake Conroe for the SJRA’s countywide Groundwater Reduction Plan (GRP) program. The GRP program will not need a significant amount of the City’s water until at least 2025, and during those years in which the City’s water is not used by the GRP, the contract allows the City to call on the water for its own short-term uses on a year-by-year basis.

Based on current weather patterns and inflows into Lake Houston, the SJRA does not currently see an immediate need to make any releases from the SJRA’s one-third share of Lake Conroe to meet the needs of its own downstream industrial customers; however, if severe drought conditions continue, it may become necessary for the SJRA to release a small amount of water in addition to the City of Houston’s release. If this were to occur, the SJRA’s release would be relatively small – probably in the range of 10 to 15 million gallons per day (approximately 1/20 of an inch per day or one and a half inches per month). If such releases are required, the SJRA would reimburse the GRP program for the appropriate amount of reservation fees that were paid for the SJRA’s share of the water in Lake Conroe.

In terms of impact to the level of Lake Conroe, the estimated release of up to half an inch per day would equate to three or four inches per week. During the hot summer months, this is approximately equal to the amount of water that evaporates from the reservoir. Lakefront property owners with boat slips should monitor water levels and take appropriate action as needed to trailer their boats or store them in marinas until normal rainfall patterns return and lake levels begin to rise.

For additional information, please visit the SJRA’s website at www.sjra.net. To receive updates via the internet or email, you can link to our Facebook page from our website or register your email address by signing up using the field in the lower right corner of our home page.}

Lake Conroe’s impact worth measuring

Published by The Conroe Courier – Over the years, development has enveloped Lake Conroe, representing a sizeable contribution to the Montgomery County economy.

But exactly how big is that contribution, and exactly how would the county be affected if lake levels in a time of drought dropped 12 feet or more?

It’s a question that deserves an answer, but it’s going to cost some money to get it.

The Lake Conroe Communities Network is seeking participants and funding for a quantitative study of the economic impact of lower lake levels. If lake levels were to drop significantly, it would definitely have an impact on the Lake Conroe economy, and would begin to dry up sales tax revenues and eventually could affect revenues from property values. The objective of the study, according to our story by Reporter Howard Roden, would be to provide an assessment of the economic impact from sustained lower water levels of the lake. The study would include surveys of local residents, historical analysis and study of other communities in comparable circumstances.

The network is asking city of Montgomery officials for a contribution of $5,000 to help fund an economic study of the area based on declining water levels. The proposed study by Texas A&M University would cost approximately $140,000 and take up to 16 months to complete. Already, according to the network, the Lake Conroe Association, the city of Conroe and Commissioners Court have pledged support to the project.

It’s clear, from just a glance at the residential and business development that surrounds it, that Lake Conroe is a key part of the county’s economic success. It would be worthwhile knowing exactly how significant that impact really is, and how plummeting lake levels could affect that value. For more information about the LCCN effort to raise support for a study of the economic impact of lower water levels on Lake Conroe, call (936) 448-1809.

Search for water must continue

Even with a negotiated contract between the city of Conroe and the San Jacinto River Authority that secures Conroe’s access to water in Lake Conroe for up to 80 years, city officials told The Courier recently that the search for future water resources must continue.

For that reason, we welcome the decision of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District to give large volume groundwater users the option of looking for water source alternatives to Lake Conroe surface water.

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District recently approved changes to its district rules that give large volume groundwater users, those groups that pump at least 10 million gallons annually, the opportunity to look for alternative water sources in place of the multi-billion dollar surface-water project proposed by the San Jacinto River Authority.

As a result, representatives from several of the municipal utility districts located around Lake Conroe are looking at their options, particularly the potential for obtaining and treating brackish water. MUD No. 18, the water provider for Bentwater, already has advertised for a contractor to drill a test well to determine if there’s enough brackish groundwater underneath the Gulf Coast Aquifer to make a project viable. Brackish groundwater is located at greater depths than water from the aquifer and must be treated using reverse osmosis, all of which adds to the costs of the water as an alternative source.

Still, some believe brackish water could become an affordable alternative to tying into a surface water treatment and distribution system utilizing Lake Conroe surface water.

The negotiated agreements which now tie Conroe and The Woodlands to Lake Conroe’s surface water were an important step to ensuring this county has the water it needs for the future.

But the test well that MUD No. 18 plans to drill could open a door for other possibilities for water in the future. Whether brackish water is a viable option is a worthwhile question, and as Montgomery County looks to its future water needs, it’s worth answering.

Hunt for brackish water begins

By Howard Roden | comments

LAKE CONROE – Now that they’ve been given the green light to explore for an alternative water supply, several municipal utility districts in Montgomery County are starting to map out their strategies.

Representatives from several of the MUDs located around Lake Conroe are planning to meet and discuss their options. Meanwhile, MUD No. 18, the water provider for Bentwater, already has advertised for a contractor to drill a test well to determine if there’s enough brackish groundwater underneath the Gulf Coast Aquifer to make the project a viable one.

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District last week approved changes to its district rules that give large volume groundwater users, those groups that pump at least 10 million gallons annually, the opportunity to look for alternative water sources in place of the multi-billion dollar surface-water project proposed by the San Jacinto River Authority.

The SJRA’s plans calls for construction of a surface-water treatment plant on Lake Conroe, with the water piped to the city of Conroe, The Woodlands Township and selected areas along Interstate 45. The over-conversion of surface water to those areas will allow the rest of Montgomery County water users to continue pumping groundwater, but at 70 percent of the volume consumed in the 2009 calendar year.

In addition to Bentwater, the municipal utility districts in the Lake Conroe communities of Walden and April Sound think they have a cost-effective solution to SJRA’s plan by pumping the brackish groundwater located underneath the Gulf Coast Aquifer.

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, and other governmental entities, had included the Catahoula Formation as part of the Gulf Coast Aquifer. However, the LSGCD board amended its definitions last week to exclude the Catahoula as a part of the Gulf Coast Aquifer.

“We’re thankful that Lone Star saw the light,” said Roy McCoy, a LSGCD board member and president of MUD No. 8 (Walden). “This opens up the possibly for another source of water, not only for the residents in Walden but potentially for other residents around the county.”

McCoy acknowledges brackish groundwater, groundwater that, by definition, includes at least total dissolved solids concentrated in excess of 1,500 parts per million is an unprove source for water that has a great deal of potential as cities and communities search for water in future years.

“We’re in a very good positions that, in time, brackish groundwater could become an important part of the landscape,” he said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity.”

McCoy said drilling deeper to locate the brackish water, and its treatment process (reserve osmosis), could be more expensive up front, but those costs could be more than offset when compared to the expense of installing massive pipelines, like the ones proposed to Conroe and The Woodlands in the SJRA project.

“It could save Montgomery County millions,” McCoy said.

Of course, the major question is just how much brackish water exists in the Catahoula Formation, which is located below the freshwater aquifers of the Chico, Evangeline and Jasper aquifers.

MUD No. 18 engineer Bill Kotlan said the brackish water is located in a strata approximately 2,500 feet in depth.

Based on previous experience with gas and oil wells in the areas, the Catahoula releases water at a rate of 900 to 1,100 gallons per minute, he said.

“The real question is the volume of water that is down there,” Kotlan said.

Kotlan anticipates it will take four months to drill the test well and analyze the data before reaching a conclusion. Cost of the test well is estimated at $500,000, he said.

The municipal utilities districts of April Sound and Walden may join Bentwater on its test well to reduce costs.

“We well may decide to drill our own test well, or we may join up to save money,” McCoy said of Walden. “It’s a decision we’ll have to make.”

Kotlan said Bentwater was prepared to drop its test well in January, but was delayed by changes in the LSGCD’s district deadlines. MUD No. 18 wants to have its testing completed in time to join the SJRA’s Groundwater Reduction Plan if its test well fails to show enough brackish groundwater is available, Kotlan said.

“If there’s no other option, there’s always the SJRA MUD No. 3,” General Manager Ken Conatser said.

In this Lake Conroe community, an experiment continues

This is an article published in the Conroe Courier by Jim Fredricks, publisher concerning the issue of water conservation and shortages in Montgomery County. Please read!!!

Throughout Montgomery County, officials are trying to prod residents to conserve water.

They’re imposing higher water rates in some cases, and in Conroe and The Woodlands at least, paying for irrigation experts to inspect a homeowner’s sprinkler system at their request.

But in one Lake Conroe community, leaders there have launched something different – a public experiment.

In Bentwater, eight homeowners have agreed to participate in a pilot program to encourage conservation, dubbed “Water Wise.” It goes beyond focusing on the most obvious and biggest target for conservation – sprinkler systems – to incorporate a comprehensive approach to changing water habits. High-efficiency shower heads and water-efficient commodes, for example, recently have been installed in the eight pilot homes. Even more, each month, data on water use for the eight homes – for sprinkler systems and uses inside the house (including showers and filling swimming pools) – is posted on the Bentwater Civic Association’s website. You can check it out at www.bentwatercivic.com. Those eight homeowners, in other words, are under a microscope.

The Water Wise program is headed by a committee chaired by Bentwater resident Pat MacParland, who is applying his considerable talents as a retired chemical engineer to the problem of getting people to start saving water.

“Every month we publish data on our eight pilot homes, and we have an update every month we put up there,” he said in a recent interview. “We’ve been at it for six months, we’ve been recording activities and water consumption inside the house, which includes when you wash the car, and even includes filling the swimming pools. It’s kind of all-encompassing.

“We also record irrigation water. And it turns out that at our eight pilot homes, their total consumption over the summertime was right at the 50th percentile of all the community’s homeowners – which is right around 20,000 gallons a month.”

It’s an accomplishment, MacParland said, but he believes the homeowners can do even better as usage data begins to kick on the new, more water-efficient devices in the homes that were installed.

One of the biggest goals was to demonstrate that irrigation systems are dumping way too much water on the lawns of the community’s 1,600 homeowners, and that cutting back wouldn’t diminish a lawn’s beauty, even through the brutal heat of a Texas summer. Irrigation, according to most experts, accounts for about two-thirds of household usage – and half of that is wasted.

One of the eight pilot homes had an UgMo system installed that involves wireless moisture probes buried 4-6 inches below the soil surface. The probes tell the sprinkler system when it is time to water. Meanwhile, the other pilot homes simply tried to watch their sprinkler usage better, eventually getting, on average, down to just 1.25 inches a week. The home with the UgMo system got down to about an eighth of an inch a week. And the lawns are still green. “I think we’ve pretty well shown that an inch a week is quite adequate,” MacParland said.

As a resident of a lakeside community, MacParland says the urgency of conservation is increasing, especially as the county prepares to shift an enormous amount of its water supply from the aquifers to Lake Conroe. Lake Conroe residents continue to be concerned how that issue will affect lake levels, despite the persistent assurances of San Jacinto River Authority officials that they need not worry.

But even more, MacParland said, the pilot demonstrations show that conservation is more possible than many of us think – if we’ll just do it.

“I’m actually kind of flabbergasted with the opportunity that exists. I’m also flabbergasted at the amount of water that is wasted.”

Jim Fredricks is publisher of The Courier; he can be reached at (936) 521-3400 or jfredricks@hcnonline.com.

Walden MUDs plan to purchase share of Huntsville wastewater

By Howard Roden | comment

The two municipal utility districts that provide water to Walden residents have negotiated a contract with Huntsville to acquire a portion of the city’s wastewater return that flows into Lake Conroe.

Should MUD Nos. 8 and 9 ultimately strike a deal with the San Jacinto River Authority for access to the reservoir, Walden’s water needs could be assured through 2035, several community leaders announced during a presentation at the SJRA meeting Wednesday at the Lone Star Convention Center in Conroe.

The two MUDs are among the approximately 197 large-volume groundwater users in Montgomery County required to reduce their groundwater usage at least 30 percent by Jan. 1, 2016. LVGUs are defined by the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District as water systems that pump at least 10 millions gallons annually.

The majority of those water users agreed to join the SJRA Groundwater Reduction Plan, which calls for the construction of a surface water treatment plant near Lake Conroe. Most of the water will be piped to the city of Conroe and The Woodlands area in order for the other water systems to achieve the mandated reduction.

Several cities and governmental entities, such as Panorama Village, Shenandoah, Bentwater and April Sound, are pursuing the idea of drilling for brackish water in the deepest strata of the Gulf Coast Aquifer. However, the Walden MUDs opted to go in a different direction, settling on “indirect reuse” of their wastewater return flow, supplemented by wastewater reuse from an additional source, said Mike Irlbeck, of NRS Engineering in Austin.

The MUDs’ jointly operated wastewater treatment plant presently discharges an average of 350,000 gallons per day into Lake Conroe. The plant is permitted up to 900,000 gallons per day.

Under the MUDs’ own proposed GRP, the contract with the city of Huntsville provides Walden with up to 2 million gallons per day from Huntsville’s two existing wastewater treatment plants.

Huntsville is discharging 1.6 million gallons per day into the San Jacinto River upstream from Lake Conroe. The city has a combined discharge permit of 4.1 million gallons per day.

“Combined with the MUDs’ own return flow, these two water supply sources are sufficient to meet the MUDs’ conversion obligation under the LSGCD rules,” Irlbeck said.

Over the next 40 years, the Walden proposal will conserve more than 66,000 acre-feet of groundwater, according to the MUDs’ presentation.

“We’ve worked hard for two years to try and find an alternative that was good for our constituents,” said Linda Wilson, president of MUD No. 9. “Our project reduces groundwater use by a tremendous amount. The SJRA would never have to run a pipeline to us.”

At first, the MUDs proposed a direct-use approach to wastewater by using that source of water for irrigation purposes, such as golf courses.

“But we couldn’t do enough to make it economically feasible,” Roy McCoy, MUD No. 8 president said. “We think there are risks in both projects, but we think the risks are less using this project.”

The MUDs made their presentation to the SJRA Board of Directors last week seeking approval of an intake and “passage” of the MUDs’ water rights through Lake Conroe. SJRA board member David Kleimann commended Walden leaders for their project.

“You have done a patriotic thing, and I thank you for it,” he said.

Kleimann said the SJRA has made a “monopoly” out of the water in Lake Conroe, and criticized the agency for providing grants with money from taxpayers.

His remarks didn’t go unchallenged.

“Can you tell me what taxpayer money it (the SJRA) does receive?” said Joe Turner, SJRA board vice president.

“I just told you,” Kleimann said.

Following the meeting, Kleimann stressed that the SJRA is a governmental entity that should be working for the people.

Turner said the SJRA does not have any taxing authority and derives its revenue from the sale of water and other fees.

“He (Kleimann) is misleading the people. To say we’re a monopoly isn’t true,” he said.

But how much the Walden MUDs will pay the SJRA for water fees is up for debate. After the board convened from a heated argument in executive session, board president Gary Montgomery told MUD leaders to “continue talking” with SJRA staff with the hope of reaching an agreement on water fees.

Whatever that amount, Montgomery said he wanted the final figure to be “well-discussed and defensible in hard, black-and-white terms.”

Montgomery said he wants the agreement with the Walden MUDs to be approved by the SJRA’s GRP Advisory Committee.

Wilson said she was “thrilled” the SJRA board did not say no to the MUDs’ request. But she and McCoy did not rule out the possibility of legal action if talks reached an impasse.

Howard Roden can be reached at hroden@hcnonline.com

Montgomery officials to select water plan

By Brad Meyer Courier staff

MONTGOMERY — Montgomery officials recognize they need a partner to comply with a state agency’s mandate for future water conservation; the question is which potential resource best fits the city’s needs and budget.

Among the topics Montgomery City Council members are expected to review when they meet this evening is how the city will comply with a directive from the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District to decrease the city’s dependence on water drawn from traditional wells.

“It’s a very important issue to cities in the region,” said Bill Kotlan, acting city administrator. “Water is essential to the growth — or stability — of every community, and it’s going to be increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain its availability.”

Officials had a workshop Monday evening to discuss the city’s options for potable water based on the LSGCD directive mandating a 30 percent reduction of groundwater use by the end of 2015. Options include accessing surface water from Lake Conroe and other sources, drilling into the unregulated Catahoula Aquifer or joining forces with other water users.

Considering Montgomery’s size and projected growth, achieving an independent solution to the directive is economically impractical, Kotlan said. The city has three primary options.

One option is working with or purchasing credits from Municipal Utility District 18 in the Bentwater area. The group plans to drill a well into the brackish water of the Catahoula Aquifer and treat it.

A similar arrangement is available with MUDs 3 and 4 in the April Sound area. The third option is participating in a large group program organized and coordinated by the San Jacinto River Authority.

“All of the programs have significant costs and inherent risks associated with them,” Kotlan said. “We have some tough decisions to make and we have to start making them now.”

Of the three potential solutions, Kotlan said working with the SJRA offers the greatest security and simplicity, but at a premium cost and a long-term commitment.

“The April Sound MUD offers a rate 20 percent lower than whatever rate SJRA establishes for its participants,” he said. “We also have the option of opting out in 2016 if other cost-efficient alternatives become available.”

At stake isn’t just cost, but risk, Kotlan said. City officials will have to make a decision based on uncertainties associated with all of the potential options. Kotlan favors the cost efficiency of the MUDs 3 and 4 program but understands the security and simplicity of the SJRA plan.

“It’s a tough choice,” he said. “It’s an issue with a lot of complexity.”

The Montgomery City Council meets at 7 tonight at Montgomery City Hall, located at 100 Old Plantersville Road.

Brad Meyer can be reached at bmeyer@hcnonline.com.

Lake Conroe Native Plant Restoration Project

Lake Conroe Native Plant Restoration Project

Conroe, TX

July 27, 2009

27 volunteers converged on Lake Conroe July 25th, 2009 for a day of transplanting native aquatic plants into the lake. Four different species of the plants were placed along the northern shores of the Sam Houston National Forest. The volunteer group was able to get 120 pots of water willow, soft-stem bulrush, spike rush, and pickerel weed into the water during the workday. The group was both dedicated and experienced, and the work was completed in a very efficient manner. All of the plants were protected with wire mesh cages after being transplanted.

The project is a coordinated effort between the Seven Coves Bass Club (with the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation), the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the San Jacinto River Authority, and the Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystem Research Facility. A major portion of the funding for the project has come via a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This group has been working to maintain a native plant base in Lake Conroe since the incorporation of white amur (also known as “grass carp”) into the lake’s hydrilla management program in 2006. Although the herbivorous fish have been able to eliminate all of the 2,000 acres of invasive hydrilla, the native base of aquatic plants in the lake has been reduced from over 1,000 acres to a sparse 150 acres to date.

The goals of the Native Plant Restoration Project is to assist in the renewal of habitat for juvenile fish, reduce excessive mineral levels that lead to invasive plant species growth, inhibit algal production, and improve the overall water quality in the lake. Although this program has placed nearly 1,500 native plants into Lake Conroe over the past two years, colonization, and expansion, has been retarded with the current numbers of grass carp that remain in the lake. It is hoped that the restocking efforts will become enhanced, with a future decline in the numbers of the amur.

Several more workdays are being scheduled for the remainder of the 2009 planting season. Anyone with questions, or a desire to assist in the restoration project, is invited to contact the project’s coordinator-Ron Gunter. Ron can be reached at 936-524-4413, or regunter@consolidated.net

More carp to be added to Lake Conroe

Fish used to combat growing hydrilla problem

By KIMBERLY STAUFFER and BETH KUHLES

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

The San Jacinto River Authority and Texas Parks and Wildlife officials decided to dump 13,800 grass carp into congested Lake Conroe to combat spreading hydrilla after a September survey showed rapid growth.

The fish are expected to be introduced into the lake sometime in the next month.

In July, hydrilla infested 739 acres of Lake Conroe. By September, the foreign plant had spread to 1,167 acres. Earl Chilton, aquatic habitat coordinator for Texas Parks and Wildlife, said the stocking rate is now 23.1 fish per acre, a marked increase from earlier this year when officials began treating the lake with five fish per acre. Officials began a conservative assault on hydrilla in March with 4,300 fish and now, factoring in a 30 percent annual mortality rate, Lake Conroe will have about 27,000 grass carp.

Maximum approved

Montgomery County commissioners have joined the battle over hydrilla on Lake Conroe, urging officials to use whatever means necessary, including the maximum number of plant-eating fish — 30,000 — to preserve the lake.

Commissioners passed a resolution allowing the maximum number of fish allowable under the Hydrilla Management Plan previously approved by Texas Parks and Wildlife to be deposited in Lake Conroe.

Mike Bleier, president of the Lake Conroe Resident Association, said the organization is “extremely happy with the (lake officials’) decision.”

“With the announcement of 13,800 fish to be released, it doubles the amount of fish in the lake eating hydrilla, and that can only be a good thing,” he said.

Bleier said the lake weed has experienced 58 percent growth since July, which severely hinders lake usage and recreation.

“The lake appearance in certain places is not what it could be,” he said. “The use of motor craft in the lake is more difficult … because of increased number of acres (of hydrilla). It was a bit discouraging to see this growth. It’s encouraging that (Texas Parks and Wildlife) is at least acknowledging it.”

While not poisonous, the plant grows from buried bulbs in the lake bottom to the surface, developing into dense mats that prevent homeowners and tourists from swimming and using boats and jet skis.

Plant growth rate

The high growth rate is attributable to the lower water levels in the 21,000-acre man-made lake, with the combination of clear, shallow water and penetrating sunlight and runoff from local golf courses, residences and businesses contributing abundant nutrients.

Chilton said Texas Parks and Wildlife officials will conduct three surveys each year to measure hydrilla growth to determine if any fish need to be added to the lake. Surveys are planned for May, July and September.

“We’ll wait until the survey next spring to determine whether we need more fish and determine how well the natives (plants) are growing. If the hydrilla is growing at a significant rate earlier in the year, we may go ahead and do a March or April survey. It just depends on how the lake is doing.”

Like Lake Austin, which has endured similar hydrilla infestations, Chilton said battling the weed could take up to two years using a conservative approach to avoid overstocking the lake, a mistake officials made in the early 1980s that ultimately destroyed Lake Conroe’s native vegetation.

In the late 1970s, Lake Conroe became infested with the Southeast Asian plant, which eventually covered 45 percent of the water. Officials treated the outbreak with herbicides until the plant consumed about 7,500 acres just three years after the initial expansion.

In reaction, lake officials dumped almost 300,000 grass carp in Lake Conroe. The fish, also known as white amur, eliminated the foreign plant, but the severe overstocking decimated the native vegetation when the hydrilla, the grass carp’s favored food, disappeared.

Bleier said he believes officials have had to change their moderate stance on fighting hydrilla because of unexpectedly fast growth.

“I think the hydrilla unfortunately is growing faster than they had hoped for,” he said. “Once they measured that growth, they responded accordingly with an adequate number of fish. There were signs of hydrilla growth and expansion (two months ago), so I think their conservative approach couldn’t be maintained any longer because of rapid growth being seen out our windows every day.”

Chilton said the warm weather months of July, August and September contributed to the fast hydrilla growth, but the onset of cooling winter temperatures should slow the weed.

“We believe it’s probably slowed down its growth rate,” he said. “You should expect some kind of dieback in winter depending on the weather. It’s still increasing, but at a significantly slower rate than before we put the grass carp in.”

Maintaining lake’s health

Lake officials will continue to administer herbicides in conjunction with the plant-eating fish, Kellum said.

“It’s an ongoing maintenance situation,” he said. “We’re using herbicides to maintain the health of the lake.”

Chilton said he hopes the recent measures to impede hydrilla expansion quells Lake Conroe residents’ concerns with officials’ reactionary tactics.

“It’s hard to tell. I imagine some of the residents may be pleased and willing to wait until next summer to see how this number of fish is doing,” he said. “Other ones may be some who are still upset and want more fish. It’s difficult.”

Lake Conroe Association members campaigned for 30,000 fish while lake officials continued a conservative program to treat the lake. The association held a fundraiser to raise money for grass carp and hydrilla control. Residents and businesses contributed $191,000 to the campaign, and the San Jacinto River Authority agreed to pay half the cost for purchasing the fish.

“Getting 90 percent of our goal in the first year is a proactive approach and we’re pleased (Texas Parks and Wildlife) made that decision,” he said. “The winter is going to bring cooler temperatures, which will slow hydrilla growth, and we’ll have 27,000 fish in the lake to start eating away.”

kimberly.stauffer@chron.com

More Amur slated for Lake

By: Howard Roden, Conroe Courier staff

10/03/2006

LAKE CONROE – The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will deposit another 13,800 hydrilla-eating fish into Lake Conroe, but the agency denied it was pressured by lakefront property owners to meet their demands.

That amount of white Amur – scheduled to be released over the next month – will more than double the current grass carp population of 13,248. It also satisfied an earlier demand by the Lake Conroe Association that the TPWD stock a total of at least 27,000 fish this year.

The LCA, a nonprofit group comprised primarily of lakefront property owners and businesses, had informed parks and wildlife officials it would abandon a cooperative relationship with the TPWD if the organization’s arbitrary number wasn’t attained.

Meanwhile, representatives from bass fishing groups had previously voiced their support for controlling hydrilla in Lake Conroe – as long as the number of fish required was validated by scientific calculations.

As it turned out Monday during a meeting at the San Jacinto River Authority headquarters, both sides got what they wanted.

In announcing that hydrilla now infested a total of 1,167 surfaces acres of Lake Conroe, TPWD Program Specialist Earl Chilton said the latest, and largest, white Amur release was based on attaining a “stocking rate” of 23.1 fish per acre. That rate represented the mean average of the six stocking rates at Lake Austin, where the TPWD used the fish to successfully combat hydrilla, he said.

“We could have used a higher or lower stocking rate, but this (23.1 fish per acre) was what worked over a period of a year-and-a-half,” Chilton said.

Contacted in Chicago, LCA President Mike Bleier said the organization had requested the release of the 30,000 white Amur that was part of the TPWD’s 2006 aquatic plant management plan for Lake Conroe.

“The (Montgomery) county commissioners and (state Senator-elect) Robert Nichols had been pushing for the 30,000 as well,” Bleier said. “We (the LCA) didn’t think 27,000 fish were going to denude the lake. That’s an adequate number of fish to work with during the winter without endangering the lake.”

Bleier also denied the parks and wildlife department “yielded” to any pressure.

“They did their math to a significant problem,” he said. “The LCA is okay with their calculations.”

Chilton said the TPWD would have been “just as happy” to go wherever the data of its September hydrilla survey would have suggested.

“There’s always a little bit of a leeway in calculations, but if the amount (of fish) would have been significantly below (27,000) we would have stayed with that data, regardless of the reaction,” he said.

Texas Black Bass Unlimited President Ed Parten did not voice direct opposition to the increase of fish into Lake Conroe.

“We want to control the hydrilla,” he said following the meeting. “Our only concern is that the parks and wildlife gets too far ahead of the curve and that 27,000 of the grass carp will still be in the lake next spring. If that happens, consumption will increase and we’ll see eradication in lieu of control. Then the native vegetation in the lake will be next.”

Results of the hydrilla survey conducted on eight days from Sept. 9-21 showed a 57 percent increase – 428 acres – in surface coverage. The majority of the fast-growing water weed was found in Little Lake Creek (526 acres). Other areas of significant infestation included Caney Creek (290 acres), Lewis Creek (178) and Del Lego (23).

Bryan District Fisheries Supervisor Mark Webb, who is in charge of the hydrilla surveys, said the parks and wildlife department is conducting “a balancing act” in order to get hydrilla under control.

“We’re hoping the carp gets ahead of the hydrilla between now and next spring,” he said. “We’re not sure exactly how the fish and vegetation is going to react (after this release).”

LCA director Ben Richardson, who attended Monday’s meeting, said he was “cautiously optimistic” over the TPWD’s latest recommendation.

“I think we got as much as we could’ve hoped for this year,” he said.

It was also revealed at the meeting that the LCA and the San Jacinto River Authority agreed to split the cost for the latest batch of white Amur. Based on $6 per fish, and a $2 per fish permitting fee paid to the TPWD, each group will spend approximately $56,000.

Richardson said the LCA has sufficient funds to cover its share, while Lake Conroe Division Manager Blake Kellum said the SJRA will use money from its aquatic plant management fund to buy fish.

Chilton said the TPWD was working on the 2007 version of its aquatic management plan for Lake Conroe. The next hydrilla survey is not to take place until May, but he said both his agency and the SJRA will monitor the lake until then.

“If anything gets out of control, we can always do another survey,” he said.

Howard Roden can be reached at hroden@hcnonline.com.

©Houston Community Newspapers Online 2006