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.