Water Issues

Lake Conroe will be providing water to Montgomery County by 2015:

  • Montgomery County needs water.  Our County is growing rapidly and growth requires water.
  • Virtually all of Montgomery County’s residential water today comes from groundwater in our aquifer via water wells.
  • Our aquifer has been overused and cannot be allowed to decrease to a level where it endangers that the aquifer will never be able to “recharge” itself.  The LSGCD has concluded that the County can no longer draw greater than 64,000 acre feet of water annually from the aquifer, and that any water needs in excess of this must come from surface water (such as Lake Conroe).  The U.S. Geological Service is releasing a report before year end which addresses how fast our aquifer is “recharging” itself, and this report will provide data to support (or modify) assumptions made by LSGCD.
  • 2015 is the year in which the County will no longer be allowed to draw greater than 64,000 acre feet of water annually from groundwater in our aquifer via water wells.
  • In 2015, all County water needs in excess of 64,000 acre feet per year will come from Lake Conroe.  Based on current water usage and estimated population growth in the County, water use in the County will approximate 87,000 acre feet annually.  The shortfall of 23,000 acre feet (87,000 projected less 64,000 allowed) will equate to about 1 foot of water per year from Lake Conroe(since Lake Conroe covers 23,000 acres and we’ll have a 23,000 acre feet shortfall, the math equates to 1 foot).
  • The one foot of Lake Conroe water will be drawn annually from 2015 to 2024.  Based on estimated population growth and ignoring alternatives (see “Alternatives” below), two feet of Lake Conroe water will be drawn annually from 2025 to 2034; three feet drawn 2035 to 2044; and four feet drawn 2045 and beyond.  The maximum allowable annual draw from Lake Conroe has been set by The State of Texas at 100,000 acre feet.
  • A water treatment plant will be built below the dam on Lake Conroe and pipelines connected from that water treatment plant to various locations including, but not limited to, Conroe and The Woodlands.  Planning and construction will commence shortly so as to meet the mandated 2015 groundwater reduction deadline.  The water treatment plant will be built in units called “trains”, and additional “trains” will be added as additional water is required in each ten year interval described above.  The estimated cost of “Phase 1” (2015 operational date) is $400 million.  The estimated cost of “Phases 1 thru 4” (2045 operational date) is $2.8 billion.  Do not think the construction of the water treatment plant is an option.  This construction is a certainty, and only the amount of water needed in the future will dictate the number of “trains” needed and the final cost.

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.

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.