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.”

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.