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.

LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE

Wrapping up 2011, it’s been a year unlike any other in Lake Conroe’s 37-year history and record breaking for Montgomery County and most of the State of Texas.  We were parched by record temperatures for most of our Summer and Fall, and the state-wide drought created problems not seen since the 1950’s.  Our poor little Lake Conroe saw record low lake levels, and these low levels have frustrated boaters, fishermen, local businesses, our real estate community and elected officials of City, County and State government.  Cooler temperatures and recent rainfall have become reason for higher spirits, but our dying trees and lingering low lake levels remind us each day of a year most are pleased see come to an end.

Topics concerning Lake Conroe and the LCA follow:

1.      LCA ANNUAL MEETING: Our LCA Annual Meeting will be held on Friday, January 20, 2012 at the dam site offices off Highway 105 of the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) at 10AM in the Lake Conroe Conference Room.  In conjunction with this Annual Meeting, a Meeting Agenda and Voting Proxy will be mailed to our LCA Members next week.  The Voting Proxy allows Members to vote by mail on the election of 2012 LCA Directors and also recommends a change to our LCA Bylaws permitting voting by e-mail in 2013 (as a means to conserve funds currently spent on the cost of mailing envelopes, return envelopes and postage).  We are pleased that all nine (9) LCA 2011 Directors have offered to volunteer their time for 2012 in the same capacity, if re-elected by our Members.

  1. 2.      LAKE LEVEL DATA:  After the generous rainfall we experienced over the past two weeks, our landscape may be happier but our lake level remains at a dismal level of 192.79 as of today…..8 feet,3 inches below normal pool.  These lake levels reflect the lowest levels in the history of the Lake.   The City of Houston reduced its daily withdrawl rate from 165 MILLION GALLONS to 60 MILLION GALLONS as of November 28, 2011 and, on November 30, stopped withdrawing altogether.  The City of Houston has withdrawn an estimated 48,654 acre feet (or 15.8 BILLION GALLONS) between August 16, 2011 and today (approximately 2.6 feet of water over our lake’s surface).  The City of Houston can still withdraw an estimated 18,013 acre feet (or 5.9 BILLION GALLONS) before December 31, 2011 under its 2011 allotment provided under its contract with SJRA.
  2. 3.      CATAHOULA AQUIFER:  As you are most likely aware, SJRA will initiate its Groundwater Reduction Plan (“GRP”) in 2016 by removing approximately 1 foot of water per year from Lake Conroe to assist with meeting the ever-growing water demands of Montgomery County.  Some success has been achieved by identifying and testing water located in the Catahoula Aquifer below portions of Montgomery County.  Montgomery County has always pumped water from the Jasper Aquifer, and possible use of water from the Catahoula Aquifer (never utilized before) could supplement our water supply and possibly reduce the demand of water from Lake Conroe.  Currently, 3 wells have been drilled into the Catahoula Aquifer in Montgomery County (at Bentwater, April Sound and Panorama) and testing is underway to determine the feasibility of use of the Catahoula for our future.  For an extensive discussion of the Catahoula Aquifer, you can visit the Lake Conroe Community Network’s website at www.lakeconroecn.com or SJRA’s website at www.sjra.net.
  3. 4.      TEXAS A&M LAKE LEVEL STUDY:  The $152,000 study commissioned by Montgomery County (of which the LCA paid $69,000) and coordinated by Lake Conroe Community Network has had its completion date pushed back.  Texas A&M University was engaged to review the effects of removing water from Lake Conroe as part of SJRA’s GRP (referenced above).  Of particular concern are future lake levels, potentially reduced sales tax and property tax collections by Montgomery County, and effects on real estate values and local businesses.  A November 7, 2011 Public Meeting summarizing findings-to-date was postponed to give Texas A&M further time to gather complete information.  It is expected that the Public Meeting will be held sometime in March, 2012.
  4. 5.      LCA DUES FOR 2012:  As you may recall, the LCA waived its dues requirements for LCA Members for the year May, 2011 through April, 2012.  This decision was based on our overall suffering economy, the LCA’s current cash balance, and the LCA’s projected cash needs for that year.  Not envisioning large cash demands on the LCA in the coming year, the LCA Board currently plans to waive the collection of dues for the coming year May, 2012 through April, 2013.  We do this confident that, should a significant event occur in the next year needing extensive contributions from the LCA for the benefit of our lake community, our Members would respond positively to an emergency fund raising campaign to secure needed monies.  You would, right?
  5. 6.      DRIVING A VEHICLE IN THE DRY LAKE BED:  Lake Conroe has an imaginary line dividing the southern 2/3 of Lake Conroe (enforcement governed by SJRA) from the northern 1/3 of Lake Conroe (enforcement governed by the Texas Forest Service).  For those familiar with the northern portion of Lake Conroe, Scott’s Ridge Public Boat Launch and Campgrounds denotes the beginning of that portion of the lake under Texas Forest Service enforcement.  In the northern 1/3, vehicles are prohibited from operation in the dry lake bed.  In the southern 2/3, specific regulations have not been developed to preclude use of a vehicle in the dry lake bed.  Should SJRA encounter significant problems created by vehicle use, they reserve the right to modify this policy.  In general, the objective is to protect emerging grasses and the environmentally sensitive lake bed.  As an example, driving around in 4-wheeler doing “donuts” in front of someone’s property would not be viewed favorably nor environmentally conservative by SJRA.  I’d say the simple rule would be “Use some common sense.”
  6. 7.      “CLEANING” THE DRY LAKE BED:  Removing loose trash from the dry lake bed such as bottles, cans, life preservers, tires, and miscellaneous man-made stuff is acceptable to both SJRA and the Texas Forest Service.   SJRA has stated that cutting tall vegetation directly in front of your boat dock which would impede use of your boat (if we had water) is acceptable.  Without advance permission, the cutting of/removal of tree stumps or the removal of fishing “spider blocks” (concrete blocks with steel or aluminum pipes protruding from them as to resemble a brush pile or fallen tree) are not permitted.  If you find something you think may be a “spider block”, SJRA has offered to accumulate a list of locations where “spider blocks” are found and, subsequently, tow them into deeper water (at no cost to the homeowner) for use of fishermen in deeper waters where a boat prop or swimmer will not be harmed.  If in question about removing something, I’d contact SJRA at 936-588-1111 and ask for Bret Raley.
  7. 8.      PUBLIC BOAT LAUNCHES IN SERVICE:  Without having conducted a complete search of the entire lake, we can tell you that the following locations are reported to still have enough water to launch your boat.  The LCA has not visited these locations and cannot report specific water depths.  If interested, I’d place a phone call to the facility prior to towing your boat to any location…and make a safe decision on your own.  Those locations include Cagle Recreational Area, EZ Boat Storage, Lake View Marina, Palms Marina and Stow-Away Marina.  Updates on launch site openings and closures can be reviewed at SJRA’s website (www.sjra.net).
  8. 9.      REMOVAL OF DANGEROUS STUMPS IN THE MAIN BODY OF LAKE CONROE:  In the spirit of contributing towards an enjoyable and safe boating experience on Lake Conroe, the LCA is reviewing the cost of contracting a company for the removal of specific tree stumps in the main body of the Lake.  To be clear, this is in the main body of the lake.  This does not pertain to coves off the main body of the Lake nor to any stumps in the northern 1/3 of Lake Conroe.  We have identified approximately 250 stumps by jet ski for consideration.  The potential contractor has met with SJRA to agree upon rules to be applied, and both SJRA and the contractor will have agreed upon the specific stumps to be removed and the disposal, if any, of the tree trunk debris.  No agreed-upon price has been settled nor any contract signed.  Again, it is in the spirit of providing a safe boating experience for our community that we have considered this request from our Members, and the LCA feels this falls under our purpose of “overseeing, directing, initiating, and promulgating programs that directly affect the control, use, and enjoyment of Lake Conroe for the benefit of any private member or shareholder”.
  9. 10.  DON’T SINK IN LAKE BED MUD:  While the dry lake bed may appear to be safe for an afternoon stroll, please exercise caution when approaching “the mud”.  I experienced a young woman this Sunday taking her dog for a walk in the dry lake bed when her journey took a foreseeable bad turn.  As she decided to venture off “the sand” and into “the mud”, she quickly began to sink…..first boots high, then knee high, then waist high, and finally chest high.  While our football-watching party of 40 or so found some level of entertainment in her poor choice, her predicament caused enough concern for us to call “911” for help.  Ultimately, she somehow pulled herself out of the muck before “911” emergency personnel arrived; but her clothes (and her pride) will never be the same again.  Please be careful out there. 

Thank you for sharing your time in reading this LCA President’s Update.  We hope you find the information helpful and informative.  Should you desire to learn more about the LCA, review previous correspondence with our Members, or provide feedback on this edition of LCA President’s Update, you can utilize our website at www.lakeconroeassociation.com.  Have a happy and safe Holiday Season, and we look forward to a wonderful 2012 !!

Mike Bleier, President

Lake Conroe Association

LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE

TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY LAKE LEVEL SURVEY:

The Lake Conroe Association (LCA) has been working with Texas A&M University and Montgomery County to assess the impact of projected lake level fluctuations resulting from the San Jacinto River Authority’s (SJRA) Groundwater Reduction Plan.  Thanks to the generosity of LCA Members, the LCA was able to contribute $62,000 towards this $142,000 project.  Lake Conroe is certainly a treasured amenity for residents of Montgomery County, and reduced lake levels clearly impact use of the lake, local business success and residential property values.

Aside from evaluating engineering studies commissioned by SJRA to estimate the effects of removing water from Lake Conroe, an important element of the Texas A&M Study is a survey of local residents.  Texas A&M mailed invitations to participate in the Lake Conroe Survey in late July to a one-in-ten random sample of residents within four miles of the lake.  It is very important to respond so that A&M’s findings can incorporate our perspectives into estimates of the potential impact of the proposed SJRA Groundwater Reduction Plan.  These findings will help our leaders make choices that are sensitive to our perspectives and concerns as they address the serious water issues in our County.

(1)   If you are one of those who have already responded, thank you very much!

(2)   If you received an invitation but have not been able to respond, it’ not too late.  Go to the website (hrrc.arch.tamu.edu/lakeconroe) and enter your unique identifier from the post card you received in the mail.  If you’ve misplaced the post card, you can call the research team at Texas A&M at 979-845-7284 and they will be happy to get you started.

(3)   IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO TAKE THE SURVEY BUT DID NOT RECEIVE AN INVITATION, you can send your e-mail address to Dr. George Rogers of Texas A&M at GRogers@TAMU.edu with a “subject line” of “Lake Conroe Study”.  He will accumulate these and forward them to the research team to invite you to participate in an “interested parties” survey that is separate from the random sample.  This “interested parties” survey is your opportunity to share your perspectives and be heard.  The survey will ask for your street address so that the data can be geo-coded, and the address will be subsequently deleted to assure anonymity.

Usually, the LCA asks you to make a donation and WE do the work.  This time, we aren’t asking for money but, rather, a small amount of your time.  We can’t respond to a survey requesting YOUR opinions.  We REALLY need your participation at this time!  PLEASE HELP US HELP YOU!

WATER MEETING CALLED BY JUDGE SADLER:

I was asked to attend a water meeting yesterday by Montgomery County Judge Sadler.  Attendees included representatives from The City of Houston, Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, SJRA, Region H Water Planning Committee, Montgomery County, The City of Conroe, Lake Conroe Communities Network (LCCN) and various interested parties.  I thought you would appreciate an update of what I interpreted was presented in that meeting.  I list the following:

1)      Current lake level on Lake Conroe is 196.92 (normal pool is 201.0).  The lowest Lake Conroe has ever reached is a level of 196.

2)      The City of Houston started removing water from Lake Conroe on Tuesday, August 16, 2011.  The estimated rate of removal equates to approximately one half inch per day, or fifteen inches per month.  Without significant rainfall to modify their plans, The City of Houston expects to remove a total of three feet of water by the end of 2011.  As two thirds owner of Lake Conroe’s water supply, The City of Houston will pay nothing to SJRA for this water.

3)      The City of Houston’s contract with SJRA for water removal is based on a calendar year.  They can remove two thirds of 100,000 acre feet of water (or approximately 3 feet of water) in any calendar year.  Therefore, if significant rainfall does not modify their plans,  The City of Houston COULD start withdrawing water from Lake Conroe under its 2012 allotment starting January 1, 2012.  At one half inch per day, The City of Houston COULD remove another 3 feet of water from Lake Conroe by the end of March, 2012.  Since water use reduces during the Winter season, it would be more likely that The City of Houston removes that 3 feet of water by mid-2012 and not the end of March, 2012. 

4)      Summer evaporation rates approximate one third to one half inch per day, and total approximately 4 feet per year.

5)      While weather forecasters are certainly not always accurate, climatologists do not foresee significant rain for our area for the balance of 2011.  Further, with an estimated 50% accuracy, climatologists predict a 2012 drought similar to that we are experiencing in 2011.

6)      In big, round numbers, our lake level could reach a level of 190 (or eleven feet below normal pool) by the end of 2011.  The math used would be:  Current pool of 197… less 3 feet of water removed by The City of Houston… less 2 feet of water evaporated in the second half of Summer/Fall… less 1 ½ feet of water which could be sold by SJRA (their one third of 100,000 acre feet)… less ½ foot of water to account for the surface of Lake Conroe reducing as the water level drops (similar to a bowl….more surface at the top of the bowl and reducing surface as you approach the bottom of the bowl).

7)      Looking for the most time-effective solution to our water shortage, the individuals attending Judge Sadler’s meeting strongly encouraged immediately drilling further test wells into the Catahoula Aquifer.  Determining the quality and sustainability of this aquifer is of utmost importance in evaluating our water options.

8)      Judge Sadler also encouraged the Region H Water Planning Committee to move forward with evaluating the feasibility of building another reservoir in Montgomery County to supplement the waters of Lake Conroe.  Previous requests of this nature in 2010 were denied by Region H.  With Region H entering a new 5-year planning cycle beginning in 2012, Judge Sadler pointed out that ignoring this request for another 5 years would be unacceptable given water shortages across our area.

9)      Judge Sadler further requested that Region H provide a thorough financial review comparing the costs of all water options available to our County including a new reservoir, buying water from the Trinity River Authority and a host of other potential options.

10)  While only briefly discussed due to time constraints (priority topics were The City of Houston’s water withdrawl, projected lake levels, use of the Catahoula Aquifer, and Region H’s review of a new reservoir), other water topics of interest included conservation, water restrictions, use of treated effluent for golf course and residential irrigation, and mandatory use of treated effluent incorporated into the development of new communities for irrigation and water features.  

Thank you for your support of the Lake Conroe Association and your interest in our Lake Conroe community.

Mike Bleier, President

Lake Conroe Association

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.