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

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.