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.

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.

Walden MUDs plan to purchase share of Huntsville wastewater

By Howard Roden | comment

The two municipal utility districts that provide water to Walden residents have negotiated a contract with Huntsville to acquire a portion of the city’s wastewater return that flows into Lake Conroe.

Should MUD Nos. 8 and 9 ultimately strike a deal with the San Jacinto River Authority for access to the reservoir, Walden’s water needs could be assured through 2035, several community leaders announced during a presentation at the SJRA meeting Wednesday at the Lone Star Convention Center in Conroe.

The two MUDs are among the approximately 197 large-volume groundwater users in Montgomery County required to reduce their groundwater usage at least 30 percent by Jan. 1, 2016. LVGUs are defined by the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District as water systems that pump at least 10 millions gallons annually.

The majority of those water users agreed to join the SJRA Groundwater Reduction Plan, which calls for the construction of a surface water treatment plant near Lake Conroe. Most of the water will be piped to the city of Conroe and The Woodlands area in order for the other water systems to achieve the mandated reduction.

Several cities and governmental entities, such as Panorama Village, Shenandoah, Bentwater and April Sound, are pursuing the idea of drilling for brackish water in the deepest strata of the Gulf Coast Aquifer. However, the Walden MUDs opted to go in a different direction, settling on “indirect reuse” of their wastewater return flow, supplemented by wastewater reuse from an additional source, said Mike Irlbeck, of NRS Engineering in Austin.

The MUDs’ jointly operated wastewater treatment plant presently discharges an average of 350,000 gallons per day into Lake Conroe. The plant is permitted up to 900,000 gallons per day.

Under the MUDs’ own proposed GRP, the contract with the city of Huntsville provides Walden with up to 2 million gallons per day from Huntsville’s two existing wastewater treatment plants.

Huntsville is discharging 1.6 million gallons per day into the San Jacinto River upstream from Lake Conroe. The city has a combined discharge permit of 4.1 million gallons per day.

“Combined with the MUDs’ own return flow, these two water supply sources are sufficient to meet the MUDs’ conversion obligation under the LSGCD rules,” Irlbeck said.

Over the next 40 years, the Walden proposal will conserve more than 66,000 acre-feet of groundwater, according to the MUDs’ presentation.

“We’ve worked hard for two years to try and find an alternative that was good for our constituents,” said Linda Wilson, president of MUD No. 9. “Our project reduces groundwater use by a tremendous amount. The SJRA would never have to run a pipeline to us.”

At first, the MUDs proposed a direct-use approach to wastewater by using that source of water for irrigation purposes, such as golf courses.

“But we couldn’t do enough to make it economically feasible,” Roy McCoy, MUD No. 8 president said. “We think there are risks in both projects, but we think the risks are less using this project.”

The MUDs made their presentation to the SJRA Board of Directors last week seeking approval of an intake and “passage” of the MUDs’ water rights through Lake Conroe. SJRA board member David Kleimann commended Walden leaders for their project.

“You have done a patriotic thing, and I thank you for it,” he said.

Kleimann said the SJRA has made a “monopoly” out of the water in Lake Conroe, and criticized the agency for providing grants with money from taxpayers.

His remarks didn’t go unchallenged.

“Can you tell me what taxpayer money it (the SJRA) does receive?” said Joe Turner, SJRA board vice president.

“I just told you,” Kleimann said.

Following the meeting, Kleimann stressed that the SJRA is a governmental entity that should be working for the people.

Turner said the SJRA does not have any taxing authority and derives its revenue from the sale of water and other fees.

“He (Kleimann) is misleading the people. To say we’re a monopoly isn’t true,” he said.

But how much the Walden MUDs will pay the SJRA for water fees is up for debate. After the board convened from a heated argument in executive session, board president Gary Montgomery told MUD leaders to “continue talking” with SJRA staff with the hope of reaching an agreement on water fees.

Whatever that amount, Montgomery said he wanted the final figure to be “well-discussed and defensible in hard, black-and-white terms.”

Montgomery said he wants the agreement with the Walden MUDs to be approved by the SJRA’s GRP Advisory Committee.

Wilson said she was “thrilled” the SJRA board did not say no to the MUDs’ request. But she and McCoy did not rule out the possibility of legal action if talks reached an impasse.

Howard Roden can be reached at hroden@hcnonline.com