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.”

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