North versus south Montgomery County water war? Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District begins process to address groundwater conditions in light of acrimony over subsidence

North versus south Montgomery County water war? Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District begins process to address groundwater conditions in light of acrimony over subsidence

Image: The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District held a regular Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, in Conroe, at which the Desired Future Conditions for the District’s groundwater regulations were a hot topic setting residents of south Montgomery County seemingly against those from north of the San Jacinto River boundary.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Conroe, February 10 – Listening to citizen comments at the beginning of the Board of Directors meeting of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) on Tuesday evening, February 9, 2021, there appears to be a sharp divergence of opinion over groundwater regulations between Montgomery County residents who live in south Montgomery County and those who live north of the San Jacinto River. Many Woodlands residents attended the Board meeting in person or by Zoom to urge LSGCD to adopt stringent regulations of groundwater production to control subsidence.

Many of the citizen comments were so sharp as to suggest a regulatory “water war” might erupt between south and north Montgomery County.

LSGCD must adopt its “management plan” containing Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) for groundwater drawdowns in Montgomery County by May 1, 2021. DFCs in previous LSGCD management plans have been the source of substantial litigation involving groundwater producers who objected to the stringent conditions which San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA)-aligned Board members had imposed, so that SJRA’s sale of surface water would enjoy a competitive advantage over groundwater producers. In 2016, Judge Lamar McCorkle, sitting as a Senior District Judge in the 284th District Court in Conroe, ruled that DFCs, which set a target production amount of groundwater, violated the Texas Water Code.

At Tuesday’s meeting, however, residents from south Montgomery County wanted LSGCD to adopt regulations, which would reduce groundwater pumpage to bring subsidence of the surface to zero. Whether groundwater pumpage in Montgomery County contributes to subsidence is highly controversial and remains the subject of a major geologic study LSGCD’s Board has commissioned.

While the technical aspects of the subsidence issue remain the subject of much scientific disagreement, emotions ran high at the Board meeting.

Woodlands Township Director Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a physician, expressed her strong support for including a subsidence target in LSGCD’s DFCs.

Conroe Mayor Pro-Tem Duke Coon, who serves on the Conroe City Council, exemplified the citizen comments from residents of the northern areas of Montgomery County. “I come on behalf of our Mayor and our City Council in Conroe,” Coon said. “Subsidence is well documented down there [referring to south Montgomery County]…We believe subsidence is from heavy pumping requirements in north Harris County where subsidence is not prevalent. We ask for a possible management zone or management district. What’s happening in south county is not reflective of the whole county. The City of Conroe cannot afford to have our groundwater limited to a subsidence-based DFC.”

In other words, Coon and other Conroe residents urged LSGCD to adopt groundwater regulations which focused on water conservation rather than surface subsidence.

Simon Sequeira, President of Restore Affordable Water, a property rights advocacy group, and also President of Quadvest, a large groundwater producer, told the LSGCD Board last night, “The General Manager of the SJRA and General Manager of the Woodlands Joint Powers Agency sat where you’re sitting today as appointed Board members…[but] not a single one of those reports [from the previous LSGCD Board on which they sat] mentioned subsidence as a reason for the forced conversion to surface water.”

Sequeira argued that the scientific evidence does not support that there is subsidence in the Jasper aquifer, the primary aquifer from which groundwater in north Montgomery County comes. “Forced conversion from groundwater to surface water had nothing to do with subsidence…Subsidence now is only being used a scare tactic. That’s all it’s about,” Sequeira explained.

Former Conroe Mayor Webb Melder had the strongest words of all, as he criticized SJRA for seeking to scare Montgomery County citizens into believing that there is a subsidence problem from groundwater production, so that residents will have to buy surface water at high retail prices from SJRA. “SJRA is the only state agency ever to achieve the trifecta: a fraud suit, a price manipulation suit, and a federal antitrust suit.”

After the citizen comments, LSGCD’s General Counsel Stacy Reese made a length and very low-key presentation about the process by which LSGCD has approached DFCs since the LSGCD Board switched to selection by popular vote rather than appointment at the end of 2018. Reese argued that LSGCD has very carefully followed Texas law in the Board’s consideration of DFCs.

Reese explained that the current LSGCD Board has adopted a pro-property rights approach of setting Desired Future Conditions by establishing the “available drawdown of groundwater as a percentage of the aquifer, rather than as a subsidence metric, or a specific limit on the amount of pumping.”

After LSGCD’s Board adopts the proposed DFCs on or before May 1, 2021, the regional regulatory body, GMA-14, must hold a public hearing and approve the District’s management plan by January 5, 2022. If the regional regulator approves the plan, then the Texas Water Development Board will ultimately need to approve the plan.

 

 

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