IMPACT News editorial briefing with local water organizations

By Matt Stephens at Community Impact Newspaper

Population growth in the Greater Houston area continues to put a strain on groundwater resources throughout the region. Several groundwater conservation and subsidence organizations have formed in recent years to reduce the dependency their communities have on groundwater and prevent subsidence.

The Harris/Galveston and Fort Bend subsidence districts were created in 1975 and 1989, respectively, with the goal of preventing subsidence, which can lead to flooding. Mike Turco has been the general manager of the districts since 2013.

Created in January 2000, the North Harris County Regional Water Authority secures long-term water sources for communities in north Harris County. NHCRWA President Al Rendl has served Harris County Water Control District No. 91 as a director and was the chairman for the North Harris County Water Issues and Annexation Reform Group.

Where does most of the water come from within your region?

Rendl: In the ground where we have been [using water] there have been three aquifers. There was a Chicot Aquifer, which is very shallow, and that’s about dry. There was an Evangeline Aquifer that most of the subdivisions in the north part of the county had been drilling into, and that is depleting very rapidly. And there is the Jasper Aquifer that goes down much deeper, but when you get that deep you get water that starts to be too salty to drink. Surface water comes from the San Jacinto River or Lake Houston and Lake Conroe. The other water we use is reclaimed water. We have several golf courses now that are reclaiming water.

How important is water to the development of undeveloped land in the Greater Houston area?

Turco: No water, no development. They’ve got to go hand in hand. Those areas where you move further out into Harris County and in western parts of Fort Bend County, they’re likely going to be developed on some form of groundwater use because there is no infrastructure in those areas to get the alternative supply that’s there. As we’ve seen happen in the past with development, infrastructure will reach those areas, and we’ll be working with them to get them converted to surface water and alternative sources of water as that development occurs.

What areas in north Harris County are priorities for surface water conversion?

Rendl: The way we are doing this is [starting] from the older subdivisions and moving north and west. The older subdivisions were the most heavily populated at the time we started doing it. So basically that was along the [FM] 1960 corridor out to about [Hwy.] 249. Although we do have some beyond [Hwy.] 249, and then going north we have almost everything covered between [FM] 1960 and [FM] 2920 from about just east of I-45 out to [Hwy.] 249. Now we are looking at the other majorgrowth areas that have occurred since we started doing this. We have ExxonMobil up by I-45 at the Spring Creek area up there. They need lots of water, and we’re looking at how to get water to them quickly. Then you have the Grand Parkway, which is not complete yet. But I can tell you if you take an overhead view of what’s going on at the Grand Parkway, every place there’s an interchange there is a massive development already starting. So we’re going to have to get water there.

How do you address these areas?

Rendl: Currently we do not have more than 31 million gallons a day from this treatment plant on Lake Houston, but we are in the process of developing with the city of Houston, the West Harris County Regional Water Authority, Fort Bend [Subsidence District] and the Central [Harris County Regional Water] Authority to build an additional 320 million gallons [per day] of treatment capacity at that facility which we, in the north, will have about 145–150 million gallons [per day] that we will be able to use sometime in the future [around 2021]. But that doesn’t mean we wait until 2021 to start getting pipes to all of the communities. We’re putting pipes in the ground today that won’t be filled until 2021 [through 2024]. We have a goal of getting to 60 percent [groundwater use] reduction by 2025.”

What is the Luce Bayou Project?

Rendl: In the future, we will be getting surface water from the Trinity River, and it will be coming to us from a conveyance called the Luce Bayou Project. [It] will be a series of pumps to start with at the river pumping into large-diameter pipes for a couple of miles. Then it will go into a channel conveyer to get it into the far northeast branch of the San Jacinto River. And then it will flow through the lake to the city of Houston’s water treatment plant on the southwest side of the lake.

Why is the project so important, and what effect will it have in Houston?

Rendl: The Luce Bayou Project is an absolute must to meet the needs of the growing population. There’s not enough water in the San Jacinto River Basin—which is Lake Houston and Lake Conroe—so we’re bringing it from the Trinity River through the Luce Bayou. That project will be bringing about 450 million gallons a day at its peak. The [NHCRWA] will be getting 36 percent of the capacity.

Turco: Looking at it from the whole of Harris County in particular, that project is absolutely vital to our regulatory plan. We need that so we can fulfill our mandate to stop subsidence. From 2000 to 2010, there’s been over a foot of subsidence in Area 3, which is [in] western and northern Harris County. We factored [Luce Bayou] into our plan because our plan needs to be attainable and reasonable. The only way it can be attainable is if the alternative water supplies are there.”