Although most Montgomery County residents are probably unaware of the Byzantine and complex amalgam of water regulations and agencies, these entities sometimes make decisions that have an enormous impact on people’s everyday lives.
One such decision was the adoption of a new set of Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) by the Groundwater Management Area 14 (GMA 14). The GMA 14 covers the greater Houston region, and includes the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, (LSGCD) the agency that regulates groundwater usage in Montgomery County.
The DFCs are a set of long term plans for conserving groundwater in the region. GMAs are required to update their DFCs every five years.
Groundwater is the cheapest water source and the easiest to process. However, if too much water is extracted from the ground, in some cases it can cause “subsidence”, where the ground sinks. Although the water debate in Montgomery County is extremely complex, it essentially boils down disagreements over the extent of the threat posed by subsidence and its relation to groundwater extraction and the appropriate level of regulations and restrictions that should be imposed on businesses and property owners who want to pump and sell groundwater under their property.
The water fight has pitted advocates for stricter restrictions on groundwater pumping who draw a close connection between subsidence and groundwater extraction against free market advocates who favor looser restrictions on pumping and question the extent of the link between subsidence and groundwater extraction. Advocates of stricter pumping limits favor using surface water instead of groundwater, however, advocates of groundwater argue that surface water is more expensive and would mean higher water bills for consumers.
The San Jacinto River Authority, the appointed regulatory agency over surface water within the watershed of the San Jacinto River, wants to transition most of Montgomery County from using groundwater to relying on surface water from the reservoirs. Private groundwater providers and many property owners are opposed to weaning consumers off groundwater, and blame restrictions on groundwater pumping for high water bills.
The current LSGCD board, most of whom were elected in 2018, have largely advocated for less groundwater regulation and an emphasis on private property rights.
LSGCD initially objected to one word in the new DFCs, which originally stated:
“In each county in GMA 14, no less than 70 percent median available drawdown remaining in 2080 and no more than an average of 1.0 additional foot of subsidence between 2009 and 2080.” [emphasis added]
The LSGCD board successfully advocated for the word “and” to be replaced with the word “or”, which will allow the LSGCD greater flexibility in implementing policies for local groundwater usage. The word “or” will allow LSGCD to choose which criteria better aligns with the conditions in Montgomery County.
According to the LSGCD, the approved DFCs, “balance the desire to preserve Montgomery County’s groundwater supply for future generations and protect property rights.”
“We are appreciative of our fellow GMA 14 members for collaborating on behalf of their communities to develop DFCs utilizing the best science available. These DFCs represent the regional goals for the shared aquifers while also addressing the need for local control of water policy,” said LSGCD Board President Harry Hardman. “We are committed to continuing our subsidence research and refining our groundwater policy as needed to protect the residents of Montgomery County.”
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