By Betsy Dolan
This much is clear: By 2016, Richmond and Rosenberg (along with other municipalities) must reduce their groundwater usage by 30% to help aquifers below the earth’s surface recharge.
The best way to abide by the state mandate isn’t as clear. Sugar Land and Missouri City have built large, multi-million dollar surface water treatment plants. But smaller cities, like Richmond and Rosenberg, are looking for cheaper options.
“The cost of (meeting) the mandate for groundwater reduction is phenomenal”, said Rosenberg Mayor, Vincent Morales, Jr. “It is our duty to investigate all possible alternate water sources in order to select the most sustainable solution while being good stewards of our limited natural resources”.
The cities want to hire Houston-based Electro Purification LLC to drill 10 commercial wells in Austin and Waller counties and ship the water 25 miles to Richmond and Rosenberg. Electro Purification has applied for permission from the Bluebonnet Groundwater Conservation District, which manages the water supply beneath Austin, Grimes, Walker and Waller counties.
But there are complications. Area ranchers, farmers and the City of Simonton are concerned that removing large quantities of water–20 million gallons of water a day– will increase the threat of subsidence, or land sinking, which can lead to flooding. There are also concerns about a diminished and lower quality water supply.
In addition, the Fort Bend Subsidence District, which oversees compliance with the state mandate, is encouraging the use of surface water. In a direct attack on the plan proposed by Rosenberg and Richmond, the FBSD amended their 2003 Groundwater Reduction Plan in August by changing their own definition of an “alternative water source”.
“Groundwater withdrawn from any county outside the district does not qualify as an alternative water supply unless the permittee can demonstrate that the groundwater withdrawals will not cause groundwater level declines,” the amendment stated.
The cities are trying to work out a compromise with the FBSD and have agreed to amend their own Groundwater Reduction Plans to include “groundwater transport” as a possible alternative water source.
“The entirety of Fort Bend County would benefit from having an additional water source that could provide a sustainable long term solution”, said Richmond Mayor, Evalyn Moore. “We will continue to investigate the viability of a groundwater transport option as an alternate water supply for our two communities.”
Both municipalities are working with Electro Purification to create new geological models that show subsidence concerns would be minimal.
The matter will now go before the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) and may take a year or longer to be resolved.
The Bluebonnet Groundwater Conservation District will ultimately decide whether Electro Purification will be granted permission to drill the commercial wells.