Fact: Montgomery County is totally reliant on
groundwater for its municipal water supplies.
What is Groundwater?
It is the water located underground that fills the voids,
cracks and other openings in the various layers of rocks, sand
and soil. It is found in formations that are able to retain it
and is constantly replenished by rain or snow. In most cases,
groundwater is naturally filtered by the layers of sand it
percolates through as it moves through the aquifer underground.
What is an aquifer?
An underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock or
unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, silt or clay) from which
groundwater can be pumped using a well.
Does all of the water we use in Montgomery County come from
Yes. All of the water used for public water supply in
Montgomery County originates as groundwater from the Gulf Coast
Aquifer, which consists of three productive sands underlying the
county: the Chicot, the Evangeline and the Jasper. At this time,
the only entities using surface water from Lake Conroe are a few
irrigation users around the lake (such as golf courses and
homeowners’ associations) and the Entergy power plant located in
What is meant by recharging an aquifer?
Aquifers are underground reservoirs of water. Precipitation,
both rain and snow, flows into creeks, rivers, lakes, oceans and
other recharge areas where a small amount eventually percolates
into underground aquifers. Water percolating into recharge areas
over the aquifer refills it. Natural refilling of an aquifer is
typically a slow process, because water moves slowly through the
unsaturated zone before reaching the aquifer.
What is the long-term sustainable recharge of the aquifer in
The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District has
determined that the annual recharge is about 64,000 acre-feet
per year (an acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons – or enough
water to cover one acre to the depth of one foot).
Fact: Montgomery County has a groundwater crisis
because demand has outpaced supply.
Does Montgomery County have a problem with its long-term water
Yes. Our rapidly growing population and industrial growth has
created an overwhelming demand that cannot be met by our current
groundwater supplies. In 2009, the demand in the county exceeded
the sustainable recharge rate by approximately 30 percent. By
2040, the total annual water demand is expected to be
two-and-a-half-times the sustainable recharge rate. Water
suppliers in Montgomery County began seeing significant declines
in the water levels in their wells beginning in the mid-1980s.
Continued water level declines cause increased operations and
maintenance costs and can lead to the failure of a well, which
can cost over a million dollars to replace.
Where will the new water come from?
Civic leaders in the 1950’s realized that our supplies of
groundwater wouldn’t last forever, so they built Lake Conroe as
a future water supply for this region. Currently, the only
surface water being used from Lake Conroe is for a few small
irrigation customers and the Entergy power plant in Willis. The
primary source of water for the GRP program will be surface
water from Lake Conroe, however, the SJRA is also working to
maximize other water supplies that can reduce both our costs and
our use of surface water. These alternative sources include
water conservation, reuse of treated wastewater effluent, and
groundwater from the Catahoula Aquifer.
How will the level of Lake Conroe be impacted by the GRP
A number of people have made wild speculations about
potential impacts the GRP program might have on the level of
Lake Conroe and, as a result, property values, business income
and tax revenues. The SJRA commissioned a detailed third-party
study that modeled the potential impact of the program on water
levels. The results of the study were released in December of
2009 and subsequently peer reviewed by a number of entities. The
study confirmed what the SJRA has stated all along: The amount
of water that will be used to meet Montgomery County’s drinking
water needs will have very little impact on lake levels for the
first 20 to 30 years, and even after that, the only time you
will see significant impacts will be during periods of
prolonged, severe droughts. A detailed summary of this study
along with the graphs that were developed are available in the
resources section of the site.
Are declining groundwater supplies a new problem?
Due to over-production, declining groundwater supplies have
been a problem in the Gulf Coast region surrounding Houston
since before the 1950s. In Montgomery County, water suppliers
began seeing water level declines in the 1980s. At first, the
declines were seen mostly along the I-45 corridor, which had the
greatest population density, but today water-level declines can
be seen over large portions of Montgomery County. Water
suppliers in Harris, Galveston, and Fort Bend counties had to
begin reducing their groundwater use and converting to surface
water beginning in the late-1970’s.
If this problem has been going on for so long, why are we
just hearing about it now?
A tremendous amount of research and planning has already been
conducted in Montgomery County on this issue, and the LSGCD,
SJRA and others have written many articles and hosted many
public meetings, but now that cities and other water suppliers
are beginning to implement solutions, the costs are just
starting to be felt by customers, and therefore public interest
Would we run out of water if nothing changed?
A. The short answer is yes. If we do not find a way to reduce
consumption of groundwater from the Gulf Coast Aquifer, the
water supply will be depleted. The wells will eventually run
Fact: The LSGCD was created to study the aquifers and
force a solution by regulating groundwater use.
What is the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District?
A. When the county’s groundwater problem first began to become
apparent, community leaders and elected officials petitioned the
Texas Legislature to create a groundwater conservation district.
The result was the creation in 2001 of the Lone Star Groundwater
Conservation District, a local government entity governed by a
nine-member appointed board of directors.
The purpose of the LSGCD is to study and manage the
groundwater resources in Montgomery County. Studies conducted by
the LSGCD confirmed the reports of many water suppliers that
water levels were declining at an alarming rate. Results of
computer modeling of future groundwater supplies showed that
absent a major reduction in groundwater use, water-level
declines would continue and eventually spread to other parts of
Montgomery County where water levels had not historically been a
concern. For additional information about the LSGCD, visit www.lonestargcd.org.
What does the LSGCD regulate?
A. The LSGCD regulates the use of groundwater and encourages the
conjunctive use of surface water along with groundwater
supplies. The LSGCD has adopted regulations that require water
suppliers and certain other groundwater users in the county to
reduce their groundwater pumpage starting in 2016.
What regulations has the LSGCD adopted?
A. Beginning in 2006, the LSGCD has adopted a multi-phased
District Regulatory Plan that establishes the limits on how much
groundwater can be pumped and the deadlines for when reductions
must take place. The LSGCD’s regulations only apply to large
volume groundwater users (LVGUs), which are defined as
groundwater users that produce 10 million gallons or more of
groundwater annually. Well owners using groundwater solely for
an individual single-family residence or for agricultural use
are not included in the definition of a LVGU. There are
approximately 200 LVGUs in Montgomery County, including
everything from large municipal systems to smaller public and
private utilities, individual industries, businesses, golf
courses and homeowners’ associations.
What do these regulations translate into for Montgomery
A. The LSGCD has established a regulatory target to reduce
groundwater withdrawals in Montgomery County to 64,000 acre-feet
per year starting in January 2016. For reference, the current
amount of groundwater use in the county is approximately 80,000
acre-feet per year. This means that water providers countywide
must come up with alternative water supplies to replace
approximately one-third of their current use. Groundwater is a
relatively inexpensive supply, and therefore, these regulations
mean that water costs will most likely increase.
Fact: The SJRA has offered a solution to the
groundwater crisis that is cost-effective and available
What is the GRP?
A. The Groundwater Reduction Plan is the SJRA’s proposed
solution to Montgomery County’s groundwater crisis. The GRP is
the foundational document that lays out all of the action items
that the SJRA must complete in order to meet the LSGCD’s
requirement to reduce groundwater pumpage by 2016. It contains
population and water demand data for all participating
customers, descriptions of all plants and pipelines that must be
built, explanations of how the plan will be financed and
evidence of reliable sources of water. In order to implement the
most cost-effective solution for decreasing groundwater
withdrawals, the GRP takes advantage of regional cooperation and
economies of scale. Participation in the SJRA’s GRP was offered
as a solution to all large water suppliers in the county, and
over 130 different water utilities joined the plan, representing
80 percent of the water use in Montgomery County.
Eighty percent of Large Volume Groundwater Users in the
county have joined the GRP? What does this mean?
A. The LSGCD regulations only apply to those groundwater users
who pump 10 million or more gallons per year (called Large
Volume Groundwater Users or LVGUs). LVGUs account for more than
90 percent of the total water pumped in Montgomery County. By
regulating only the 200 or so LVGUs in the county, the LSGCD can
effectively solve the problem. Of the 200 LVGUs in the county,
over 130 joined the SJRA’s GRP. These 130 LVGUs represent over
80 percent of the water used in Montgomery County.
Why do you say the GRP is the most cost-effective solution
for the entire county?
A. The key benefit of joining multiple users into a regional GRP
is the ability to achieve tremendous cost savings by utilizing a
“group compliance” concept in which some customers are
“over-converted” to surface water while other customers continue
to use only groundwater. As a group, all the participants meet
the regulatory requirements of the LSGCD without incurring the
cost to physically deliver surface water to every customer.
Installing large pipelines is the most expensive part of a
regional water system, so it saves a tremendous amount of money
for all the participants to only deliver water to a select few.
The rest of the participants can remain on groundwater but
achieve compliance with the LSGCD mandates via their
participation in the GRP.
Why is the GRP the most strategic and efficient plan for the
A. The benefits of regionalization and “group compliance” have
been well proven by groundwater users in Harris, Galveston and
Fort Bend counties who faced similar regulatory restrictions on
groundwater use. In simple terms, the use of a “group
compliance” approach results in the construction of much less
infrastructure; lower overall costs; and the distribution of
those costs across a larger group of users. The result is
tremendous savings to all end users.
In addition to cost savings, all groundwater users across the
county benefit as the reduced pressure on the aquifer creates a
ripple effect of stabilized groundwater levels over a large
area. Stabilized water levels mean that users who remain on
groundwater are able to continue using their wells while
avoiding costly rehabilitations or replacements.
Another benefit of a “group compliance” approach is that the
participants will continue to share or “regionalize” the costs
of infrastructure over time. As new lines are needed in portions
of the county further from the original system or opportunities
are identified for large scale reuse projects, all the users in
the group can offset the costs of the project.
How long will it take to complete the GRP?
A. Phase one of the plan, including construction, is scheduled
to be finished by June, 2015. The LSGCD regulations established
January 1, 2016, as the date groundwater withdrawals must be
Fact: As one of 10 major river authorities in the
State of Texas, the SJRA is uniquely positioned to
effectively and efficiently implement a countywide GRP.
Who is the San Jacinto River Authority?
A. Created by the Texas Legislature in 1937 (Article 8280-121,
as amended), the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) is a
government agency whose mission is to develop, conserve and
protect the water resources of the San Jacinto River basin.
Covering all or part of seven counties, the organization’s
jurisdiction includes the entire San Jacinto River watershed,
excluding Harris County. Like other river authorities in Texas,
its primary purpose is to implement long-term, regional projects
related to water supply and wastewater treatment.
How is the SJRA financed?
A. The SJRA derives most of its revenue from the sale of raw
water and a small amount from the provision of services. In
fact, the source of revenue for the development and maintenance
of Lake Conroe to date has primarily been the sale of raw water
to industries along the ship channel. Other services, such as
water and wastewater treatment, are done on a revenue-neutral
basis. The SJRA has no taxing authority.
Who governs the SJRA?
A. Like other river authorities in Texas, the SJRA is governed
by a board of directors who are appointed by the Governor. The
SJRA has seven directors that serve six-year terms and are
selected in a manner that ensures all areas of the watershed are
What does the SJRA stand to gain by implementing the GRP?
A. As a governmental entity, the SJRA does not operate on a
profit-oriented basis, and it is not implementing the GRP
because of any anticipated benefit. As a steward of the water
resources developed for Montgomery County, the SJRA feels an
obligation to the citizens of the county to make available the
most cost-effective alternative possible. Regional “group
compliance” approaches have proven to be the least expensive
solution in other nearby counties. By offering the GRP for
groundwater users in Montgomery County, the SJRA believes it can
offer the best and cheapest solution to the county’s groundwater
How much is implementing the GRP going to cost?
A. The estimated cost for the first
phase of the GRP program, which would deliver water beginning in
2016, is approximately $480 million, which includes the water
treatment plant, transmission pipelines, raw water costs,
engineering, legal, land acquisition, and various other costs.
Q. How will the GRP program be paid for?
A. Each of the large water suppliers
that chose to join the SJRA’s GRP pays a pumpage fee based on
the amount of water used by their customers. The amount of
the fee is calculated to cover the cost of implementing the GRP
program, and each supplier passes the cost through to their
retail customers. The following graph shows how this cost
translates to actual water use per 1,000 gallons. By way
of example, a typical single-family residence uses 10,000
gallons per month (on average), so a pumpage fee of $1.25 per
thousand gallons equates to about $12.50 per month.
Fact: The SJRA doesn’t intend to rely solely on Lake
Conroe as the only solution. We are aggressively
pursuing other water supply strategies to reduce costs
and lessen any impacts on lake level.
What can consumers do to conserve water?
A. Studies show that outdoor irrigation generally makes up over
60 percent of typical residential water use during the summer
months, so there’s a great potential to save water and thereby
save money. In some parts of Montgomery County, that number is
more than 80 percent in the summer. Up to 50 percent of that
water is typically wasted because of broken or ill-designed
irrigation systems or unnecessary watering. Overwatering creates
excessively thirsty turf with shallow roots that crave extra
water. Repair leaks, water the lawn and shrubs at night, and
Has the SJRA taken steps in terms of conservation?
A. By reducing the total demand for water within our county
through conservation, reuse and drought contingency measures, we
can reduce the amount of water that must be treated and lessen
the impact on raw water supplies. This, in turn, keeps more
water in our rivers and streams to support fish and other
wildlife. The SJRA is implementing numerous programs to increase
conservation, including an award-winning conservation education
program that is implemented in elementary school classrooms. In
addition, the SJRA has adopted Water Conservation and Drought
Contingency plans, and participants in the GRP are required to
also have adopted plans. The SJRA also provides educational
materials and water conservation brochures and is working with
retail water providers on materials that can be inserted in
water bills. These steps are just a start. The SJRA is committed
to aggressively pursuing conservation.
Is the SJRA investigating alternative water resources in
addition to Lake Conroe?
A. Ensuring a safe, reliable water supply for the end user is
the GRP’s first priority, and the GRP is considering all
possible alternatives as a long-term water source. Enhanced
water conservation and reuse of treated wastewater effluent are
being actively developed as alternative supplies. In addition,
groundwater from deeper, “brackish” aquifers is being
investigated as a potential source, but until disposal options,
long-term reliability, and the chemistry/salinity of these
sources can be more fully investigated, “brackish” groundwater
use will be used as a supplement to the GRP’s primary source,
which is water from Lake Conroe. Alternative water supplies can
often be a win-win because they have the potential to both lower
costs and reduce our use of surface water from Lake Conroe.
What is the Catahoula Aquifer? Is the SJRA planning to use
water from this aquifer? Is it true that it’s the “mother
A. The Catahoula is a deep aquifer that lies beneath the
freshwater aquifers currently used for water supply in
Montgomery County. At this time, the LSGCD has chosen not to
regulate pumpage from the Catahoula, and in fact, it is
considered an alternative water supply that meets their
conversion requirements. Until recently, there were no water
wells in Montgomery County that used water from the Catahoula,
so very little information is known about the quality or
quantity of water in the Catahoula. Recent research conducted by
the LSGCD and several other entities has shown that there are
certain locations in Montgomery County (primarily north of SH
105) where the water in the Catahoula aquifer is of drinking
water quality. Once you go south of SH 105, the water is
considered to be too salty and too hot to be used
cost-effectively. This was confirmed by water samples taken from
a Catahoula test well in The Woodlands – independent analysis
showed a deep layer of water-bearing sand with a water
temperature of 115 degrees and salinity levels comparable to
ocean water; the analysis also showed a shallower, thin layer
with a water temperature of 105 degrees and salinity levels
about 2 ½ times the drinking water limit. So the short answer is
“no.” The Catahoula is not the “mother lode,” but the SJRA is
committed to researching the Catahoula to determine just how
much water can be safely and effectively used. The SJRA has
recently entered into a project with one of its GRP participants
to partner on the installation of two wells into the Catahoula.
These types of partnerships can create an immediate benefit in
terms of groundwater reduction and can also yield valuable data
for studying the viability of the Catahoula.
Fact: The SJRA shares the desire of the public and
community leaders to minimize construction impacts and
is taking steps to keep the public informed about
construction schedules, work zones, and possible detours
Q. What will have to be built to begin using surface water
to supplement Montgomery County’s groundwater supplies?
A. To meet the LSGCD’s regulatory
requirements and supplement our limited groundwater supplies by
the deadline of January 2016, the SJRA is constructing:
a surface water treatment plant at the Lake Conroe
dam, including raw water intake, storage, and pumping
55 miles of treated water transmission pipelines;
piping, metering, and blending facilities at each
of the surface water delivery points.
Q. When will construction begin and end?
A. Construction of the surface water
treatment plant, raw water intake, and associated storage and
pumping facilities will begin in August of 2012. These
facilities are scheduled to be complete in mid to late-2015.
Construction of the water transmission pipelines will begin in
February of 2013 and is scheduled to be complete in the spring
of 2015. The SJRA has prepared a Pipeline Construction
Brochure showing the location and approximate construction
schedule for each segment of the water transmission pipelines.
Q. What is the SJRA doing to give the public notice of
A. The SJRA has put together a
Construction Communications Plan and assembled a Construction
Communications Team made up of local stakeholders to implement
strategies to minimize construction impacts and keep the public
informed about construction schedules, work zones, and possible
detours. The Construction Communications Plan contains
numerous strategies for disseminating information about
construction, including the GRP Division’s website, direct mail
brochures, signage, public meetings, community association
newsletters and websites, press releases, articles in local
magazines and newspapers, and many other strategies. The
SJRA will also maintain a call center during construction.