The first Montgomery County Water Symposium was held Dec. 6 at The Atrium Center in New Caney to discuss potential resolutions to issues concerning groundwater and surface water in the county.

What happened

Hank Vat, owner of Studio One Three Media, hosted the symposium as the first step in the creation of a consortium covering the topics of both groundwater and surface water in the future.

The public forum included a series of discussions by officials in the field geared toward resolving the issues of sustainability, affordability and subsidence mitigation.

Speakers included:
  • Jim Spigener, president of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District
  • Mike Stoecker, president of the Stoecker Corporation
  • Simon Sequeria, owner of Quadvest
  • Harry Hardman, council member from the city of Conroe
  • Webb Melder, former mayor of the city of Conroe
“We know that water is kind of a dry subject—no pun intended, but it’s hard to get people interested in this topic,” Spigener said. “However, it’s something that we all need to face. We need to start getting behind this and do something about it.”

A closer look

Speakers at the symposium addressed issues regarding subsidence, alternative water sources and aquifers.

Stoecker, a real estate developer in Conroe, touched on subsidence, which is land sinkage. He said he believes the installation of an extensometer would help begin to address the issue by gauging subsidence.
  • According to the United States Geological Survey, an extensometer measures the compaction and expansion of an aquifer system.
  • The machine can provide depth-specific data that can help scientists better understand the rate, extent and at what depths in the system subsidence is occurring.
“It’s science,” he said. “It’s math. It’s one of those planning tools that needs to be put in the bag to resolve what could be potential future issues. We are pushing right now to get some funding to put some extensometers in the ground.”

More details

In a video presentation, Sequeria, owner of Quadvest, a privately owned water and sewer utility company, shared his thoughts behind switching to conjunctive use as a cost-saving method.
  • Conjunctive use, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, is the practice of storing surface water in a groundwater basin in wet years and withdrawing it from the basin in dry years.
“As the community grows, we need to be prepared to serve the residents with the best, most efficient, safest and sustainable water source possible,” he said. “Conjunctive water use is what’s best for the people of Montgomery County going forward.”

Other topics discussed during the symposium included how to manage aquifers; the potential use of a desalination plant, which separates water molecules from seawater; and how to get the community more involved in the water conservation conversation.

Taking a step back

Montgomery County has been dealing with water issues for the past several years, including ongoing court cases.
  • In March 2020, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the San Jacinto River Authority in its dispute with the city of Conroe over the validity of existing groundwater reduction plan, or GRP, contracts.
  • In December 2022, a new ruling in the six-year legal contest among the SJRA, Quadvest Water & Sewer, and Woodland Oak Utility declared the GRP contracts between the organizations as valid and enforceable.
According to an email by Vat, a representative of the SJRA was invited to speak at the symposium along with litigants with active suits. However, the no SJRA representatives were present during the public forum.

What happens next?

Vat said the water symposium was the first in a series of ongoing discussions.

“We’re here to plant the seed or maybe the formation of who will eventually be in charge of water in the county,” he said. “We need to find some sort of commissioned consortium or authority. It’s the overall reason why I wanted to put this together. I want to plant the seed in the folks' minds in Montgomery County that we need to do something, but we don’t have anyone in charge right now. We need to create that.”

Vat said another symposium will be held with a larger panel within the first quarter of 2024. He is hoping to make it a quarterly event.