The Woodlands Water Agency, which oversees 10 municipal utility districts in The Woodlands, and the Houston Advanced Research Center have joined forces to potentially create a scientific advisory committee that could analyze data and studies about the complex issues of groundwater and subsidence.

Jim Stinson, The Woodlands Water Agency general manager, said an impartial scientific opinion is needed to provide guidance on the topics and to help interpret the issues, which are steeped in scientific language and technical jargon, for the community.

“The issues with groundwater and fault movement and subsidence have been an ongoing concern for a number of years, and [I am pleased to have] HARC as a resource to check the technical, scientific data and convert it into something our community can understand and make policy decisions on,” Stinson said.

HARC, a nonprofit research organization, was founded in 1982 by The Woodlands founder George Mitchell and is located on Gosling Road.

Stinson, along with Stephanie Glenn, who heads the HARC water and hydrology program, approached The Woodlands Township board of directors at its Jan. 22 meeting for support of the project. Although the board did not immediately pledge financial support, members expressed interest in the initiative and invited Stinson back to the board’s future meetings for further discussion.

“We’re not looking for a funding commitment, but [we are] looking for partners,” Stinson said at the meeting. The amount that would be needed to fund a 12-month program would be $120,000, which could be borne through various means such as contributions from partners, he said.

Stinson said in mid-February two MUDs had signed on to support the program, and the next step would be to develop a funding recommendation to present to the board for consideration.Groundwater and subsidence have been a topic of discussion in Montgomery County because a surface water treatment plant was brought online at Lake Conroe in 2016 to help reduce the amount of groundwater drawn from aquifers in the area, Stinson said. Excessive groundwater withdrawals from aquifers—underground supplies of fresh water—have been associated with subsidence, in which land sinks, he said. Fault line activity has also been associated with subsidence, Stinson said.

For residents of The Woodlands area, shifting from a system exclusively supplied by groundwater to one that includes surface water in an attempt to reduce subsidence has been costly. The surface water treatment plant cost $500 million to build, according to Jace Houston, general manager for the San Jacinto River Authority, which operates the facility and sets the local water rates.

SJRA rates increased Sept. 1 for fiscal year 2019-20 to $2.73 per 1,000 gallons for groundwater and $3.15 per 1,000 gallons for surface water. The previous rates were $2.64 and $2.83 per 1,000 gallons, respectively.

Bruce Rieser, vice chair of The Woodlands Township board of directors, who also serves on the township’s drainage task force, said he supported the scientific review of the topics because of their importance to The Woodlands.

“I’ve never seen scientific evidence be as poles apart as they seem to be on this particular issue,” Rieser said. “After spending a lot of time around water issues, period, I think it’s really important for us to get an impartial, scientific review of what’s going on.”