For the second summer in a row, drought levels in Montgomery County reached the highest category measured by the Texas Drought Monitor, resulting in several governmental agencies evaluating policy changes relating to water usage.

Chief Operating Officer Chris Nunes said The Woodlands Township has seen an increase in watering and landscape renovation costs in the past several years due to the drought and freeze cycle, and landscape renovations in the township are on hold as of late September due to the drought and heat.

The Woodlands Water Agency didn't change its existing irrigation plan this summer, but the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District increased the amount that permitted wells can produce temporarily in response to the need for more water during the drought.

The backstory

As of the most recent report, Sept. 26, the Texas Drought Monitor reported 100% of Montgomery County was in extreme drought status, and 30.17% of the county was in exceptional drought status, down from 40.69% as of Sept. 12.

According to The Woodlands Water Agency, all homes and businesses in The Woodlands in Montgomery County follow a Defined Irrigation Schedule, which limits automatic irrigation systems to two nights a week. The DIS has been in effect continuously since 2014 and has not changed as a result of the drought, according to a news release from the WWA.

However, the amount of water used by households in The Woodlands has been higher during summer months in 2022 and 2023, according to the agency. The average home in The Woodlands uses just under 10,000 gallons of water monthly. During the droughts of 2022 and 2023, that average increased to 18,500 in July 2022 and 17,000 in July 2023.

The WWA said in an email that a drought does not affect water rates, but increased usage can cause higher bills. More than half of household water consumption takes place outdoors, according to the agency.

While the WWA has not instituted changes to irrigation schedules, the LSGCD increased its temporary drought buffer to 10% on Aug. 28, and it increased it to 15% on Sept. 18, meaning permitted wells can draw an additional 15% beyond the annual allocation. The drought buffer affects permitted wells, or those producing more than 25,000 gallons of water per day, according to the district's website. The buffer is retroactive and allows for a temporary increase.

The conditions

In The Woodlands Township, changes to the types of materials used in landscaping could potentially be changed due to more extreme weather patterns, Nunes said, and the township is researching those options.

One item of concern for residents in 2022 was pond levels throughout the township. However, no bodies of water are below 50% capacity as of Sept. 28, Nunes said. The capacity of the lake and pond system changes daily, according to information from the township, but it does not refill ponds unless they dip below 50%.

The outlook

Several conditions could trigger restrictions by the WWA if drought conditions continue:
  • If water well run times exceed triggers, greater restrictions could be enacted.
  • If the water level of Lake Conroe is reduced to a certain level, increased drought stages would be implemented, and reduced water usage requirements would go into effect.
According to the WWA, officials do not expect having to raise the drought contingency stage based on conditions in late September as well as an anticipation of regular rain levels resuming in the fall and winter.