53-1 SUBSIDENCE: Whose Problem Is It, Anyway?

Monday, 6 October 2008: 8:05 AM
George R. Brown Convention Center, 352DEF
Ronald J. Neighbors and Thomas A. Michel, Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, Friendswood, TX
When it was created by the Texas Legislature in 1976, the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District (HGSD) was the first locally-governed subsidence regulatory agency in the United States. There was no model, no handbook, and no precedent anywhere for dealing with subsidence. With elevation losses of as much as ten feet in the Ship Channel, and subsidence rates dramatically increasing throughout the area, the challenges facing the new District were significant. Utilizing the best investigative tools available thirty years ago, the first task was to establish the cornerstone data of subsidence – the where, how much, and why. Once these ‘depth and breadth' issues were addressed, and the extraction of groundwater identified as the primary cause, the next task was to develop a workable management matrix that would halt, or at least minimize, land subsidence. The new District grappled with limited funds, limited authority, and a skeptical public to be convinced that: 1. the problem of subsidence existed at all; 2. specific, aggressive and wide-reaching action was necessary to resolve it; and 3. a mandated, phased reduction of groundwater pumpage would indeed help resolve the problem. Today, with empirical evidence that conversion to alternate water resources has had the desired effect on subsidence, the District continues to incorporate the benefits of emerging technology into its management equation. The District's core philosophy persists – to balance the need for effective groundwater regulations with economic impacts of the higher costs of water on its various publics. Since these goals cannot be accomplished in a vacuum, the District will continue to apply the best scientific analysis, technology, management skills and public education as well as the education and support of elected officials, the water industry, and community leaders.