Homes in the Northwest Park Utility District at Atwood Grove and Mimosa Grove off Tomball Parkway
In this special series, OffCite focuses on water and waterways. If this interests you, be sure to check out the Rice Design Alliance civic forum, Water: Challenges Facing the Houston Region, Wednesdays August 24 and 31, 6:30 pm, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Brown Auditorium.
As editor of Cite, I have seen all kinds of houses, but a few months back while on the way to a photo shoot with Jack Thomson I saw a little suburban street that qualifies as one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. From a distance, it looked like a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. A huge blue monolith shot up from behind new houses. We pulled off the Tomball Parkway, parked at some distance, and cautiously approached. The monolith, on closer inspection, was a water well and tank for the Northwest Park Municipal Utility District or MUD.
Most Houstonians have no idea where their drinking water comes from, but for the folks in the MUD the opposite is true. Their water supply looms over them, at once more precarious and secure.
I called the Northwest Park MUD to find out if their residents had any water restrictions due to the ongoing drought. They don’t. None. Zero. The giant blue monolith must have enough in it to handle all those big lawns and three-bath houses. My understanding is that MUDs draw water from Harris County’s aquifer, whereas people in the city and incorporated areas must get most of their water from ground water like Lake Houston and the Trinity River by law in order to prevent subsidence. (You can read a useful summary of what a MUD is here.)
The easy times for Northwest Park MUD probably won’t last. Texas is experiencing the worst drought on record and this could be only the beginning of a multiyear catastrophe. Eric Berger, the Houston Chronicle “SciGuy,” wrote in a piece entitled “This Summer’s Drought May Worsen Next Year:
Rain chances through the end of the month are low, although isolated showers could break through the high pressure during afternoon hours this week. But the odds of sustained, widespread rain showers are low for the foreseeable future, and the climate outlook for this winter isn’t much better. Earlier this month, the federal Climate Prediction Center raised its forecast odds for the return of La Niña conditions in the equatorial Pacific Ocean this winter to 50 percent. During a La Niña winter, Texas generally experiences mild temperatures and drier-than-normal weather, but there are no guarantees.
“When you think in terms of a climate forecast and a condition such as La Niña, what’s really happening is you’re changing your odds,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the climate prediction center.”There have been some La Niña winters in Texas that have been wet. But most of them have been dry.”
That MUDs operate by a different infrastructure than the rest of the region could be a major challenge if the drought does continue for years. Is it wise for select pockets to suck water from a shared resource? What happens if the tables are turned and the MUDs are in desperate circumstances while the city makes it through by spreading the burden? Come to Rice Design Alliance’s civic forum on water tomorrow to learn about more about our region’s water and the substantial challenges we face.