• Outdoors Outdoors

Experts sound the alarm on enduring environmental threat causing Texas neighborhoods to sink: 'Once it's compressed, it's not coming back up'

McMullen Valley in Arizona is experiencing similar problems.

McMullen Valley in Arizona is experiencing similar problems.

Photo Credit: iStock

Water conservation is a serious issue in the driest parts of the U.S., which are suffering from drought and shortages. One major factor is overuse of the available water reserves.

This isn't just a problem for wildlife or the economy; as Harris County, Texas is finding out, drawing too much water from underground aquifers can change the landscape, Community Impact reports.

What's happening?

In the past 100 years (but mostly in the past 40), suburbs of Houston, Texas, have experienced "subsidence" — a phenomenon in which the ground sinks. As of 2021, Spring had sunk by an average of 4.2 feet, The Woodlands dropped by 2.5 feet, and Conroe sank 1.5 feet, Community Impact reports. At a hotspot along I-45 near Cypress Station, the total damage was a whopping 5 feet.

Subsidence occurs because people pump groundwater out of aquifers to use or sell, Community Impact reveals. Some water use is all right, because the aquifers get replenished as water from above filters into the soil. But there is such a thing as too much.

"Groundwater is the cleanest water all over the world," Shuhab Khan, report co-author and professor at the University of Houston, told Community Impact. "It is a means for drinking, for agriculture, for industry, and when we start pumping more water than the amount of water that is replenishing [aquifers], that balance is gone."

When that happens, the silt and clay in underground aquifers get compacted, Community Impact explains.

McMullen Valley in Arizona is experiencing similar problems.

Why does subsidence matter?

These shifts cause significant property damage. The sinking can crack walls, break pipes, and damage roads. It's even responsible for some flooding and earthquake activity in the region, Community Impact reports.

Meanwhile, the overused and compressed aquifers could run dry — a massive concern for people in the region and for the environment.

What's being done about the issue?

Working with its neighbors, Harris County has begun an expansion of the Northeast Water Purification Plant in Humble, which can help take some of the burden off the aquifers.

The Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, which manages groundwater in the region, is also ordering the North Harris County Regional Water Authority to reduce groundwater use to 40% of its total usage by 2025.

That will slow or stop the area's subsidence, but not reverse it.

"If you reduce your pumping, you can then decrease the maximum subsidence that would have occurred," Robert Mace, water policy director at Texas State University, told Community Impact. "But for the most part, land subsidence is a one-way trip. Once it's compressed, it's not coming back up."

Join our free newsletter for cool news and cool tips that make it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider