Case Study: Data Management Solutions
Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) are charged with the conservation, preservation, protection, recharging and prevention of waste of groundwater. GCDs were created in order to balance the protection of property rights with the conservation and development of groundwater to meet the needs of the state (TWC 36.0015). Central to achieving this balance and practicing good groundwater management is having accurate and accessible data. The interest in and importance of good data has gained recent momentum in the groundwater policy dialogue, emphasizing the importance of improving the best available science used to make groundwater management decisions. Robust, accurate data, and the systems used to manage it, form the basis of forecasting and modeling efforts in groundwater management.
The impact of good groundwater data collection affects not only GCDs, but the state agencies that they work with as well. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) collects groundwater-related information from a variety of sources across Texas, and processes them for inclusion in the Groundwater Database (GWDB). Bryan Anderson, Groundwater Data Team Lead at TWDB, says, “When sharing information with the TWDB, proper data management is necessary to ensure the correct information is attributed to the correct well.”
If accurate, up-to-date, and accessible data is key to good groundwater management, a reliable collection and organization system is needed. A data collection systems, coupled with easy access to that data, allows GCDs to make well-informed planning decisions. Because of this, many Districts have contracted with firms to provide customized data management platforms.
Examples from the Field – Databases in Use
Groundwater data management platforms come in as many shapes and sizes as Texas GCDs do, catering to specific needs and demands. High Plains Water District (HPWD) and Upper Trinity GCD (UTGCD) are two of the many districts that have contracted with firms to design their data management solutions.
HPWD manages the groundwater over 11,850 square miles and their system has several data management components, including a file system that allows documents to be accessed on any device from any location. Data uploaded to the system allows the District to look at current conditions and evaluate the “fit” of current rules to aquifer conditions. Monitoring current conditions is an essential component of a data management platform. However, equipping wells with continuous water level monitoring devices can cost thousands of dollars per well. For this reason HPWD seeks to equip 10-12 new wells each year in strategic locations to add to their data set, giving the district an ever refined picture of the aquifer’s response to pumping and rainfall.
UTGCD believes that with the growing interest in groundwater management in Texas, it is imperative that GCDs be on the forefront in adopting new technologies to store and utilize the data we are responsible for collecting and maintaining. Without proper access to the well data collected by UTGCD, such as location, total depth and well screen intervals, the district would not be able to fully utilize the most up-to-date technology, such as the well impact tool recently commissioned by INTERA.
Solutions on the market
Texas has 16 major aquifers, each with unique characteristics that vary widely, not only from aquifer to aquifer, but also within the aquifer itself. Luckily, there are several companies that provide GCDs with customizable data solutions to assist in their management of groundwater resources tailored to their unique, local conditions.
Wanting to explore this issue further, we posed a handful questions to a few of companies operating in Texas who offer customizable data management platforms.
What is distinctly unique about your data management solutions?
Aquaveo: Our system is open source and requires little to no additional software, licensing or hosting fees, while still offering a full-featured database management solution, making it a cost effective solution.
Halff Associates: Halff’s database management systems uses a role-based security module that allows the District to create accounts for staff, well owners, drillers, and other external users in addition to providing a publicly accessible web map containing basic District information.
Texian Geospatial: Our TexianGAS system provides solutions which allow field personnel to collect and maintain their field data and integrate it into their current enterprise databases and modeling software.
Collier Consulting: As a true SaaS platform, the software is always up-to-date and is continually being improved and refined, which also minimizes upfront development costs and eliminates the need for many other onsite hardware or software licenses. This development approach allows HYDROS to grow with ease to meet additional or GCD specific use cases.
How do you think your particular offerings improve Texas groundwater management?
Collier Consulting: Accessing the software is simple and it all goes where you go. There are no updates, server hardware, or custom backup solutions required to take advantage of our product.
Texian Geospatial: By providing field users with a platform to update locations and measurements in the field and integrate that data into enterprise databases and models, our system reduces data transfer time and increases accuracy.
Halff Associates: The applications developed by Halff include automated reporting for monthly Board packets and annual reports, notification systems for permitting and registration processing, automatic data rollups for reported production, convenient search tools, graphing and charting of water levels and quality, document management, and custom query tools. These offerings reduce staff time spent on data management and simply workflows.
Aquaveo: [the platform has a] user-friendly web interface, providing better and broader access to data along with a set of custom tools has been developed to help Districts visualize data and create custom reports to better respond to the needs of regulatory agencies, internal users and the public.
What do you see on the horizon for data management needs and challenges?
Collier Consulting: Some of these [needs] include better methods for data sharing, coordination, and transparency. Other issues include the need to better store, visualize, and interpret the potentially endless supply of information. This continuous influx of data challenges those in this industry with the ability to keep up with all this data, properly and easily visualize the data, provide accurate and up-to-date interpretations of the data, maintain appropriate safeguards on it, and keep it all backed up and reproducible.
Texian Geospatial: As population growth continues to put a strain on water resources in Texas, technology and data management will continue to be relied upon to help regulators, managers and users protect these resources. As technologies advance, we will discover new ways to conserve and in some cases convert new water sources to fill our needs.
Aquaveo: [The] ability to quickly access and analyze groundwater data will become more critical. Providing more data analysis, reporting and visualization capabilities to more users through a straightforward web-based interface will help districts both respond to stakeholders and provide information and media for public education.
Halff Associates: Technology is constantly changing and improving. Currently we are anticipating that there will be a need to support 3D visualization of detailed stratigraphic models through web map applications.
The need for accurate and accessible data as it relates to groundwater management is one that continues to intensify. But Texas is well positioned to meet this need, in no small part due to the variety of customizable solutions currently available on the marketplace.
Case Study: Stakeholder Engagement
Stakeholder engagement is a key element in the success of water policy and projects in Texas. One such example of the role of stakeholder engagement can be seen in the recent brackish groundwater studies TWDB has been charged with conducting. In 2015, during the 84th Regular Session, HB 30 was passed. HB 30 directed TWDB to designate brackish water production zones and to work with Groundwater Conservation Districts and stakeholders when identifying and designating these zones. The Blaine aquifer brackish water study is an example in how all sides of the project can come together to make sure the stakeholder engagement process functions as it should and helps to inform and improve water projects across the state.
HB 30 As a part of the HB 30 implementation process, TWDB will provide a report on the Gulf Coast, Carrizo-Wilcox, Blaine, and Rustler aquifers to the Legislature by December 1, 2016. In preparation for this report, TWDB has contracted with several hydrogeological firms on the study of these four aquifers and their potential suitability for significant brackish groundwater production. In an effort to engage stakeholders and ensure robust studies that take into account all relevant issues, TWDB has presented the preliminary findings of these reports at stakeholder meetings in the affected regions with the intention of incorporating stakeholder input and concerns into the final report.
The Blaine Aquifer brackish groundwater stakeholder meeting was set for June 29, 2016. TWDB attempted to send notice to all affected stakeholders in advance of the meeting, but through an error with TWDB’s email marketing software, only about a quarter of stakeholders were notified. After the June 29 meeting, The Mesquite Groundwater Conservation District initiated contact with a number of potential stakeholders who were not made aware of the June 29 meeting due to the software error. Subsequently, a group of concerned landowners in Collingsworth County contacted Larkin Davis Johnson and Keith Davis at the G. Keith Davis law firm with their concerns. Chief amongst the concerns of the group was that one of the identified potential brackish water production areas—Potential Production Area 2—was located in an area with significant agricultural production. With Ms. Johnson’s and Mr. Davis’ help, the group was able to establish contact with TWDB. Through a series of phone calls and open information requests both parties came to realize that notice of the first stakeholder meeting had not gone out to all intended recipients.
With this in mind, TWDB decided to extend the public comment period and to hold a second stakeholder meeting so that all stakeholders could hear the results of the preliminary study. At the meeting, TWDB learned of the Collingsworth County constituents’ concern regarding the identified potential brackish water Potential Production Area 2. After listening to the stakeholders and reviewing additional well data provided by Mesquite Groundwater Conservation District at TWDB’s request, TWDB decided to remove Potential Production Area 2 from the list of identified potential production areas named in the study.
The Outcome The Blaine Aquifer Brackish Water preliminary report serves as a reminder of the importance of stakeholder involvement. It is an example for constituents to know that their input and concerns are welcomed, will be heard, and can affect outcomes.
Case Study: Meaningful and Achievable DFCs
In their recent Desired Future Condition (DFC) adoption process, GMA 11 and Panola County Groundwater Conservation District (PCGCD), with the help of their consultants Bill Hutchison (Independent Groundwater Consultant) and Wade Oliver (INTERA) came across some surprising results. Through collaborative efforts and drawing on local data and experience, key issues with the Groundwater Availability Model (GAM) were uncovered. PCGCD, for example, discovered that portions of its aquifer act as confined units. Identifying these issues, and developing the tools needed to work around them, allowed GMA 11 to develop meaningful and achievable DFCs.
A little background PCGCD first noticed issues with the GAM when the District began requiring hydrogeological studies for water wells producing 150 gallons per minute (gpm) or more. In Panola County, very few water wells produce more than 100 gpm. These hydrogeological studies help the District and the water user better understand the potential impacts of higher pumping rates on the pumping well, surrounding water wells, and the aquifer itself. Many of the studies showed a confined response to pumping even though the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer outcrops throughout Panola County and is considered unconfined in the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) GAM. PCGCD also identified several flowing artesian wells in the county, another indication of confined conditions.
PCGCD hired Wade Oliver with INTERA to perform a hydrogeological assessment of the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer focusing on its structure, lithology and hydraulic properties, and to create a tool to help predict how new and existing wells impact each other. The study confirmed that clay layers in the Wilcox aquifer can act as confining units and create confined responses in the aquifer at certain depths. This is important because drawdowns due to pumping can extend much farther from the pumping well under confined conditions than under unconfined conditions.
The next issue arose when Bill Hutchison began running simulations to help GMA 11 evaluate various DFC options. The simulations started at the end of the calibration period (1999) and continued through the planning period to 2070. Because 1999 was a dry year and the simulation assumed average recharge conditions, the model predicted rising water levels in many outcrop areas between 2000 to 2070. To address this issue, Bill attempted to extend the calibration period of the model to 2013, but the attempt was unsuccessful. The model would not calibrate. A deeper look into the model indicated that the rising water levels may also be due to overestimates of recharge and an inability of the model to move large volumes of water from outcrop to subcrop areas.
The Result The impact of these issues for PCGCD, a largely outcrop district, was a lack of confidence that the GAM could be used to set a meaningful and achievable DFC. TWDB does allow for tools other than the GAM to be used for development of DFCs. Using the knowledge of the aquifer gained through the District’s scientific studies and the newly available tool created by INTERA for evaluating well impacts, a hybrid approach was developed. In this approach the cumulative drawdowns from pumping in all wells in the District were overlain on the simulated drawdowns in the GAM with pumping removed from Panola County. The result was an estimate of the relationship between pumping and drawdown needed for developing DFCs that reflected the District’s most recent hydrogeological information while also providing more accurate scenarios than those created by the GAM. With this information, the District was able to propose DFCs for adoption as part of GMA 11 with the confidence that they are achievable and based on sound science and the most up-to-date understanding of the aquifer.