New App Shows Aquifer Level Change and Subsidence in Relation to Groundwater Withdrawals in Houston-Galveston Area

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A new interactive web application illustrates how groundwater, sediment compaction and land-elevation change are related in the Houston-Galveston region in Texas. The new app was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and is available online.

Regional groundwater-level altitude contours and groundwater-level altitude at wells for the Chicot aquifer
Regional groundwater-level altitude contours and groundwater-level altitude at wells for the Chicot aquifer; and cumulative compaction data, Houston-Galveston region, Texas, 2016.A new interactive web application illustrates how groundwater, sediment compaction and land-elevation change are related in the Houston-Galveston region in Texas. (Public domain.)

The Houston-Galveston region represents one of the largest areas of land-surface elevation change, or subsidence, in the United States. Most of the land subsidence in this region has occurred as a direct result of groundwater withdrawals for municipal supply, commercial and industrial use and irrigation. This new tool can help resource managers make informed decisions on water usage.

“The water-level and compaction data provided by the USGS is absolutely critical for water managers and planners to make informed resource management decisions throughout the region,” said Mike Turco, general manager of the Harris Galveston and Fort Bend Subsidence Districts. “This information is used by the District to provide a better understanding of the impact of our regulatory plan on aquifer water levels and subsidence.”

The new USGS viewer shows how water levels have changed over time and how groundwater demands have affected land subsidence in the region. Scientists created this tool using the largest subsidence data set in the US with more than 40 years of groundwater and compaction observations. This long-term data was essential to the project, and was collected in cooperation with the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, City of Houston, Fort Bend Subsidence District, the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District and the Brazoria County Groundwater Conservation District.

“This is the first time that groundwater and subsidence data have been put together to illustrate the story of what is happening to our land and water resources in the region,” said Sachin Shah, USGS chief of Gulf Coast hydrologic studies and research. “The ability to explore, visualize and compare how groundwater levels are changing over time in an easily accessible and uniform format is a tool that we hope will effectively communicate this information to area cooperators, stakeholders, and the public.”

To access previous publications on subsidence in the Houston-Galveston region, visit the USGS Texas Gulf Coast Groundwater and Land Subsidence website.

Split screen view of regional water-level altitude contours for the Chicot aquifer, 2016 and 1977, Houston-Galveston region
Split screen view of regional groundwater-level altitude contours for the Chicot aquifer, 2016 and 1977, Houston-Galveston region, Texas. (Public domain.)
USGS scientist collects a groundwater-level measurement in Freeport, Texas. 
USGS hydrologist Jason Ramage collects a groundwater-level measurement using a steel tape in Freeport, Texas. (Credit: Sachin Shah, USGS . Public domain.)