Conroe, July 23 – The deal Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal has negotiated to the County government to pay a share of a San Jacinto River Regional Watershed Study simply could not be more stupid. The San Jacinto River Authority has has unrestricted cash (not required for any allocation to protect the Authority’s bond investors) of $32,822,465, according to SJRA’s latest audited financial statement.
Nevertheless, Doyal wants to commit Montgomery County taxpayers to a larger share of the funding for the San Jacinto River Regional Watershed Study than the SJRA would have to pay under the arrangement.
The Harris County Flood Control District has submitted an application to the Texas Department of Emergency Management (“TDEM”) pursuant to TDEM’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for grant funding to undertake a regional flood protection planning project known as the San Jacinto River Regional Watershed Study. The TDEM grant requires a local share for the funding. Rather than turning to SJRA to pay the entire local share, since flood control is SJRA’s statutory authority, Doyal, who has a close social and financial connection to SJRA and its primary engineering vendor Halff Associates, Inc., has agreed, on behalf of Montgomery County taxpayers to pay a larger portion of the local share than the SJRA!
Under Doyal’s terrible deal that he conjured up with his SJRA pals, Montgomery County taxpayers would be on the hook for $169,262.98 of the funds, SJRA would only have to pay $135,410.38, while the City of Houston and the Harris County Flood Control District would pay the remaining $372,378.55. Doyal clearly is doing everything he can to protect the money of SJRA, despite SJRA’s massive stash of unrestricted cash from its monopolistic sales of water to Montgomery County citizens, municipalities, and utility companies.
In actuality, the entire local funding share for the San Jacinto River Regional Watershed Study clearly should come from the unrestricted cash of SJRA. But the facts simply are that Montgomery County citizens are paying both the County government portion and the SJRA portion for funding the study.
On April 26, 2018, the Board of Directors of the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) voted to raise the monopolistic state government agency’s raw water rates by 1.5 cents per thousand gallons, effective January 1, 2019, allegedly to fund the new Flood Management Division, which it established this year after the Harvey disaster (to which SJRA greatly contributed) 81 years too late. That SJRA is raising its water prices at all is strange, because it has unrestricted cash (not required for any allocation to protect the Authority’s bond investors) of $32,822,465, according to SJRA’s latest audited financial statement.
Currently, SJRA charges $2.10 per thousand gallons, a 207.92% increase in price since only nine (9) years ago. SJRA enjoys the regulatory monopoly the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) has created for SJRA by LSGCD’s strict groundwater usage regulations that prevent citizens from using their own groundwater on their own property. As a result, utility companies, municipalities such as the City of Conroe and the City of Magnolia, and large groundwater producers must purchase SJRA’s expensive surface water, on which SJRA levies monopolistic pricing.
Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Board member, former Conroe Mayor, and water rights advocate Webb Melder is furious about SJRA’s price increase. He told The Golden Hammer, “They take surface water Groundwater Reduction Plan money to pay for state flood control. This item was in their enabling legislation in the 1930’s! And the beat goes on…” Melder’s reference to “Groundwater Reduction Plan money” is the to the program that LSGCD has established to restrict property owner groundwater use, so that owners must purchase surface water instead from SJRA.
As for SJRA’s establishment in 2018 – finally – of a Flood Management Division, Melder added, “SJRA acts like they never heard of flood control; and now they want the good people of Conroe and Montgomery County to pay for it with a 1.5 cents rate increase in surface water fees!”
This newspaper asked Conroe City Councilman Duane Ham, who has been very vocal in his criticism of LSGCD and SJRA whether SJRA’s actions to raise prices on surface water to fund a brand new Flood Management Division are a good thing or a bad thing. Ham answered, “It’s a bad thing. They should be trying to raise that money from the big companies downstream to whom they sell water at retail prices. Why should they hit citizens of Conroe when they sell water downstream to giant corporations that want to buy SJRA’s retail water, while SJRA is forcing Montgomery County citizens to take their water.”
Ham further explained that the City of Conroe’s contract with SJRA “forces Conroe citizens to take 5.8 million gallons per day from Lake Conroe whether they need it or not. Meanwhile, the River Authority is selling water to big corporations downstream who are retail customers like oil and plastic refineries. That’s who SJRA needs to hit with the price increase. This is all a ploy, because SJRA screwed up and failed to come to the table to do flood control a long time ago. They need to be on top of the big storms coming in, like Harvey, but they’ve dropped the ball time and time again. The Lone Star Conservation District has created a monopoly for SJRA by forcing us to buy surface water. It’s horrible!”