Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District adopts lower spending budget, reduces groundwater pumpage fees, while Director Hardman slams San Jacinto River Authority for raising water prices

Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District adopts lower spending budget, reduces groundwater pumpage fees, while Director Hardman slams San Jacinto River Authority for raising water prices

Image: The first citizen-elected Board of Directors of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, shown during the oath of office ceremony on November 16, 2018, was true to its word to reduce government spending in passing their first budget for Fiscal Year 2020. Shown are, from left to right, State Representative Will Metcalf, Republican of Conroe, who performed the oath of office, and Webb Melder, Jonathan Prykryl, Jon Bouche, Stuart Traylor, Harry Hardman, and Larry Rogers. Jim Spigener did not appear in the photograph.

Conroe, August 25 – The citizen-elected Board of Directors of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) unanimously voted to adopt a budget, which reduced spending by $112,807, or 5.1%. Board member Larry Rogers said, “We looked where we could save money for the citizens. We were elected to look out for the citizens and that’s what we did.”

The Board voted to adopt the reduced Budget, which also included a decision to reduce the regulatory water use fee by approximately 20%, at the Board meeting on Tuesday, August 13, 2019.

The Fiscal Year 2020 Budget will be only $2,088,246 in comparison to the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget of $2,201,053.

Board Vice President Harry Hardman explained, “We committed to reducing water rates and spending. We’re looking at everything we can do to be the most cost effective.” Hardman and the Board’s action stands in stark contrast to the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) which voted to increase water rates across Montgomery County for the water SJRA sells through its monopolistic practices.

The three big savings in the LSGCD Budget came from three areas:

  • Director Larry Rogers has been very critical of LSGCD’s contract with the United States Geological Survey. Rogers and Director Jim Spigener insisted that LSGCD reduce the spending on that contract by $67,000 per year.
  • Board President Melder has worked very hard to reduce the legal fees of the district.
  • LSGCD made slight reductions in its salaries budget.

At the same time, the LSGCD Board approved an almost 20% reduction in the 2020 water use fee rate for pumping groundwater in Montgomery County.

District staff worked with Spigener and Rogers to forecast all reasonably anticipated revenues, expenses and activities. The Directors reduced the regulatory water use fee of $0.105 per 1,000 gallons to $0.085 per 1,000 gallons for all groundwater produced from the Chico, Evangeline and Jasper aquifers.

Groundwater produced from the Catahoula aquifer, designated as an alternative water supply, remains unchanged at $0.06 per 1,000 gallons. Chapter 36 of the Texas Water Code specifically caps the District’s water use fees for agricultural use at $1.00 per acre- feet and for other permitted uses at $.17 per thousand gallons.

In addition to lowering the water use fees, the Board also promoted Interim General Manager, Samantha Reiter, to General Manager for the District.

Standing in marked contrast to the efforts of SJRA, which is increasing water rates, LSGCD is trying to reduce them. To that end, LSGCD Vice President Harry Hardman attended the August 22, 2019, Board meeting of SJRA and made the following statement to the Board.

“Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

“My name is Harry Hardman, and I am the Vice President of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District and District Representative for GMA 14. I am here today, however, to speak to you as a private citizen. The opinions expressed today are my own and do not represent those of the Lone Star Board or the District.

“Last week, your Deputy General Manager Ron Kelling spoke before the GMA board about BALANCE as it pertains to groundwater. Mr. Kelling, as he often does, waxed eloquently regarding the need to find a BALANCE in groundwater management, irrespective of private property rights and how they’ve been interpreted by the Supreme Court of Texas.  He further warns of subsidence and flooding in Southern Montgomery County though SJRA’s GRP Participants pumped more than 70% of the total qualifying demand, and in 2019, over 100% of total qualifying demand. Even though the reduction rules are no longer in effect, SJRA’s GRP Participants pump over 100% of what was previously designated as the total qualifying demand.   In other words, even during periods of mandated reductions, SJRA sought approval for and its GRP participants produced volumes in excess of the mandated reduction. I find those to be highly IMBALANCED.

“I find it highly ironic that your Authority, which enjoys a monopoly of all surface water in Montgomery County and ALL water in the Woodlands, would be calling for BALANCE in any measure. In fact, the term Monopoly – which Webster defines as ‘exclusive ownership through legal privilege, command of supply, or concerted action’ dictates that BALANCE will never be achieved as long as one entity maintains it. If the SJRA is indeed all for BALANCE for the citizens of Montgomery County, then it should cede its monopoly on surface water and allow users to acquire water in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible through alternative suppliers. Allowing the free market to work as it could and should will enable Montgomery County to enjoy the same flexibility of alternative water sources that our sister counties to the south of us have enjoyed for decades.

“I also find a significant lack of BALANCE and truth regarding the reasons for your upcoming resolution to adopt significantly higher water rates for 2020, when the Lone Star Board voted unanimously last week to lower their rates by 19%. The fact that the Authority cites uncertainly about groundwater regulations by Lone Star and uncollected revenue by some of the LVGU’s as the reasons for the rate hike is inaccurate. Lone Star has no part in the setting, invoicing, collection, or payment of separate GRP fees. Instead, the District invoices the GRP Sponsor directly for the amounts owed in water use fees for all the GRP’s. While I cannot speak for the Lone Star board, I do know, that in connection with the adoption of new rules, the board will consider whether it should bill and collect water use fees directly from all permittees since the District can no longer require permittees to join GRPs.

“I urge the Board to vote down the resolution to enact the incredibly high water rates for 2020 and look to find a BALANCE in providing the citizens in Montgomery County affordable water.”

 

 

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