Image: An artist must have depicted symbols for the citizens of Montgomery County (shown at left) and the San Jacinto River Authority (shown at right). For more accurate descriptions, please consult 1 Samuel 17.
Conroe and Magnolia, May 8 – On Wednesday, May 6, 2020, Quadvest President Simon Sequeira, who also serves as President of Restore Affordable Water (RAW), made it clear that Montgomery County citizens must come out swinging in the fight against the San Jacinto River Authority’s (SJRA) monopolistic water sale practices. Quadvest is currently suing the SJRA for alleged federal anti-trust violations in an alleged attempt to monopolize the sale of water in Montgomery County and surrounding areas by forcing groundwater producers out of business, so that municipalities and utility company may only purchase water from SJRA’s surface water sale operations.
Sequeira issued the following statement on May 6:
“Does the SJRA have a conscience? As the entire world struggles with the most life changing event of our time, SJRA holds a meeting to determine how much they are going up on water rates. In the meeting, after acknowledging a potential rate increase of 14.5%, Ron Kelling, the Deputy General manager of the SJRA tells Montgomery County (MOCO) to ‘chew on these numbers.’
“Utilities across this nation have stopped disconnecting service for non-payment to help ease the financial burden on people. In Harris County, the North Harris County Regional Water Authority, realizing the gravity of the situation, just announced a delay in any rate increases. But SJRA, not only demands payment in full, they are planning a rate increase.
“The SJRA has a history of kicking Montgomery County when it is down. You may recall, just before 5 p.m. on March 27th, 2020, the day Judge Mark Keough issued the stay at home order for Montgomery County, SJRA filed more lawsuits against three cities in MOCO. SJRA filed the suits because earlier that day, the Texas Supreme Court ruled against SJRA’s multi- year lawsuit related to water rates. So while residents of MOCO prepared to face the virus, SJRA unleashed their own weapon. Their weapon? Taxpayer funded lawsuits against their very own constituents. It infects us all. Here is the test: look at your water bill. If your bill has doubled in the last few years; you’re infected.
“Here’s the Cure-
“Every political leader in Montgomery County needs to stand up, be counted and protect their constituents. Tell the SJRA that no rate increase will be tolerated in 2020. The SJRA has $57 Million of cash on hand. That is more than enough to get them through the year. If the SJRA refuses to back down, then our political leaders must be prepared to defend us, now.
“For the first time ever, SJRA comes under sunset review. Every political leader in Montgomery County needs to write to the Sunset Committee demanding a hearing, here, in MOCO, and be prepared to testify on behalf of all residents.
“SJRA’s Board of Directors – Lloyd Tisdale, Ronnie Anderson, Mark Micheletti, Karen Cambio, Ed Boulware, Jim Alexander, Brenda Cooper.
“You cannot allow this type of abuse to continue. If you do not do something, then you are as guilty as the rest of them.
“‘Chew on this?’ We’re not swallowing it.”
SJRA shirking flood control duty
As the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) faces “sunset review” before the Texas Legislature in 2021, SJRA must explain why it has ignore its core duty “to provide flood control” even though it acknowledged that duty in its own 1957 Master Plan Report. The Golden Hammer obtained a copy of the Master Plan Report which reveals that SJRA acknowledged 22 years after its establishment:
“The Authority has as one of its objectives…a program of flood control which will offer relief to inhabitants within the river valley and its tributaries.”
SJRA has hidden the 1957 Master Plan from public view. This copy of the
In court filings in a Houston District Court lawsuit arising from the San Jacinto River Authority’s (SJRA) decision to open the floodgates of the Lake Conroe Dam during Tropical Storm Harvey in August, 2017, SJRA made the frightening cold-hearted admission that the “public purpose” of SJRA’s operations has nothing whatsoever to do with flooding. Instead, SJRA has taken the position that
“Neither Lake Conroe nor its Dam was designed to function as a flood control facility, but simply exists to maintain a level of water so as to supply its customers with a previously contracted amount of water.”
SJRA’s Amended Motion to Dismiss and Plea to the Jurisdiction, filed in the 152nd District Court of Harris County in Thomas E. and Beth F. Ross versus San Jacinto River Authority.
Since its creation in 1937, the SJRA has had a statutory duty “to provide flood control” in the entire watershed of the San Jacinto River, which includes all of Montgomery County. Nevertheless, SJRA General Manager Jace Houston and “establishment” Board members, such as Marisa Rummel, Lloyd Tisdale, Gary Montgomery, Joseph V. Turner, Joseph L. Stunja, Fred Koetting, and others, have loved the profits from SJRA’s water sales but abjectly failed to fulfill their statutory duty “to provide flood control.”
Other than the heroic David Kleimann, who resigned in disgust from SJRA’s Board of Directors in 2010 after he recognized the chasm between SJRA’s statutory duty and its actions, SJRA’s employees and board members have focused entirely on water sales and maintaining “a level of water so as to supply its customers” rather than “to provide flood control.
Board members have just accepted SJRA staff recommendations to ignore the primary legal duty the SJRA has had for 81 years. Rummel and other Board members just slept through meetings and voted to approve every staff recommendation.
On October 16, 2017, State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) engaged in a tense exchange with Houston towards the end of a hearing before the Senator Agriculture Committee in New Caney, when Creighton asked whether SJRA has the duty “to provide flood control” since that’s in the SJRA original enabling statute which the Texas Legislature enacted in 1937. “We don’t have any taxing authority but flooding control is in our enabling legislation…We haven’t asked for that charge to be removed from the law,” said Houston. “But I would interpret ‘flood control’ as an authority we have but not a duty.”
Creighton responded, “The fact that you don’t feel you have a duty to do it is very troubling. That was written in the 1930s. When there’s danger, we run towards it as a steward of the public. But it sounds like you’re running away from the danger…We can’t wait until there’s thousands of people displaced to make those requests.”
Houston admitted that SJRA has the authority to provide flood control and admitted “one option to provide flood control [in Montgomery County] is for the River Authority to do it. We don’t provide flood control now, because we have the power but not the duty to do that.”
Creighton responded, “I’m embarrassed that the public has to hear that answer.”
“We don’t provide flood control now, because we have the power but not the duty to do that.” – – SJRA General Manager Jace Houston testifying before the Texas Senate Agriculture Committee, October 16, 2017.
“I’m embarrassed that the public has to hear that answer.” – State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), October 16, 2017, in response to Houston’s testimony.
SJRA’s Houston tried to argue that no governmental entity has the power to do debris cleaning and desnagging from rivers and tributaries, although he eventually conceded those powers are within SJRA’s enabling mandate which the Legislature passed in 1937.
Houston also tried to deflect the responsibility for flood control to a regional authority rather than to SJRA. “Regional is better,” Houston told the Committee.
In 2018, SJRA hired a Director of Flood Management, Chuck Gilman, at the startling salary of $180,000 per year. Sadly, the “Flood Management Division” of SJRA is little more than a press release, Gilman’s high salary, and the high salary of his secretary.
The Flood Management Division doesn’t do anything. The SJRA’s description of the Flood Management Division follows:
“Located at the Lake Conroe Dam, the Flood Management Division’s primary functions include: developing short-term and long-term regional flood management strategies within the Authority’s portion of the San Jacinto River Basin; building partnerships with federal, state, and local government entities; identifying funding sources and opportunities; and coordinating, collaborating, and potentially partnering with other flood management entities throughout the entire San Jacinto River basin. The Flood Management Division oversees the partnership and implementation of planned and funded projects, including the transfer of operations and maintenance of completed projects to partnering entities.”
In other words, despite its statutory duty “to provide flood control,” SJRA does absolutely nothing by itself to fulfill that responsibility. SJRA obtained a Texas Water Development Board grant and a huge investment from each of the City of Conroe and the Montgomery County government to prepare a flood warning study. SJRA still has not implemented any flood warning plan or operations.
SJRA is one of four government entities putting money into another regional flood control study. The Montgomery County government is putting more money into the study than is the SJRA, which has approximately $42 million of unencumbered funds available to it. SJRA still has not implemented any flood controls or operations.
Many citizens have called for a “flood control district” in Montgomery County. In truth, Montgomery County doesn’t need such a district, because the community already has one, albeit one which is out of touch with the citizens. That flood control district is the SJRA. SJRA has enormous financial resources to do its job “to provide flood control.”
Quadvest’s anti-monopoly lawsuit
Quadvest Water and Sewer Utility issued the following statement late Friday, November 15, 2019:
“Quadvest has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) due to their illegal and criminal behavior. Rather than focus on their primary mission of flood control, SJRA has spent the last 20 years scheming to artificially control water rates in Montgomery County. As evidenced by their abject failure during Hurricane Harvey, SJRA has failed at their primary mission to protect the San Jacinto watershed. Instead, SJRA has violated the Clayton Act and the Sherman Act by illegally monopolizing and fixing the price of water in Montgomery County.
“SJRA has long desired to control all water in Montgomery County, but because our county is such a water-rich part of the state, there was no need for providers to turn to SJRA for help. In fact, Montgomery County possesses 180,000,000-acre feet of groundwater beneath it. More than all the lakes in Texas combined, multiplied by five. So, SJRA turns to another agency to do their dirty work, The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD). LSGCD, with SJRA sitting on its board, passed rules, later found to be illegal in court, that allowed SJRA to force water providers into illegal contracts that violate federal laws.
“Quadvest seeks the truth, fairness and justice for the people of Montgomery County.”