Texas A&M’s Bush School Study Rejects Texas Groundwater Regulation

Texas A&M Public Policy Professor James Griffin.

College Station – Texas A&M University’s Bush School of Government & Public Service conducted a study which rejected the need for groundwater regulation in most parts of Texas, but most particularly in the Gulf Coast area where Montgomery County sits. Professor James Griffin, a 1970 Ph.D. graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, and a long time public policy researcher, oversaw the 2012 study.

Griffin and a team of nine researchers concluded “At current consumption rates, five of the nine major aquifers have unlimited years of supplies of groundwater. Even using historical growth rates in consumption, we obtained much the same result…[Those] five of the nine aquifers would still have a two-hundred year supply…Furthermore, a review of the regulatory practices of the local GCDs [groundwater conservation districts] supported the conclusion that Texas has a regulation-induced shortage of groundwater.”

Montgomery County lies above the Gulf Coast Aquifer. The A&M study found that the “years of supply [of groundwater] at constant consumption” is “unlimited,” while the “years supply at Historical Consumption Growth Rate” is also “unlimited.” Even assuming a full 2% growth rate for groundwater use, a statistically unlikely scenario, the Gulf Coast Aquifer has a 200 year supply of groundwater, according to the study.

Therefore, Professor Griffin and his research team concluded that the only shortage of groundwater that exists in Texas is a “regulation-induced shortage.”

These findings are significant as Montgomery County citizens participate in a debate over the water monopoly in favor of the San Jacinto River Authority’s (SJRA) surface water sales at above-market prices, which the regulatory scheme of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) has caused. LSGCD has required groundwater producers and users to implement plans to reduce groundwater production, even among private property owners, which have forced end users, utility companies, and real estate developers to purchase their water needs from SJRA. There are at least two lawsuits involving major water rights issues related to SJRA’s monopolistic practices which LSGCD has aided. The City of Conroe is a party to both lawsuits.

SJRA’s Executive Director Jace Houston sits on the Board of Directors of LSGCD which has consistently voted 6 to 3 in favor of continuing LSGCD’s tight grip on groundwater production, even in the face of the Texas A&M study and other studies which have concluded that such regulation is not necessary.

The term of one of the Montgomery County government’s two appointed LSGCD Board seats has expired as of January 31, 2017. The holder of that seat is Richard Tramm, who is the long time President of LSGCD and also the General Manager of Porter SUD. Tramm votes with SJRA in favor of the tight groundwater restrictions. Community activists and leaders, including Conroe City Councilman Duane Ham and former Conroe Mayor Webb Melder, have lobbied the County Commissioners Court to appoint a pro-resident, anti-regulation Board member in place of Tramm. County Judge Craig Doyal has resisted such an appointment until recently, because SJRA’s financial success has benefitted Bobby Adams, Doyal’s best friend and business partner, whose engineering firm Halff Associates, Inc., receives lucrative SJRA engineering service contracts.

At the conclusion of the February 14, 2017, 9:30 a.m., Commissioners Court, the five-person Commissioners Court will conduct interviews of seven nominees for the LSGCD Board position.

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