Image: Money-hungry San Jacinto River Authority General Manager Jace Houston and the SJRA Board of Directors are angry as fumaroles that the property rights reform-minded Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors with the help of a Texas Judicial District Court are threatening their monopolistic water sale plans.
Conroe, May 23 – On May 17, 2019, visiting Senior District Judge Lamar McCorkle entered a Final Judgment in the lawsuit in which the City of Conroe and large groundwater producers in Montgomery County challenged the groundwater reduction regulations of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD). The previous LSGCD Board of Directors, under the guidance and direction of Board member Jace Houston, who is also the General Manager of the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), had spent more than $1.5 million trying to defend the regulations in the lawsuit.
LSGCD’s old Board of Directors suffered a major setback with Judge McCorkle granted a partial Summary Judgment in which he determined that Houston and the rest of the old LSGCD Board had adopted LSGCD’s restrictive groundwater production regulations without any legal authority, so those regulations were void and unenforceable.
SJRA had been working for many years to increase its sales of surface water. When large volume groundwater producers began looking at production of groundwater from the water-rich Catahoula Formation in the 2007 to 2008 time frame, the threat from far less expensive water sources simply was more than the monopolistic SJRA Board of Directors was willing to bear, according to former SJRA Board member David Kleimann, a pro-private-property rights businessman who eventually resigned from the SJRA in disgust over the monopolistic scheming he witnessed from the inside of SJRA as a Board member.
SJRA, which controlled the appointed Board of LSGCD at the time, led the LSGCD Board to implement very restrictive regulations, so that SJRA could justify its massive expenditures – and bond financing – for massive water treatment facilities and systems to carry the surface water large distances to SJRA’s customers, such as The Woodlands’ residents. LSGCD called for 30% reductions in groundwater production by large groundwater producers and municipalities which produced groundwater from their own wells.
As a result, those groundwater producers, the utility companies which they served, and the Cities of Conroe and Magnolia had little choice but to begin to purchase water from SJRA under highly-priced contracts which caused end users’ water prices to skyrocket.
Judge McCorkle’s ruling in 2018 and the first elected pro-property rights LSGCD Board in the November 6, 2018, General Election brought a grave threat to the massive water sale profits SJRA enjoys. For Fiscal Year 2018, SJRA enjoyed a $33.2 million operating profit, even though it’s supposed to be a state agency. The bloated salaries to its staff and its palatial headquarters building next to the Lake Conroe Dam reflected those high profits.
Since the new pro-citizen Board of Directors – Jon Bouche, Harry Hardman, Webb Melder, Jonathan Prykryl, Larry Rogers, Jim Spigener, and Stuart Traylor – came into office in November, 2018, and swept in consultants into LSGCD who relied upon scientific data rather than regulatory-desired excuses for decision making as had SJRA and the previous LSGCD Board, SJRA and its pro-surface water profits allies, such as the Woodlands Joint Powers Agency and certain Municipal Utility Districts which have enjoyed enormous profits from surface water sales along with SJRA, have gone on the attack.
As this newspaper reported on April 28, SJRA and its Big Water allies packed an LSGCD Townhall meeting on April 22 in The Woodlands to try to argue that groundwater production had already caused subsidence in Montgomery County responsible for increased flooding. Please see “SJRA, Big Water Pack Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District Town Hall To Create Fear, Divert Attention From SJRA’s Monopolization Of Water, Failure To Fulfill Its Job Duties,” The Golden Hammer, April 28, 2019. At that meeting, SJRA and its henchman, WPGA President Jim Stinson gave prepared written speeches to various Big Water representatives so they could try to scare everyone into believing groundwater production has caused subsidence which has resulted in flooding in Montgomery County.
In reality, however, the subsidence in Montgomery County has been minimal – approximately one inch in 100 years – and has occurred primarily in the southeast corner of the County as part of the normal diagenesis and stratification of Gulf Coast sediments, as LSGCD’s scientific experts explained at the Townhall meeting.
The flooding problem in Montgomery County emanates from a two-fold source. First, the County’s development has completely failed to consider regional drainage issues. Second, the agency specifically charged with the responsibility “to provide flood control” has failed to do so in its entire 82 year history. The name of that agency is none other than “SJRA.”
As its second line of attack against the efforts of LSGCD under the newly-elected pro-citizen Board to deregulate groundwater production, SJRA issued a press release on May 16, 2019, in which SJRA attempted to make the argument that the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) rejected LSGCD’s recently proposed less onerous regulatory management plan, because the plan failed to comply with 2010 “desired future conditions” which a regional sub-agency of the TWDB had adopted. The problem both with SJRA’s and TWDB’s disapproval of LSGCD’s recent pro-citizen regulations is that those “desired future conditions” are the precise regulatory basis which Judge McCorkle determined in his Final Judgment had violated the Texas Water Code.
In SJRA’s May 16 press release, of course, SJRA’s General Manager Jace Houston once again tried to put the scare into the public about land subsidence (discussed above) and “water reliability problems.” In fact, groundwater requires far less treatment than surface water. As this newspaper has previously reported, scientists have concluded that Montgomery County has essentially an unlimited groundwater supply.
SJRA clearly focuses its operations and its terrible policy statements on one goal: to maximize profits from the sale of surface water to support bloated salaries, lucrative vendor contracts, and enormous gains for bondholders. Since SJRA is both a government agency and a monopolist, it enjoys immense powers that private businesses do not enjoy.
And, once again, it’s the beleaguered citizens (taxpayers) who must bear the exorbitant water prices from SJRA’s gamesmanship.