P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0104
Montgomery County's Future in the Balance
The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (Lone Star) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2001 to conserve and protect the aquifer beneath Montgomery County. To sustain our aquifer, Lone Star is now in the process of developing final rules which will require a 30% reduction in groundwater pumping throughout Montgomery County by the year 2015. The San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) has requested the Texas Legislature to enact legislation authorizing the SJRA to implement a voluntary, efficient and cost-effective county-wide plan to meet Lone Star's rules.
The Montgomery County Commissioners Court and the City of Conroe have spearheaded recent efforts to refine and improve this legislation. Senator Robert Nichols and The Conroe Courier should be commended for advancing the dialogue on the proposed legislation in their recent columns and editorials. I believe the work of all these parties has improved the proposed legislation.
What the Plan Does and Does Not Involve
For the past 2 years, most of the Montgomery County groundwater users impacted by the proposed new rules have been working with the SJRA to develop a comprehensive groundwater reduction plan. The most effective and cost-efficient plan is for SJRA to construct a water treatment and distribution system for the densely populated areas of Montgomery County to convert to surface water from Lake Conroe. This conversion will allow many existing groundwater users to continue using their wells. The plan will keep infrastructure and costs to a minimum, and will facilitate future economic growth in Montgomery County by allowing new development the ability to pump groundwater.
Let's be clear about what the SJRA plan does not involve:
- The plan will only apply to groundwater users which must reduce groundwater pumping under Lone Star's rules.
- The plan will not involve single-family wells.
- The plan does not involve taxes. SJRA has no taxing authority and infrastructure will be paid for with user fees. Fees will be set so a user is neither benefitted nor penalized by taking surface water or pumping groundwater.
Legislation Provides Options
In order for existing groundwater users to comply with Lone Star's rules, the proposed legislation offers existing groundwater users an opportunity to "opt-in" to the SJRA plan. These existing groundwater users won't need to decide whether they should take this option until after certain events have occurred.
- Lone Star's rules must be adopted in final form.
- Second, the SJRA must follow up on its MOU with the City of Houston and enter into a formal, long term contract for the use of water in Lake Conroe.
- Third, the SJRA must formally adopt an initial groundwater reduction plan that will satisfy Lone Star's rules.
- After the SJRA adopts its initial plan, groundwater users will have 120 days to consider the plan and decide whether it is in their own best interests to opt-in. SJRA will then have 120 days to either grant the petitions and implement the plan, or abandon the plan for lack of support or feasibility.
- SJRA cannot impose any fees before the opt-in process is completed.
In addition the legislation looks out for future development in Montgomery County by automatically including new groundwater users in the SJRA plan. This allows SJRA to optimize the planning and construction of infrastructure today to accommodate future growth.
Fixed Fee Limits
The proposed legislation specifically requires SJRA to carry out its plan on a break-even, non-profit basis, and obligates SJRA to provide the lowest charges consistent with good management practices. SJRA will also be required to prepare a separate annual audit showing the revenues and expenses related to the plan. No groundwater user will be required to opt-in to the SJRA plan.
Water Conservation and Our Future
I am encouraged by how many of the concerns identified by Senator Nichols have been addressed in recent revisions to the proposed legislation. We all agree:
- User fees paid to the SJRA should not be used to send water outside of Montgomery County.
- Water levels of Lake Conroe should be considered. The SJRA plan would put the water in Lake Conroe completely under local control for the first time in history. Mother Nature will continue to have the most influence on lake levels. If there is sufficient interest in developing additional water supplies to maintain lake levels, there are provisions in the legislation which will allow the SJRA to do so with the costs being shared among the interested beneficiaries.
- Water conservation will play an important part in making the SJRA plan cost-effective. The proposed legislation will also give SJRA general authority to adopt drought contingency and groundwater conservation plans. SJRA has already shown its commitment to conservation by pushing for provisions in the MOU with Houston which will allow for re-use of water purchased from Houston.
Unless we take steps to ensure the availability of surface water to our county our future growth will surely be limited. A look at our history will remind us about the importance of water to our local and regional future. Now is the time for us to take bold action if we are to provide this important legacy to future generations of Texans living in Montgomery County.
I encourage citizens and elected officials in Montgomery County who are interested in the choices offered by the proposed legislation and the SJRA plan to contact our Montgomery county legislative delegation. My office can be reached by phone at 1-512-463-0104, by fax at 1-512-463-6373 or email at email@example.com