SJRA Holds Public Forum to Disclose Its Plan for Treating Surface Water from the Lake Conroe Reservoir

January 14, 2010

by: Wayne Stroman CIPS, TRC, President, Stroman Realty, Inc.

The San Jacinto River Authority, SJRA Groundwater Reduction Plan, GRP calls for the pumping and treating surface water from the Lake Conroe Reservoir. This is to meet a mandate set by the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, LSGCD. It requires all large-water users in Montgomery County to reduce well pumping (ground water) by 30% by 2016.

The event was held at the Lone Star Convention Center. About 200 were in attendance. There were many local officials, water system employees, contractors, subdivision developers, waterfront property owners, members of the media and concerned citizens present. Some notables were Conroe Mayor, Webb Melder, Blake Kellum and Jace Houston with the SJRA, Mike Stoecker, Lloyd Tisdale, Jim Burk and John Eckstrum, Chairman of the Texas Real Estate Commission were present.

The reason for the mandate is because the aquifer that supplies water to the Montgomery County area has reached its capacity to meet the needs of the current population. As the county develops and grows more water will be needed and pumped to users. This can cause some wells to go dry because the aquifer can not re-supply past its capacity.

The SJRA has decided that by over converting the City of Conroe and the Woodlands water system (more than the 30% of what they use) with treated and distributed Lake Conroe surface water the rest of the county will be able to continue pumping groundwater. These other water systems will not initially have to convert to surface water consumption. The SJRA will have to monitor total water pumping and will have to decide if the plan works on an ongoing basis.

There are many private wells in the county that make up only about 2% of ground water consumption and they are in remote locations far away from water transmission lines of the municipalities.

All large-water users that do not receive treated surface water for the SJRA will have a standby fee that must be paid. This is for the privilege of being able to continue pumping ground water. The fee subsidizes the high cost of treating surface water for the major large-water users.

Jace Houston, SJRA deputy general manager of administration said “Their proposal is to allow most large-water users to remain on their current wells and postpone conversion while keeping compliance with LSGCD rules”.

“This approach has not changed in the last 12 months. We believe this is the most cost effective method for achieving compliance. This is what the SJRA was set up to do. We are not any happier than you are at the process. The plan will operate as a non profit and the contract requires that all records will be open to the public and it requires the SJRA to pay for its water at the same rate as all consumers”

The City of Conroe has concerns because the other authorities around Houston, Texas have representatives from local government on their Boards of Directors. They say there is a conflict of interest because the review committee does not have a participant member.

Mayor Melder said “Now that I know what I know I should not have had the opportunity to see the contract in advance because I see all of you as equals. The part we are concerned about is accountability”. “If you want Conroe to be on board with the Plan then (the SJRA should) create a regional water overseeing group that includes a City of Conroe representative.”

Jace Houston said “We just wanted to avoid another layer of bureaucracy”

Mr Reed said “There is no conflict of interest and we sell to Exxon, Chevron and others providing raw water at the lowest rates”

A question from the floor asked if there is anything in the contract that allows SJRA to take over a municipality.

Jace: “The answer to that is NO.”

Other utilities had questions about the cost of installing equipment required to accept water from the Plan.

The SJRA said the Review Committee will have participant appointees from Conroe and The Woodlands.

Jim Burk said that he did not see any incentives for water conservation in the Plan. He Googled it and found one by the LCRA that Hays County has tax incentive and so does Austin. He said 50% of what we use is wasted. Will the plan incorporate incentives?

Jace: “We did not intend to include everything in the GRP contract. We wanted to just establish a legal framework to begin providing treated water by the deadline.”

Some think there are more cost effective alternatives. Jace: “He is right and all large providers need to do due diligence and investigate alternatives and we encourage them to do so.”

There are provisions that allow municipalities to collect fees to build the receiving facilities.

Question from the floor: “Would the SJRA consider giving the review committee more authority than it does now. It’s the question of checks and balances and providing for them.”

Answer from panel: “We do not have the authority to delegate decisions that only the board SJRA can make and are ultimately responsible for.”

Jace said that: “We only have 5 months to get the contract done!”

Someone from District 2 asked: “How much will this cost and when will we have to do the conversions?”

Jace: “There are schedules and tasks lists and cost approximations to help with planning and fee approximations.”

From the Floor: “What is a reservation Fee?”

Jace: “It is a charge to hold a certain capacity in reserve for a future date. This keeps us from selling a capacity you may need later.”

Alex with the City of Conroe asked: “Would the SJRA sell raw water?”

Jace: “The SJRA has reserved Lake Conroe for GRP Participants only.”

Gary from the SJRA board said “The whole Plan is in order to work and meet the reduction mandates by the LSGCD and allow the outlying large water providers to avoid system changes. This requires fees to be charged those users. This will allow them to stay the same and their wells should not run dry.”

98% of the users will probably have to participate in the plan by either buying treated water or paying the standby fees.

You can read more directly from the SJRA at: Seven feet of water spills out of Lake Conroe every year.*

Written by: Wayne Stroman CIPS, TRC, President, Stroman Realty, Inc.
Houston Association of REALTORS®, Vice Chair
Your Lake Conroe Area Specialist!
Mail to: POB 2991, Conroe, Texas 77305
Deliveries to: 14500 HWY 105 W, Conroe, Texas 77304
Desk: 936-588-7044
Office: 936-588-4444
Fax: 936-588-4884

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