In response to the drought of the 1950s and in recognition of the need to plan for the future, the Texas Legislature created the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to develop water supplies and prepare plans to meet the state’s future water needs. In 1997, the legislature established a new water planning process based on a “bottom-up” consensus-driven approach.
The State was divided into 16 regional planning areas. Each regional group is made up of various stakeholders representing different interests, including agriculture, industry, environment, municipalities, water districts, river authorities, groundwater management areas, etc.…
The ongoing work of the regional water planning process consists of multiple tasks, including:
- Quantifying current and projected population and water demand over a 50-year planning horizon
- Evaluating and quantifying current water supplies
- Evaluating water management strategies and preparing plans to meet the needs
- Developing drought response information and recommendations
- Recommending regulatory, administrative, and legislative changes
- Prioritizing the recommended projects in the regional water plan
The State was divided into 16 Groundwater Management Areas (GMAs). These GMAs were created in order to provide for the conservation, preservation, protection, recharging, and prevention of waste of the groundwater and of groundwater reservoirs, and to control subsidence caused by withdrawal of water from those groundwater reservoirs, actions to be consistent with the objectives of Section 59, Article XVI of the Texas Constitution.
The Spring Creek Utility District is located within the boundaries of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD). LSGCD is in “Region H” which covers 15 counties and includes the Brazos, San Jacinto and Trinity river basins and is part of GMA 14 which includes 4 other Groundwater Conservation Districts.
LSGCD has adopted rules and a regulatory plan, as mandated by the Texas Legislature. The rules require persons and entities that pump groundwater from wells to apply for and obtain permits for the withdrawal of groundwater under specific terms and conditions. The adopted District Regulatory Plan calls for the reduction of groundwater withdrawal throughout Montgomery County to volumes that do not exceed the recharge capabilities of aquifers in the County to prevent the long term depletion of the aquifers. The initial plan called for a 30% reduction of groundwater use by January 1, 2016.
In response to these requirements, the San Jacinto River Authority ("SJRA") expressed a willingness to assume responsibility to construct and operate a surface water treatment plant on Lake Conroe and a water transmission system to major populated areas of Montgomery County, thus enabling the entire county to comply with the LSGCD requirements. SJRA offered to enter into a contract for groundwater reduction planning, alternative water supply, and related goods and services (the "GRP Contract") with all large water users in Montgomery County to achieve the groundwater pumpage reduction goals. Approximately 130 larger volume water users in Montgomery County (the “Participants”), including Spring Creek Utility District, accepted the offer to participate and entered into the GRP Contract.
The construction of the surface water treatment plant and water transmission system referred to above (the Project) is being constructed in phases. Phase 1 of the Project, which included the construction of the treatment plant and pipelines to the City of Conroe and the Southern part of Montgomery County, was completed in 2015. Subsequent phases, which would consist of extending the delivery pipelines to additional users and possibly additional treatment plant capacity, have not been scheduled yet. Many factors, including amount of precipitation, success in the water conservation efforts, changes in regulation, actual population growth, may affect the timing of the decision to move to the next phases.
Certain large volume Participants are being wholly-converted to treated surface water while other users may continue to use groundwater. All Participants in the GRP contract, whether they receive treated water or use groundwater only, pay a monthly fee based on water usage. Pumpage fees and surface water rates are set so that Participants are neither benefitted nor penalized for utilizing groundwater, and allowances have been made for Participant's costs of operating and maintaining their wells. The pumpage fees and water service fees received from the Project are comparable, so that all Participants are paying equivalent charges without preference for customers within or outside the areas converted to surface water. This approach minimized the overall cost of the Project.
SJRA has issued bonds to finance the capital costs of the Project. Groundwater pumpage fees and water service fees are used to cover costs of debt service on the bonds as SJRA is not a taxing entity. These fees are reviewed every fiscal year by the GRP Review Committee (which represents the Participants), based on the annual budget and then submitted to the SJRA Board of Directors for approval.
Spring Creek Utility District currently uses only groundwater and there are no immediate plans for the District to receive treated surface water from Lake Conroe.
Note: The Planning for the future needs of water in Texas is a very complex issue and it involves many “players”. This is only a brief overview of the major entities involved in the water planning process and water conservation at the local and regional levels. For those interested in learning more about this subject, extensive information is available on the following websites:
- Texas Water Development Board (TWBD): www.twbd.texas.gov
- Region H: www.regionhwater.org
- Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD): www.lonestargcd.org
- San Jacinto River Authority-GRP Division (SJRA/GRP): www.sjra.net/grp