Lake Conroe Association Completes Funding of Texas A&M Lake Study of Economic Impacts of Lower Lake Conroe Water Levels Planned by San Jacinto River Authority
Raising money in today’s economy is never easy. When the Lake Conroe Association (LCA), Lake Conroe Communities Network (LCCN), Montgomery County and the City of Conroe desired to engage Texas A&M University for an independent study on drawing water from Lake Conroe, it came with a hefty $142,000 price tag. The LCA kicked off the fund raising effort three months ago by agreeing to contribute the first $50,000 towards the study. When all potential donors had completed making (or passed on making) their donations, the collective efforts fell $16,000 short. Understanding the importance of completing this study, the LCA agreed this week to make up the $16,000 shortfall and raised its total contribution to $66,000.
As previously reported, the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) and San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) have determined that water will be drawn from Lake Conroe starting in 2016 to meet the ever-growing demand on Montgomery County’s water supply. SJRA, with a virtual monopoly on water supply in our County, engaged the engineering firm of Freece & Nichols to review the effects on Lake Conroe’s water levels and subsequently concluded that “the effects would be minimal”. While this may be true, some question the accuracy of this conclusion and believe a second, independent evaluation is appropriate in such a vital issue as our future water supply and the impact of lake level reductions on the economies of the Lake Area and Montgomery County.
Three (3) key variables could dramatically affect the conclusions drawn by SJRA and its engineering firm, Freece & Nichols. First, anticipated future water use is directly based on population demographics which project the rise in residents in Montgomery County. Concerns exist that the population projections are understated and that water demands could be far greater than those used in SJRA’s conclusion.
Second, the aquifer historically supplying groundwater for Montgomery County (which, until now, provided 100% of the water used in the County) is not sufficiently recharging and only “estimates” by LSGCD can predict the rate at which it will recharge itself in the future. If LSGCD’s “estimates” are too optimistic and, in fact, the aquifer cannot recharge adequately at the reduced level of usage it has mandated, LSGCD will further reduce the amount of water that may be used from the aquifer and increase the amount of water that must be drawn from Lake Conroe (or other unproven water sources such as “brackish water”).
Third, the City of Houston owns two-thirds of Lake Conroe water. Under its contract with SJRA, Houston can sell any part of its two-thirds that SJRA doesn’t nominate for its own use in a given year.
While SJRA has concluded that its planned sales of water will only have “minimal effects” on Lake Conroe’s water levels over the next 40 years, errors in population demographics, lower aquifer recharge rates and/or the sale of water by the City of Houston could escalate water use “sooner rather than later” and create serious problems within 15 to 20 years.
The Texas A&M University study will review two distinct topics. First, it will review the study conducted by Freece and Nichols on behalf of SJRA. Texas A&M will analyze the facts, methods and assumptions applied by Freece and Nichols in an effort to support or refute that study. In particular, Texas A&M will conclude if it agrees or disagrees with future lake levels as projected. Second, Texas A&M will review the socio-economic effects on residents and businesses in the Lake Conroe area should lake levels drop to economically disadvantaged levels. Coupled with this socio-economic study will be a review of the effects throughout Montgomery County if they conclude a negative economic impact is likely in the Lake Conroe area and insufficient water is available for our future.
In the socio-economic portion of the study, numerous questions are under review. If lake levels were to drop to economically disadvantaged levels:
- How would this affect lake area property values?
- How would this affect property tax collections (used to fund the majority of County, school and hospital district budgets)?
- How would this affect local business activity and related sales tax collections?
Since a maximum of 100,000 acre feet of water per year may be drawn from Lake Conroe, concerns exist that we may run out of water “sooner rather than later”. If we were to run out of water:
- How would existing County residents and businesses adapt to a lack of water?
- Would all residential and business development be curtailed due to the inability to provide water for that growth throughout Montgomery County?
- If growth within Montgomery County is curtailed, what happens to a County that can no longer sustain growth?
Certain potential donors to this Texas A&M study have elected not to contribute (such as The Woodlands Township….the most populous and tax-abundant area in the County) because: 1) SJRA already did a study, 2) SJRA is in charge of water in Montgomery County, and 3) lake levels on Lake Conroe do not directly affect their community. While these points may hold some validity, a much bigger point is being missed; namely, what happens when the County runs out of water? Lake Conroe may be able to satisfy our short-term water needs, but will not be able to supply our water needs forever. Among many interested parties, the LCA, LCCN, Montgomery County and the City of Conroe desire to explore future reservoir sites before it’s too late, damage is done to our economies and our water demands outweigh our water supply. While SJRA is virtually in charge of all of the County’s water, SJRA has declined to support a review of future reservoir sites “for at least 5 years”. The procurement of land, acquisition of permits and construction of a suitable future reservoir site would most likely take 20 – 25 years, or more. What happens if a scenario as outlined above occurs where local economies are damaged and the County runs out of water in 15 years? Is it not time to take action on the review of a reservoir to supplement Lake Conroe NOW?
Across the world, people are realizing that WATER is the commodity of the future. Alternatives to oil are being developed to fuel our seemingly endless energy needs. But, as best we know, no one has developed an alternative to water. Certainly, water conservation methods will become commonplace across the nations to reduce our demands on our precious water supply. But, it is our belief that better efforts must be made today to capture every drop of water that falls from the sky. For Montgomery County, that means a second reservoir.
Many thanks must go to the Lake Conroe Communities Network for spearheading volunteer efforts in pursing the Texas A&M study and fundraising. Judge Sadler and Commissioner Mike Meador deserve acknowledgement for contributing money and staff time, and for legal resources in the negotiation of a contract with Texas A&M University for this water study. Conroe Mayor Webb Melder, Senator Robert Nichols and Representative Brandon Creighton provided support and leadership; and, certainly, those entities contributing monies towards this study deserve our gratitude. Financial contributors include the LCA, LCCN, Montgomery County, the City of Conroe, the City of Montgomery, MUD 2, MUD 4, MUD 8, MUD 9, MUD 18, Emergency Services District 1, Corinthian Point, La Torretta del Lago, private utility owner Mike Stoecker, and the Dana Richardson family businesses E-Z Boat Storage, The Palms Marina and Sunset Shores RV Park.
The Lake Conroe Association, a non-profit 501 (c) 3 corporation, is fortunate to have over 400 supportive residential and business members who contribute their hard-earned dollars to support our past and, hopefully, future efforts on behalf of the many communities within Montgomery County. The LCA currently has over 21,000 fund raising letters in the mail as part of our Annual 2010 Fund Raising Campaign. Should you receive yours in the mail, the LCA would greatly appreciate your support. In the event you do not receive such a letter, donations can be mailed to: Lake Conroe Association, PO Box 376, Willis, Texas 77378-9998. Additional information regarding the LCA can be obtained at www.lakeconroeassociation.com and about LCCN at www.lakeconroecn.com.
Mike Bleier, President
Lake Conroe Association