With the approval of a 15-year option agreement, the San Jacinto River Authority has taken the first step to securing an alternate water source for Montgomery County.
The SJRA board voted Thursday to enter into a contract with the Trinity River Authority for the purchase of up to 50,000 acre-feet per year of water from Lake Livingston. The agreement gives the SJRA 15 years to finalize a water supply contract and complete other steps necessary to transfer water from Lake Livingston into Lake Conroe.
The 50,000 acre-feet is half of Lake Conroe’s annual yield of 100,000 acre-feet.
While a number of steps remain, SJRA board President Lloyd Tisdale calls the agreement an “important milestone” for the county.
“This agreement secures additional water for the future of Montgomery County and ensures that our water supplies can keep up with the extraordinary economic and population growth that we’re experiencing,” he stated.
The TRA board is expected to approve the proposed agreement April 24.
For years, local officials have examined various methods to increase Montgomery County’s surface water capacity. Suggestions have included creation of a second reservoir, but tapping into Trinity River Basin has long been an option.
The agreement gives SJRA the first right of refusal for the water, which requires an annual option fee equal to 5 percent of TRA’s approved raw water rate of $95 per acre-feet. That equates to $237,500 per year for the 50,000 acre-feet.
The annual option will be paid by the utilities participating in the SJRA’s Groundwater Reduction Plan (LSGCD).
“We need to understand that this is the first step of a long journey,” Conroe Mayor Webb Melder said.
When the SJRA decides to secure the water rights from TRA, the annual fee increases to approximately $1.5 million. The fee increases to $4.5 million a year once usage begins, SJRA General Manager Jace Houston said.
But that is well into the future.
“We’re staying well ahead of the curve, but we’ve got to be patient,” he said. “We don’t want to start such a project too soon. We’ll need to monitor the population growth over the next decade.”
The SJRA and the TRA will need to coordinate the arrival of Trinity River water into Montgomery County as the existing water rights in Lake Conroe won’t be utilized for several decades. As part of its GRP, the SJRA is constructing a surface water treatment plant on Lake Conroe and installing approximately 50 miles of pipeline to reduce the county’s dependence on groundwater starting Jan. 1, 2016.
A preliminary cost estimate of installing a pipeline that carries water the 30 miles between the two reservoirs is $300 million, Houston said.
Another major step facing the SJRA is obtaining the necessary approvals for an interbasin transfer of water from the Trinity River to Lake Conroe.
The permitting process could take five to 10 years and $500,000 in legal fees, Houston said.
“There are still a lot of decisions to be made,” he said. “But this enables us to look 50 to 100 years into the future and have confidence that we’re maximizing Montgomery County’s water supply options.”