August 23, 2017
The Truth is Out in The Montgomery County Water Scandal
Everyone in Montgomery County owes the City of Conroe, Magnolia, and Shenandoah, a big thank you for having the courage to challenge Lone Star and the SJRA. As it turns out, the Cities have been right all along. After several years of legal maneuvering, Lone Star/SJRA have finally been cornered into providing documentation and swearing under oath regarding the $1 Billion water scheme concocted by these two agencies. The legal efforts led by Conroe have yielded a treasure trove of information that tells the story of how Lone Star and SJRA devised their water plan.
You may recall that Lone Star started life in 2001. It immediately staked out a position that any pumping over 64,000 acre/feet per year would drain the aquifers under MOCO. This assertion was repeated at every turn, with Lone Star refusing to allow “aquifer mining.” The 64,000 acre/feet goal turned into a mandate that all groundwater users reduce their 2009 use by 30% by 2016. That edict resulted in the water suppliers of MOCO having to enter into contracts with SJRA for surface water. Those contracts in turn resulted in the doubling of water rates for all the citizens of the county. However, after over 20,000 pages of documents provided by Lone Star, what is surprisingly absent is any scientific evidence or support for the 64,000 acre/ft. pumping limit. Lone Star and SJRA have claimed for years that they have studied the aquifers and after years of research from the best available science, they imposed a strict 64,000 acre ft. /year pumping limit in Montgomery County, but neither Lone Star nor SJRA can produce a shred of credible evidence supporting that claim. If any support for their claims existed, surely they would have produced it by now and put an end to all of these lawsuits.
On February 22, 2017, Jace Houston, The General Manager of SJRA, wrote a guest columnist letter in the Courier where he quoted Thomas Jefferson, “honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom”. Jace, along with Lone Star have claimed for years that our aquifer levels in Montgomery County have been falling. Rick Moffatt, the President of Lone Star Groundwater, in a May 2017 Courier guest columnist article states “… aquifer levels were falling hundreds of feet and land subsidence was recorded…” But, Jason Afinowicz, one of the experts hired by Lone Star, has acknowledged, under oath, that there have been no declines in the water levels in the aquifers in Montgomery County. Mr. Afinowicz also admitted that he does not know where Lone Star originally got the 64,000 acre/foot number. Finally, although Lone Star has claimed repeatedly that wells in MOCO are not performing properly due to water level declines, their expert John Seifert admitted that he is not aware of any wells that are performing improperly.
Lone Star attempts to justify the 64,000 acre/foot limit by saying that it will avoid catastrophic subsidence. But Mr. Larry French, from the Texas Water Development Board, has admitted under oath that there is no subsidence caused by pumping from the Jasper aquifer in Montgomery County. And all parties agree that two thirds of the groundwater under MOCO is in the Jasper aquifer. Bill Mullican, the star witness for Lone Star, was forced to admit that any subsidence in the Chicot aquifer in Montgomery County is possibly caused by pumpage in Harris County, which is out of the control of Lone Star.
Jace Houston, in a January Dockline article “Yes, Montgomery County Has a Groundwater Problem”, claims Conroe’s consultants are “outliers.” Maybe SJRA/Lone Star are just out and out liars.
This begs the question; can state officials make false claims to the public for the benefit of their bureaucracy? The public purchased SJRA bonds based on Lone Star’s and SJRA’s false claims. Taxpayers in Montgomery County are responsible for the debt incurred by SJRA, based on those false claims. Water providers across Montgomery County have been forced to spend millions of dollars complying with Lone Star’s rules and regulations, all based on years of deceptive claims. People go to prison all the time for misleading investors in the business world. Are SJRA and Lone Star exempt from the consequences of committing fraud and misleading the public?
When you get your water bill this month and you see the SJRA fee, or the Lone Star fee, or the pass through fee, just know that the cities of Conroe, Magnolia, and Shenandoah are fighting to get that removed or reduced. If SJRA and Lone Star really cared about the citizens in Montgomery County, they would stop running from the courthouse and welcome their day in court. SJRA, afraid to face you, their customers, sued the City of Conroe in Travis County, the most liberal court in Texas, away from the public scrutiny that will inevitably occur when SJRA will have to admit they were not honest with the public.
SJRA/Lone Star should for once do what is right, stop increasing the litigation costs, face its customers in Montgomery County and deal with the consequences.
An open letter from Simon Sequeira, President, Quadvest
Quadvest Water and Sewer Utility has been a Montgomery County staple for nearly 40 years. Founded by Gary Sequeira and his father-in-law, Odell Vaught, the company is an independently owned utility providing service to more than 50 communities. Gary Sequeira is an avid second-generation Houstonian. Of his five children and 12 grandchildren, three children currently work at Quadvest continuing the heritage of family owned commitment and pride. His son, Simon Sequeira is the current President of Quadvest.