An overzealous groundwater regulation in Montgomery County, at the behest of bureaucrats, is costing taxpayers millions, killing lakeside business, and driving property values down.

Last year, the Lone Star Groundwater Conservative District (LSGCD) placed a mandate on residents’ use of groundwater out of fear of over usage and the mandate impacts taxpayers within 147 local entities. Montgomery County residents, at last check, were pumping roughly 83,000 acre-feet of water per year out of the Gulf Coast Aquifer. In the name of conservation, LSGCD decided, without voter approval, to cap usage at 64,000 acre-feet per year starting in January 2016. The difference in acre footage is expected to now come from Lake Conroe, the area’s manmade reservoir that has become the lifeblood of business, recreation and real estate.

To comply with the LSGCD mandate, another unelected government entity, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJA), developed a $479.8 million surface water treatment plan that Montgomery County residents will pay for through a fee tacked on to their water bills.

But not everyone paying the fee is benefitting from the surface water pumping.

SJA is the wholesale groundwater provider in The Woodlands, which historically pumps the most water out of all Montgomery County communities. Many residents in the county are too far out to be connected to the surface water pumping station and are still going to rely solely on groundwater, yet they are still being forced to pay the fee for development. Conroe Mayor Webb Melder said, “Many people feel in the county like there is an incestuous relationship between SJRA and [LSGCD].” Going on to say that SJA needed an alternative source of water and, through LSGCD, made everyone else in the county pay for it.

Aside from paying for an unwanted surface water treatment plant, Montgomery County residents are being dealt even harsher treatment.

Since the plan has been unveiled, businesses that have flourished because of their lakeside appeal have been saying that pumping from Lake Conroe is unjust. Opponents of the plan say that increased pumping from the lake for fast-growing Montgomery County will kill lakeside businesses as the lake begins to recede, especially during the dry summer months. Property owners along the lake have joined in with opposition saying that their property values are directly tied to the lake and pumping it will force them to see a gradual decline. Along with business and residential property owners, a number of Montgomery County municipalities signed on to oppose the project.

Now, the LSGCD mandate is being challenged in court by the City of Conroe and seven privately owned water and sewer utility companies. The companies are suing saying that SJRA is unjustly attacking groundwater producers and that the cost of the project is too high.

Melder said, “The biggest impediment today in the State of Texas to the development of natural resources is politics. If we can produce groundwater cheaper than being forced to buy surface water then we should have the right to produce that.”

Montgomery County residents have shown they are a force to be reckoned with when a group opposed, and soundly defeated, an unwanted road bond issue just last year. Now, coalescing in defense of property rights, taxpayers are going to fight this issue until their concerns are addressed.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.