Build Allens Creek Reservoir now

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It’s time for the Allens Creek Reservoir to finally be built.

I cheered when the Texas Legislature passed, and the governor signed, House Bill 2846 which requires Houston to sell its lion’s share of the proposed reservoir to the Brazos River Authority for no more than $23 million. In turn, the BRA will build and operate the reservoir.

It’s about time someone stood up to our bully of a neighbor and did something. While I can sympathize to a degree with Houston’s complaint that it’s wrong for the state to tell the city what to do, the city was acting in a manner that was harmful to its neighbors and it doesn’t care. It needed a push and the Legislature finally provided it.

The reservoir was first proposed for southern Austin County near Wallis back in 1974 when it was supposed to supply cooling water for a nuclear power plant that was never built. Houston Lighting & Power Company (now Reliant Energy) let the permit expire but the legislature passed a bill allowing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to award a water rights for the reservoir to the Texas Water Development Board. Later, the Brazos River Authority and Houston purchased the site from Reliant Energy.

In a deal with Houston in 2002, the city received 70% of the water rights and the BRA 30%. The two would fund construction of the reservoir proportionately and the BRA would build and operate it. And that is the way it has been ever since. Every so often someone makes a fuss about getting the reservoir built but Houston balks. It says it doesn’t need the water yet and doesn’t have the money to build it – an estimated $300 million.

As the City of Houston continues to sluff off its responsibility to help build the reservoir, Austin County gets left holding the bag. About 9,500 acres of land between Sealy and Wallis remain unused and, more importantly to county coffers, untaxable. The people of Austin County are stuck waiting for “someday” to come while Houston adopts a “whatever” attitude. The big city has repeatedly said it wants the reservoir for future needs but each time the question comes up, the further out into the future it becomes.

Houston’s delay tactics affect more than those of us in Austin County. It affects the Brazos River Authority and businesses and communities downstream that have a need now for the water it can provide. In a lawsuit filed by Houston, the city claims that the BRA only wants the water to sell for “industrial uses.” Well, yes, that is true. Houston’s unwillingness to budge is costing companies and communities downriver the opportunity to grow and expand.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement that his city estimates its rights to the reservoir’s water supply to be about 15% of the future water supply needed for Houston’s population growth. A lot of that water would go to areas west of Houston because Houston manages the Greater Houston-area water supply.

“Houston will fight to keep the resources necessary to ensure that the city can grow and Houstonians’ needs are met,” Turner said regarding the city’s lawsuit against the state and the BRA.

Well, Houston needs to know that the small communities around it are tired of being bullied and pushed around. It is very likely that it will be several more decades before Houston needs the water and in the meantime it maintains a stranglehold on neighbors that need it now. In addition to the economic reasons for needing the reservoir, the region could use it to help mitigate flooding, something that is foremost on everyone’s mind. Yet Houston holds out.

Here in Austin County, not only do we lack any tax benefit from idle land, but just think about the economic impact we are being denied by having a large reservoir in our back yard. Imagine what will become of Wallis once it becomes a waterfront community. Think of all the fishing, boating and other recreational opportunities and support industries that will spring up around Allens Creek Reservoir. All of this is being denied us by Houston’s complacency.

On the other end of this spectrum, it’s no secret the Houston is cash-strapped and deep in debt. The BRA is ready to drop $23 million in its coffers and the city is resisting. That’s absurd!

Besides, no one is saying that future water rights will be denied to Houston. The city will still be positioned to negotiate for water rights in the future when it needs it. Should Houston never need the water rights it would continue to sit on the land and deny its neighbors the opportunity to grow and expand as they see fit. That’s why we needed the Legislature to step in and force Houston’s hand.

It’s time for Houston to fish or cut bait on Allens Creek Reservoir. The rest of the region needs it worse than Houston does and it’s wrong for the city to deny us the opportunities we deserve and have waited so patiently for.

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