SJRA Sunset Review Now Underway
Almost a year ago, I posted about an upcoming sunset review for the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA). That process is now underway. The SJRA submitted a self-evaluation last September and the Sunset Review Commission is now accepting public comments.
The Commission will hold one public meeting on December 9th and 10th, before it makes a final decision about the SJRA on January 13.
The SJRA’s 131-page self-evaluation contains a wealth of information about how the SJRA perceives its performance. It will also give you insight into the challenges they face and how they are responding. I have limited discussion below to SJRA’s flood management division, because that is the focus of this website. The bottom of the post contains information about how to make a public comment if you wish.
Surprising Flood Management Objective
Interestingly, the SJRA does not list Flood Management under its Mission, Principles, or Objectives. It does list Flood Management as a Key Function. However, when asked “Do your key functions continue to serve a clear and ongoing objective,” the SJRA had an interesting response.
“In 2018, SJRA created the Flood Management Division to actively seek federal, state, regional, and local partnerships to coordinate flood management activities across the entire San Jacinto River basin, including Harris County. Flood planning and management activities are typically carried out and funded by local taxing entities since the purpose is to protect life and property.”SJRA Self-Evaluation Report to Sunset Commission, Page 9, September 2019, emphasis added
They see themselves more as a coordinator than doer. The report then goes on to say, “SJRA did not have taxing authority and therefore was limited in its ability to implement large regional flood management projects….”
Two years after the governor told the SJRA to get into the flood management business and identify sources of funding, the SJRA still has not found the golden goose. In eleven separate places in the document, the SJRA cites a lack of taxing authority as the problem. It also makes several references to the failed initiative to establish a Montgomery County Flood Control District. The proposition failed by a vote of 1,222 “For” and 2,714 “Against” … IN 1985 … 35 years ago!
Biggest Opportunities for Improvement
SJRA says it is constantly looking to improve its operations. “At this time, there are four areas in which we are focusing our efforts in order to improve operations and administration: (i) expanding use of technology and social media, (ii) public communications and engagement, (iii) comprehensive and uniform complaint resolution, and (iv) accessibility of historically under-utilized businesses.”
Flood management is not one of the opportunities for improvement.
Expenditures by Goal
Right now, the SJRA is paying salaries for flood management out of water revenues. The River Authority spent roughly $150,000 in 2018 and budgeted $180,000 for 2019. That was roughly 0.14% of the SJRA’s total budget. And less than most people spent to repair their homes.
Flood management has 0.84 FTEs (less than one full-time employee). That’s because they split their time with other divisions.Page 32
For fiscal years 2019 and 2020, the Flood Management Division continues to be funded via SJRA Raw Water Enterprise revenues. The total budget for FY 2019 for the Division is $776,748.
Objective of Flood Management Division
The SJRA’s Flood Management Division describes following major activities:
- Developing short-term and long-term regional flood management strategies within the Authority’s portion of the San Jacinto River Basin
- Building partnerships with federal, state, and local government entities
- Identifying funding sources and opportunities
- Coordinating, collaborating, and potentially partnering with other entities throughout the entire San Jacinto River basin.
“The Flood Management Division oversees the partnership and implementation of planned and funded projects, including the transfer of operations and maintenance of completed projects to partnering entities,” the report says.
Evidence of Effectiveness and Efficiency of Flood Management
The SJRA says that evidence of its Flood Management success can be seen in applying for a flood protection grant in 2018, receiving it, and beginning the associated project in 2019.
Another example: Participation as a funding and technical partner in the Upper San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan study being managed by the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD).
Additionally, SJRA cites a “Know Your Watershed” campaign that will help provide the public with a better understanding of the watersheds they live in, as well as the sources of stormwater (i.e. rivers/streams, upstream watersheds, etc.) for those watersheds. The campaign consists of two tools: an online watershed viewer and an interactive story map that will give viewers an educational digital “tour” of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River.
SJRA also provided Senator Brandon Creighton with draft language for a bill that would allow the Authority to take a more active role in sedimentation management in the San Jacinto River basin. That language is included in House Bill 1824 of the 2019 Texas Legislative Session.
Finally, SJRA has been involved in a variety of other flood management related activities, including participation in various stakeholder groups, task forces, etc.
SJRA currently does not participate in any floodplain administration activities, nor does it have the authority to enact or enforce drainage infrastructure criteria or adopt development standards.
Major Issues for Flood Management
Funding. “Since Hurricane Harvey, SJRA has sought partners to fund feasibility studies in the hopes that federal and state funding could be matched with local and regional partners to develop flood management projects to help upstream and downstream land owners.”
“The recent passage of Senate Bills 7 and 8 and House Bill 26, along with a few other bills that were passed during the 86th Legislature, could lead to increased opportunities to create the necessary coordination to achieve meaningful, regional flood management strategies.”
They do not yet know what studies and/or projects will be funded. “It is also not yet known if and how local and regional partnerships will develop for flood management projects. However, it can be assumed that without more collaboration of regional flood management strategies and coordination of solutions, the region will continue to face flooding risks.”
Another potential solution: creation of tax-funded, regional entities that cover entire, or large portions, of major river basins. For example, the Harris County Flood Control District has the necessary legal authority and funding mechanism to implement flood mitigation projects, however, it covers less than half of the San Jacinto River basin. This solution would require legislation to implement.
Montgomery County leadership reportedly has little interest in flood control. Most see it as an expense to their taxpayers that benefits residents of other counties.
SJRA acknowledges that it faces multiple lawsuits associated with flooding that occurred during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Regarding those, it says, “The City of Houston is a two-thirds partner in the construction and operation of Lake Conroe and is therefore responsible for two thirds of the costs associated with the lawsuits. While current case law related to the liability of reservoir operators for downstream flooding is favorable, the ongoing costs of litigation is a significant burden related to the operations of the Lake Conroe Division.”
How to Comment by When
To review the entire self-evaluation report, click here.
To provide comments and suggestions to Sunset staff:
- Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Submit comments online at www.sunset.texas.gov
- Send a letter to Sunset Advisory Commission, Attn: SJRA, P.O. Box 13066, Austin, Texas 78711
- Call (512) 463-1300 and ask to speak to Alan Leonard, project manager of the SJRA review
Please provide your comments by July 31, 2020 to ensure Sunset staff can fully consider your input while conducting their review. Comments submitted before the staff report is published in November 2020 will remain confidential.
Stay informed! Visit www.sunset.texas.gov to sign up for email alerts on the Sunset staff report and the Sunset Commission’s public meetings on SJRA.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/11/2020
1019 Days after Hurricane Harvey