Houston files lawsuit to maintain water rights over future reservoir

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In an effort to hold on to water rights from a proposed reservoir in Austin County, the city of Houston took legal action July 22.

House Bill 2846, which was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 2, requires Houston to sell all rights to the proposed reservoir back to The Brazos River Authority for no more than $23 million.

Houston acquired the rights in 2002 to 70% of the reservoir’s water, which is yet to be constructed, and The Brazos River Authority was granted the remaining 30%, according to court documents.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement July 22 the city calculates its rights to this water supply to represent 15% of the future water supply needed to accommodate Houston’s population growth. Much of this water would be allocated to West Houston and Fort Bend County because the city of Houston manages the Greater Houston-area water supply, court documents state.

“Houston will fight to keep the resources necessary to ensure that the city can grow and Houstonians’ needs are met,” Turner said in a statement July 22 regarding the city’s lawsuit filed against the state of Texas and The Brazos River Authority.

The lawsuit claims the bill violates the Texas Constitution and that the bill’s intention is to allow the river authority to sell water rights for “industrial uses.”

A spokesperson for the authority said the state of Texas grants the river authority the ability to sell water rights for municipal or commercial use, and it sent a proposed $23 million contract to city of Houston officials after the bill was signed into law that went unanswered.

One of the authors of the bill, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said the city has not shown intention of building a reservoir on the site any time soon and the state is missing out on opportunities for industrial investment and job opportunities that can come of selling the water rights.

“The state of Texas can demonstrate a need for these water rights because we have municipalities and industries that need it today, and Houston wasn’t motived to build on it,” Larson said.

Another author of the bill, state Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, said the bill will help spur the development of the reservoir.

“For over three decades, the city of Houston has had the opportunity to develop Allens Creek in Austin County but failed to do so,” he said. “HB 2846 will allow The Brazos River Authority to move forward with the Allens Creek Reservoir project to expand the water supply for the region and accomplish what the city of Houston never did over three decades. I was proud to joint-author this legislation, allowing the Allens Creek Reservoir project to finally become a reality.”

Larson said the city can still petition for some of the water rights back, but its current jurisdiction over the Trinity River Basin and other water sources indicate the city will not be in need of increased water supply for decades to come.

“This is a state of Texas issue,” Larson said. “It’s a lot bigger than the city of Houston.”

Editor’s note: This post has been updated with additional comments.

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Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered health care and public education in Austin.
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