The North Harris County Regional Water Authority has seen a change in leadership and the lowering of water rates since last fall—two historic moves for the authority.

In the Nov. 8 election, candidates Mark Ramsey, David Barker and Melissa Rowell unseated three long-term incumbents. In early 2023, the new board then voted to lower water rates for the first time in the authority’s 22-year history, effective Feb. 1.

The water authority is tasked with securing a long-term supply of drinking water for the North Houston region, including the Spring and Klein area.

Board President Ramsey said the new board members campaigned to hold water rates constant, but after finding a $30 million surplus in the operating budget in January, the board decided to reduce the rates.

Surface- and groundwater rates were reduced by $0.50 per 1,000 gallons.

“The reserves that were in several different accounts were far higher than what was a reasonable level,” Ramsey said. “So these rate cuts, in part, are funded by the rates being too high in the past.”

Ramsey said lowering the rates caused a $25 million loss in revenue. However, the reserve budget is still in excess of $300 million, he said.

Historical rates

Before 2023, NHCRWA water rates steadily increased every two years with the last raise in April 2021. Kelly Fessler, one of two remaining incumbents following November’s election, said the former board was not planning to raise rates this year.

“I believe the former board was on the right track to achieve our mandated surface water conversion, and if they had received the same guidance, it may or may not have reduced the rate,” he said.

Former NHCRWA President Al Rendl did not respond to requests for comment.

Ramsey said assuming local municipal utility districts pass the new rate through, he hopes to save residents tens of millions of dollars. However, Ramsey said some districts choose to add an administrative cost, which may still appear as an NHCRWA fee on the bill.

Harris County MUD 368 President Roy Lackey said at a February board meeting he voted to pass the new rate through as is. MUD 368 serves the area near Hufsmith-Kohrville and Boudreaux roads along Spring’s northern border.

“If [NHCRWA] isn’t charging us, we shouldn’t be charing our customers,” Lackey said.

Ramsey said he expects the initial rate cut to remain in place for at least four years for NHCRWA customers.

Ongoing projects

Ramsey said he anticipates no projects or services will be challenged by the loss in revenue. All water infrastructure projects are funded through the capital budget, which is not affected by the rate cuts, he said.

For example, the $1.4 billion Northeast Water Purification Plant expansion, which is taking place in Humble, treats Lake Houston water and turns it into drinking water for parts of Harris and Fort Bend counties.

Michael Turco, general manager of the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, said upon completion in 2024, the plant will increase treated water capacity from 80 million gallons per day to 400 million gallons per day.

Turco said the region’s primary water source has historically been from groundwater pumped out of the Gulf Coast Aquifer System. However, to avoid subsidence, or the sinking of the surface, the subsidence district developed a plan to reduce groundwater withdrawal.

The NHCRWA is required under the plan to reduce groundwater usage to no more than 40% of its total water supply by 2025, according to Turco. Ramsey said the NHCRWA has already converted around 31% of its water use.

Local impact

The board of directors for the Bridgestone Municipal Utility District—which serves neighborhoods north of Louetta Road and south of the Grand Parkway in Spring—opted not to pass along the savings from NHCRWA’s water rate cuts on Jan. 17.

At this meeting, Treasurer Martha Velazquez motioned to pass on the full $0.50 rate cut to residents, but none of the other board members seconded the motion. Velazquez said in each of the three scenarios the board considered, Bridgestone MUD would have had a projected revenue.

“We wouldn’t be losing any money. We’re in a position with a pretty healthy reserve,” Velazquez said.

Bridgestone MUD’s board ultimately decided to keep residents’ water rates the same since the district was being charged more by the NHCRWA from 2018-22 than Bridgestone MUD was charging residents, according to a March 7 statement from the MUD.

“Also, the district was concerned that the reduction would not be sustainable by the NHCRWA,” reads the statement.

Some local residents expressed concern regarding the board’s Jan. 17 decision.

“It’s basically like levying a tax without actually levying a tax,” Bridgestone resident Joe Marks said. “There’s additional revenue ... [for the Bridgestone MUD] now that wouldn’t be if they’d passed that savings on to the residents.”

Lin Laney, who is president of the Northcrest Village Homeowners Association, said he is worried about the MUD’s Jan. 17 decision.

“It probably only makes anywhere from $3-$10, maybe $15 [per] month difference in a water bill, but if you have a family ... that adds up,” Laney said.