James Pulliam has served as director of the North Harris County Regional Water Authority District 3 since its implementation in 1999. The NHCRWA covers Jersey Village and a large area between west of Hwy. 290 to Hwy. 59, bordered by the Harris County line to the north and Beltway 8 to the south. Pulliam has been a resident of Jersey Village for more than 16 years and is a retired civil-structural engineer. He has more than 45 years of experience working in the petrochemical field, in which he designed concrete and steel structures and plant drainage systems.
Pulliam has volunteered his time and knowledge to the community as director of the Jersey Village flood committee and park committee and as president of the White Oak Bayou Association, through which he worked with the Harris County Flood Control District and the Texas Department of Transportation on improvements to hike and bike trails and detention basins. Pulliam most recently served as a member of the blacksmith group at Precinct 3's Kleb Woods Nature Reserve.
Can you describe the roles and duties of the NHCRWA?
The NHCRWA was created in 1999 by the Texas Legislature and voted into power by the citizens of the area that same year. Its primary responsibility is to change the water source for the majority of the 600,000 residents of the NHCRWA from ground water to surface water in three steps to stop the subsidence in the area: 30 percent of the citizens on surface water by 2010, 60 percent on surface water by 2025 and 80 percent on surface water by 2030.
What are some of the challenges facing regional water authorities throughout Houston and the state?
More than 1,000 people a day move to Texas—about 300 to Houston—and they all need water. Where is that water going to come from in a state that has only one natural lake? The answer is the same answer reached after the drought in the 1950s: more reservoirs need to be built to contain water for citizens that need it. The Harris County Flood Control District is an outstanding government organization doing a very important job for our area with outstanding people and insufficient funding. The area needs many more detention facilities. Funding is needed for more detention projects.
What are some specific challenges that face District 3?
Educating the citizens on the need to conserve water in their homes and businesses. I am afraid the only way conservation works is to increase the price of water. Water has been too cheap for too long. Anything inexpensive will be wasted, and anything expensive will be conserved. I know people will pay more for water—they pay more for bottled water than gasoline. Gasoline is much more difficult to make than clean water.
Subsidence has been occurring because of residents' dependency on groundwater. What are some possible solutions to this issue?
The only solution to subsidence is to reduce the pumping of ground water. The area needs to develop other sources of water. Other sources and procedures include more surface water from the Trinity River through the Luce Bayou project; surface water from the Brazos River; extensive conservation; reuse of the water we put down the drain; rain water capturing on homes and businesses on a big scale; develop the brine below us and—a novel idea—pull the water out of the high humidity in the air.
If kept at the current rate of consumption, where do you see your district in the next decade?
District 3 has some room for development in the future. I don't think that development will consume the amount of water the other four districts will consume and need. The other districts have more undeveloped land and will require more water. Which of these two actions by the NHCRWA will be better for the area? Allow new developments to drill wells and use ground water, or connect the new developments to our surface water system that is in the ground now—more than 70 miles of pipelines, a pump station and regional wells. We are starting to design and will soon build the 2020 system for the NHCRWA. The 2010 system went online on schedule and on budget.
What needs to happen over the next few years to ensure water services remain constant?
Texas needs more water for future citizen growth, period. That water will be expensive and will take time to make it happen. The Texas Water Plan needs to be built. The community needs to know about the Texas Water Plan that has had serious problems with funding over the years.
Partnerships are an important part of flood control and water service. Can you describe some of these?
At the beginning of the NHCRWA, several MUDs within the RWA were experiencing water quality and quantity problems and came to the RWA for help. We developed the Ground Water Transfer Program where we built part of the 2010 plan early, connecting several MUDs together. The MUDs that were having problems were connected to MUDs that weren't having problems—a win, win, win situation. This saved the MUDs many millions of dollars in cost for a new water well. [These partnerships] occur because the leadership makes it happen. The MUD leaders are all great leaders doing an outstanding job for the community and usually in the background. When they have a problem, they look for the most economical solution—and a partnership is that solution. Without these partnerships, water would cost a lot more than it does today.