State auditors have discovered that one county’s groundwater conservation district wasn’t just failing in its required management plan goals, it wasn’t even trying.
A recent audit of five groundwater conservation districts revealed that Starr County’s district didn’t have any revenues or expenditures for the fiscal year 2017 because the district asserted — in writing — it had determined that funding the program wasn’t “economically viable or feasible.”
The district asserted it was “not an active entity” and would remain inactive for the “foreseeable future.” Because of that, the district only achieved one of seven management plan goals and one of five Texas Water Code requirements that were examined.
The only goals and state law requirements the district met pertained to establishing rules for permit fees, requirements, enforcement, penalties and more. Starr County failed to meet such goals or requirements as having regular board meetings, participating in joint meetings with other conservation districts, monitoring water levels and addressing conservation.
Texas Water Code requires such conservation districts to develop plans on how to conserve, protect and prevent waste of groundwater. There are 100 of them in the state.
The Texas Water Development Board approved Starr County’s current management plan in 2014, and it remains valid until July 25, 2019 even as the district remains inactive.
“Failure to achieve management plan goals increases the risk of wasting groundwater resources, failing to conserve those resources, and not meeting desired future conditions,” auditors wrote.
Starr County didn’t submit a management’s response to the auditor report. Baldemar Garza, listed as the manager of the conservation district on the Texas Water Development Board’s website, didn’t return a call from The Texas Monitor seeking comment.
Merry Klonower, communications director for the Texas Water Development Board, told The Texas Monitor that her agency’s role is technical and non-regulatory.
“We provide them with technical information on their management plan and review their plans when complete,” she said. “We do not have any authority to require districts to be active.”
Klonower said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) can conduct a management plan noncompliance review and take action if a district fails to perform according to their management plan.
Auditors recommended that Starr County coordinate with TCEQ for guidance on determining appropriate resources to address district needs while also protecting its groundwater resources.
Although not nearly as in poor shape as Starr County, Terrell County Groundwater Conservation didn’t achieve four of seven management plan goals, but complied with all but one of the Texas Water Code requirements. Terrell County didn’t address conjunctive surface water management issues, natural resource issues, drought conditions or conservation.
Auditors rate this lack of action as a high concern, meaning that if the issues are not quickly addressed, they could substantially affect Terrell County’s ability to effectively administer its program. Starr County’s issues were listed as priority, meaning that immediate action is required to address the concerns.
Johnny Kampis can be reached at [email protected].