Experts Address Water Infrastructure Across the Region

On June 14, the West Houston Association held a Water Infrastructure Forum, featuring speakers Mike Turco, General Manager of the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, Don Ripley, Executive Director of the Coastal Water Authority, Bob Mitchell, Vice President of the newly formed Gulf Coast Protection District, and moderator Alia Vinson, Partner with Allen Boone Humphries Robinson.  

Mike Turco began the discussion with a brief history of subsidence issues in the greater Houston area dating as far back as 1906. With the growth of the Houston region, the lowering of land elevation, or subsidence, primarily due to drawing off surface water for local, municipal use has become a major issue for the region with a wide range of consequences including drainage, flood resiliency, and clean, potable water. The creation of the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District in 1975 precipitated regulations and conservation measures to stabilize the most degraded areas, but also highlighted the need for further strategic water infrastructure planning in order to provide clean, usable water. “This problem is coastal and inland, and no one person can solve it”, says Turco, “the solutions are collaborative”.  

Another partner in seeking these solutions is the Coastal Water Authority, represented at the forum by Don Ripley. The CWA was created by the Texas Legislature in 1967 to transport and deliver water to Houston, Deer Park and Baytown plus 100 industries along the Houston ship channel, which includes acquiring property and constructing facilities necessary for these purposes. Don took us all the way back a little over a century to demonstrate that Houston’s water system was created in the late 1800’s and that it did not take long to realize we needed more and better access to water regionally.  By 1938, the Houston Chronicle began running articles identifying the Trinity River as a possible surface water supply source. Through critical funding from the Texas Water Development Board, among others, the CWA is responsible for surface water supply projects, locally, including most recently the Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project moving raw water from the Trinity River Basin to the San Jacinto River Basin increasing the raw water supply to Lake Houston. Some of these infrastructure projects have been around a long time, though, and the issues of aging infrastructure and funding to maintain and make improvements is a critical one. Our region uses 500 million gallons of water per day. This requires extreme coordination efforts and a number of agencies and unsung heroes. Don reiterated Mike’s statement that these solutions are built on partnerships and collaborations.  

The newest partner in these collaborative efforts is the Gulf Coast Protection District, represented by their newly appointed Vice President Bob Mitchell. The GCPD, or “Ike Dike” as it has been called for the past several years, is a love song to international collaborative efforts, water infrastructure needs, flood resiliency needs, and an established recognition that regional, state and economic growth depend on addressing our flooding issues. The GCPD was created in 2021 to act as the non-federal sponsor of Coastal Texas and Sabine to Galveston projects. Since then they have convened an 11-member board of directors appointed by the Governor and County and have begun work on interlocal agreements; they will seek appropriations funding in 2023. Bob highlighted the importance of the Port of Houston to not just the region and state, but to the supply chain of the country. The Port of Houston is the number one export port in the nation, and coastal industries directly and indirectly support the rest of the country on a large scale. What happens here has significant economic impacts on the rest of the nation. This infrastructure project brings together efforts and expertise from Denmark, the Netherlands, engineering and economic experts, and passionate advocates who seek further collaborate with other local infrastructure partners such as the Coastal Water Authority and the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District to protect the greater Houston region from flood waters and provide pathways, sources and solutions for clean water. These are at the very heart of continued economic growth in our region.   

“The greatest challenges we face to our civilization in Houston were represented on that stage. Our great grandfathers wrote a check that now we have to cash. We have built our economy on the assumption that we will be able to deal with our water supply and subsidence issues.” Augustus Campbell, Executive Director of Association of Water Board Directors.