The Lake Conroe Division of the San Jacinto River Authority recently implemented a number of significant enhancements to its residential and commercial licensing programs on Lake Conroe, primarily related to boat dock licenses and lawn irrigation permits. With a full year of field implementation under our belt, we are happy to report that the improvements and upgrades have significantly increased the efficiency of our operations and the accuracy of our licensing records.
As a quick review, the SJRA regulates and licenses various activities on Lake Conroe including: commercial operations (marinas, boat/personal watercraft rentals, construction, dredging, etc.), docks, septic systems within 2,075 feet of the shoreline, and water sales for lawn irrigation. We do this for several reasons. The primary reason is to ensure that the lake remains safe for navigation by regulating the size and shape of docks so that structures don’t create dangerous obstructions. For example, the distance that docks may extend into the reservoir is limited by rule. In addition, the size of docks along narrow canals is limited in order to maintain enough room for navigation.
Another reason the SJRA regulates dock construction is to protect the property rights of lakefront homeowners. There have been numerous occasions in which one landowner has built or attempted to build a dock that extends in front of a neighboring tract. It is never fun to find ourselves in the middle of a dispute between neighbors, but because docks extending over the reservoir are built on SJRA property, we are forced to maintain rules to prevent encroachments and ensure safe and reasonable access to the water for all landowners.
The SJRA’s septic system regulations are intended to protect water quality. While the State of Texas maintains responsibility for public sewer systems, the SJRA has been delegated responsibility for private septic systems within 2,075 feet of the shoreline. This program will soon be expanded to include additional monitoring and enforcement in preparation for new water quality standards being implemented by the state.
ENHANCEMENTS AND RESULTS
The SJRA has been working with a number of new tools designed to enhance its licensing programs. The purpose of the new tools is to:
- lower our operating costs by taking advantage of new technologies;
- increase the accuracy and accessibility of our licensing records by upgrading our computer systems; and
- maintain consistent enforcement of our licensing rules by ensuring that all structures or operations that fall within the jurisdiction of one of our programs is in good standing.
The most useful enhancement to our licensing program has been our improved, GIS based data collection and storage system. The Lake Conroe Division’s licensing team is made up of both field and office personnel. Office personnel handle new applications, billing, collections, record keeping, etc., but field staff must travel around the lake by boat or car documenting all structures that are or should be licensed. Every item, whether it is a dock, septic system, irrigation pump, or commercial operation must be mapped and accurately recorded in the database, and this data must be shared between field and office personnel. To accomplish this, each item is assigned its own geospatial location in latitude and longitude which is visually displayed on a map. The map is also linked to the Montgomery County Appraisal District’s property maps and the SJRA’s licensing database, which contains all of the pertinent information for each entity (e.g. owners name & address, billing information, etc.). Any change made to either the map or the database is then reflected in the other via instant synchronization. This means that office and field staff can stay up to date on recent changes made by the other.
In addition to the map and database, there is a third tool which allows field staff to spatially identify structures on the fly. This is a handheld GPS device that is directly connected to the licensing database on a real time basis. Since the device is constantly acquiring satellite information, all that is needed is to bring it within close proximity to an object, click a button, and the information is ready to be posted to the map. Furthermore, since all new entries are assigned one particular color icon, the office team can quickly identify new structures that have been identified by field staff, research and locate the correct owners, and then make arrangements for billing and payment. Most of the research is done through the link in the mapping software to the Montgomery County Appraisal District’s records. However, some lakefront lots are not yet mapped by the county, and those must be researched in person at the District’s office on Gladstell.
With these new systems, the SJRA has been able to reduce the number of unlicensed docks to approximately 3 percent of the total number of docks on the lake. Of those licensed, 95 percent are mapped. Due to the difficulties presented by changes in ownership or address changes, we will always have a small percentage of unlicensed docks at any given time, but our ongoing enforcement efforts are keeping this number to a minimum.
In addition to licensing docks and commercial operations, the SJRA owns the water in Lake Conroe and sells raw water to a number of customers around the lake, including residents who use the water for landscape irrigation. We have approximately 500 licensed irrigation accounts. We are aware that the actual number of irrigation users may be higher, and we are making a concerted effort to inform all lake front landowners of the requirement to have a valid contract with SJRA in order to divert water from Lake Conroe. The license fee is very modest, and the application process is very simple, but it is important that everyone who uses water from the lake be properly licensed for a couple of reasons – first, the SJRA is required by its state water right permits to account for all water used or sold, and second, use of water out of Lake Conroe without the proper permission is a violation of state law.
We would like to think that most residents that use lake water without a permit simply don’t realize that there is a licensing requirement. If you are using lake water for irrigation and are not currently permitted, please contact our office, and we will be glad to help you complete the appropriate application. To date, it has not been necessary to resort to any type of enforcement on unlicensed irrigation users because of a board-approved grace period, but we have reached a point where legal enforcement will soon be necessary. All unlicensed water users are strongly encouraged to complete a residential irrigation application as soon as possible.