The SJRA was originally created by an act of the 1937 Texas Legislature as the San Jacinto River Conservation and Reclamation District, with the broad responsibility to improve and protect the soil and water resources in the San Jacinto River watershed (the legislature changed the name to San Jacinto River Authority in 1951). Created as an agency of the state, the SJRA had a mission and purpose, but no funding in the early years. Because the SJRA was unable to levy taxes and had no other funding source, the 1939 Legislature passed the Tax Remission Bill, granting to the SJRA a 50% remission of the ad valorem taxes on all counties within the Authority’s service area. The bill was effective for 10 years and gave the Authority the funding it needed to start engineering studies on the watershed, and to begin providing soil and water conservation services to the local property owners. With over 5,000 farms and ranches in the watershed that were in need of help with soil erosion control and rebuilding depleted soils, the task ahead was daunting. However, with the purchase of approximately $50,000 worth of equipment, the effort began.
During the early 1940’s, the Federal Works Agency built an extensive supply system to supply water to the war industry in the Ship Channel area. Consisting of a pumping station on the lower reach of the river and canals on both sides of the river, water was delivered to Humble Oil and Refining’s Baytown refinery, as well as to other important industries to support the efforts of World War II. To assist in this effort, the board of the SJRA passed a resolution on June 4, 1943, assigning to the Federal Works Agency all of the Authorities water rights for the duration of the war and twelve months thereafter. In return, the Authority received $1.00 per year, and all water rights were to be returned at the end of the designated period. After the war, the City of Houston, the Federal Works Agency, and the SJRA reached an agreement, and on April 25, 1945, the Authority purchased the portion of the canal on the east side of the San Jacinto River, and the City of Houston purchased the canal on the west side. The purchase price of $862,572.78 was paid from bond sales and the tax remission funds mentioned above.
The SJRA began its first steps in the water business, with a canal system and reservoir in Highlands, Texas. Shortly after acquiring the canal system, contracts were signed with Humble Oil (Exxon Mobil Corporation today) to provide 20 million gallons of water per day to their Baytown refinery, and soon began to provide irrigation water for up to 5,000 acres of rice, soybeans, and grass farms in the northeastern part of Harris County.
Today, the Highlands Division maintains and operates a pump station on Lake Houston, a canal system running from Lake Houston to a 500-acre reservoir in the Highlands area, and additional canals running from the reservoir east to Chevron Phillips Chemical Company Refinery and south to Exxon Mobil Corporation’s Baytown refinery. A number of municipal customers purchase raw water from the canal, including Crosby, Newport, and Barrett Station. Rice farming has all but disappeared in the area, but several commercial nurseries and large grass farms rely on the SJRA for raw water, and industrial users purchase over 80 million gallons of water per day from our canal system. With over 25 miles of canal to maintain, 40-plus road crossings, several large pump stations, and industrial customers that require uninterrupted water supply, the Highland’s facilities operate 24/7, 365 days a year.
An interesting fact that many Lake Conroe area residents don’t realize is that Lake Conroe was built with bond funds that were guaranteed by revenue from our contract with Humble Oil and Refining, and our current contracts with Exxon, Chevron, and other industrial customers provide most of the operating revenues the SJRA uses to maintain its operations, including maintaining and operating Lake Conroe.