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Time to sunset the UGRA

by Vernon Harrison for TaxpayersWatch

 

     The Upper Guadalupe River Authority today is a governmental agency without a mission. There is nothing that it does that could not be taken on by other, better qualified agencies of the State of Texas and the Federal Government.

 

     UGRA cannot pass laws concerning the use of the river or any other matter, because the Texas Legislature has given exclusive jurisdiction for rivers to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Further, even if UGRA could pass rules or laws, it has no power to enforce them.

 

     The only water rights that UGRA has, they either acquired from the City of Kerrville in settlement over its failed water plant with the city, or it buys from the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. UGRA in turn sells water to over 40 private water utilities.

 

   The UGRA maintains an environmental laboratory that is licensed by the TCEQ and the Texas Department of Health. This lab could easily be maintained by Kerr County, since its functions are primarily to help with water quality and waste control which are functions of the county.

 

   Lately, the UGRA has been donating money it has obtained through taxes for volunteer efforts to clean up the river, and to a trust fund created in cooperation with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. Both efforts, even though they may be noble in purpose, would be better handled by a private rather than a governmental agency.

 

History of the UGRA

 

   In the 1930's, Texans began seeking ways to use government to create work and to solve some of the problems of the day, such as lack of power in rural areas, unrestrained flooding of rivers, and the new problem of pollution. The idea of "River Authorities" was born. The power to create such governmental bodies had been added to the Texas Constitution by an amendment in 1917 which became Section 59 of Article 16 of the Texas Constitution. The legislation to create the UGRA was passed by the Texas Legislature near the end of the legislative session of 1939. (NOTE: This was the time when the dams were being built on the Colorado River above Austin that eventually brought electricity to the Hill Country. The citizens of Kerr County probably envisioned something similar for Kerr County, but as things turned out the LCRA (with the help of Lyndon Johnson) provided power for all.)

 

   Until 1964, UGRA was a rather benign agency with little funding and little accomplishment. However, that changed as a result of legislation passed in the Legislature in 1957 that allowed for an election for the UGRA to have taxing authority. Finally an election in 1964 passed a tax. The UGRA was then set to find itself a place in government.

 

Purpose of the UGRA

 

     The UGRA was originally authorized to control, store and preserve water from the Guadalupe River, and use, distribute or sell water within its district (Kerr County). However, it was forbidden from depriving anyone from the right to impound water for domestic or commercial use, nor could it alter any laws concerning water rights. Also, it was not given any rights to the ownership of the water in the river. The ownership of the river water remains until today the property of the State of Texas, subject to the water rights attached to property that lies along the river as adjudicated by the state in the 1960's. In other words, in the beginning UGRA was just a fancy flood control district.

 

     In 1971, the legislature gave the UGRA authority to build and operate, for a fee, sewage disposal gathering and transmission facilities. But it did not give it authority to regulate new or existing private sewage systems.

 

The UGRA today

 

     The UGRA operates as an independent agency of the state of Texas with the power to tax and to borrow money, but with no real purpose. It has no authority to pass laws; that is the exclusive area of the Legislature. Even if it could pass laws, it has no authority to enforce any laws. In 1985, the Legislature passed major legislation to reorganize and to create one super-agency to conserve and protect the environment of Texas. That agency is now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The TCEQ has general jurisdiction over, among other things, water and water rights, water quality and enforcement of quality rules and standards, construction, maintenance and disposal of dams, and most importantly, the supervision of all districts created under Article 16, Section 59 of the Texas Constitution, ie. UGRA. (see Section 5.013 of the Texas Water Code)

 

Conclusion

 

     While there may have been a need for the UGRA when it was formed, and even for some time therefter, today all of its functions are duplicitous and are either performed by or should be performed by other agencies of the State of Texas. It is time to sunset the UGRA. It is a tax and spend governmental body that no longer serves any purpose other than to struggle for its own survival.

 

 

TaxpayersWatch for Kerr County
Webmaster Keely Vanacker