From the Lufkin Daily News


ANRA loses $50,000 water quality contract

LNVA general manager attributes move to 'Homeland Security'

By CHRISTINE S. DIAMOND

The Lufkin Daily News

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Lower Neches Valley Authority is seeking control of the Angelina and Neches River watershed in the name of

Homeland Security.

LNVA documents, submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, stamped "Homeland Security" to

prohibit their being seen by anyone requesting them through the Public Information Act, were recently released by

the U.S. Coast Guard to the Angelina and Neches River Authority. TCEQ legal spokeswoman Robin Smith said

Friday that two documents remain contested by the LNVA and have not yet been released. The same records have

since been requested by The Lufkin Daily News.

At the heart of the documents was LNVA's request to make its 1963 water rights to Sam Rayburn Reservoir trump anyone else's claim after that date.

This primarily affects municipalities, reservoirs like Lake Nacogdoches which came about after Sam Rayburn, and proposed lakes like Columbia and Fastrill, according to John

Stover, a Lufkin lawyer specializing in water law, and ANRA General Manager Kenneth Reneau.

When asked why LNVA was seeking these changes, LNVA General Manager Robert Stroder said, "I can't really disclose all this information without an attorney general's

opinion or an opinion from the Department of Justice." Stroder referred to federal regulations as to "why I am reluctant to discuss the critical nature of the infrastructure."

"What does Homeland Security have to do with this?" asked ANRA board member Karen Barber, of Jasper, earlier this month.

Stover suggested the changes stemmed from LNVA's proximity to the port of Beaumont and all the refineries, but "as to how it all relates, I'm not fully aware at this point,"

Stover said, speculating that LNVA is concerned there may not be enough water available to them.

"What LNVA usually wants, LNVA usually gets — and this scares me," Barber said.

LNVA vs. ANRA, and why they both matter

The LNVA, based in Beaumont, is to Sam Rayburn Reservoir and the lower end of the Neches River as the Angelina and Neches River Authority, which is based in Lufkin, is to

Angelina County's surrounding watershed and future Lake Columbia.

Each water authority is charged by the state to conduct water quality tests throughout their section of the region and maintain water quality.

What most people don't realize is that while ANRA is charged with overseeing any septic systems within 2,000 feet of Sam Rayburn Reservoir and overseeing water quality

tests on the lake and surrounding tributaries, the water itself belongs primarily to LNVA — except for a small portion owned by the city of Lufkin.

The 28,000 acre-feet of water Lufkin owns is "a drop in the bucket" compared to the lake's total 2.85 million acre-feet, said Lufkin Assistant City Administrator Keith Wright.

The cost of these state-mandated responsibilities in 2001 led former ANRA board president Jack Sweeny and Barber to meet with LNVA about helping fund the lakeshore

septic system quality control program as well as some water quality sampling associated with the Clean Rivers Act, Reneau said.

LNVA agreed they were the direct benefactor of Sam Rayburn Reservoir's water quality and began funding $50,000 a year for these two programs, Reneau said.

This funding, Reneau said, was suddenly cancelled following their request for information about LNVA's application to amend its water rights.

"The timing is what caught us," Reneau said of their request for information and LNVA's cancelling its funding.

ANRA has taken no position on the request; they simply were seeking information to understand how it, particularly Lake Columbia, would be impacted by the changes, Reneau

said.

Officials with LNVA have refused to disclose or answer reporters' questions as to why it pulled out of its contract with ANRA.

"It's pretty sensitive, but it has nothing to do with what ANRA is doing," Stroder said. "LNVA is considered critical infrastructure by Homeland Security."

When asked to clarify in what manner LNVA is considered critical infrastructure, Stroder said, "I can't talk about it."

Lab work and testing formerly done by ANRA, however, must now be done by LNVA, Stroder said.

Changes sought

LNVA contacted Lufkin, seeking the city's support, about the changes in January.

"The purpose of the proposed amendment is to remove special conditions which pose a threat to the long-term viability of the water right," Scott Hall with LNVA wrote.

These special conditions mean if Dallas were to build Fastrill Reservoir, the city's right to pull water from the Neches River, or ANRA's right to pull water from Mud Creek into

Lake Columbia would each trump LNVA's older right to water downstream for Rayburn.