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Q&A: Meet Aubrey Spear, the new general manager of the San Jacinto River Authority

Aubrey Spear
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Aubrey Spear assumed the role of general manager of the San Jacinto River Authority in January, overseeing operations of the entity that monitors water quality in the San Jacinto basin, provides water to municipal utility districts and other entities, and operates the Lake Conroe Dam. In 2023, the SJRA announced $700 million in infrastructure projects to support aging systems and a growing regional population.

The SJRA provides wholesale water to customers, which in turn provides retail customers with water.

Spear spoke with Community Impact on March 11. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What is your background, and how did it lead you to an interest in this position?

I spent 36 years … dealing with the water industry and water issues; the first 20 years I was in private business in engineering and business consulting to different entities. … The last 16 and a half years I’ve been the director of water utilities for the city of Lubbock. … Most everything that I see here at the SJRA is very similar to what I dealt with there, as far as the technology, treating water and wastewater. … The organization of our water utility is very similar in size to the SJRA as well. [The recruiting firm] came to me and knocked on my door, virtually, and knowing who I was and my background, they asked if I would be willing … to look at the opportunity, and at this point in my career, … it presented itself as a very interesting opportunity.

What do you see as the main water issues in the area served by SJRA?

Coming into this position, I am fully aware that … all of our customers are wholesale customers; we don’t have retail customers, but those retail customers are important. … They are the ones who use the water, ultimately. … I think the biggest challenges are going to be building … even more cooperation and consensus, and finding water solutions for a growing population here in this area, and that everybody be on the same page. … We live in a time where people generally don’t trust any entity that is government-related, and I think that it’s important that there’s a high level of communication and trying to build trust.

What are your immediate plans for your first year in this role?

I’m just now getting my arms around a lot of the projects, … and of course … I ask a lot of questions about, … “Why do we need this project?” … “Is this the best timing for it?” … Those that are definitely priorities that we need to move forward on, if they’re dealing with aging infrastructure that has a shelf life, we have to rehab certain facilities or we’re not going to be able to function. But if there are some that it doesn’t make sense this year to move forward, we’ll probably push those back.

What goals do you have for the SJRA?

I am here as a neutral party, in that I don’t have all of the political ties that a lot of people may have, or perceived ties. I am here almost as a fresh set of eyes on everything to see what is it that we can do to work together, moving forward in the future. We are still in the middle of a lot of legal issues. My goal is to reach out to all the entities involved and try to chart a path forward. We are working together cooperatively and trying to get on the same page with common shared values and goals.

How do weather patterns such as flooding and drought affect SJRA operations?

Part of our mission is also to seek to help mitigate flooding situations, and of course, at our lake we have to deal with … storm situations where you have a lot of rainfall come. We have to look closely at how high the lake levels get and preserve the dam integrity and those gates because if we can’t overtop our gates we have to start opening them to keep the lake level, … and it will be a worse situation.

What would you most like residents to know about the SJRA?

The message to residents … [is] I hope they all understand that water is our life, so they can live theirs. That may sound trite, but it’s real. We’re trying to do the best we can; we want to build that trust that we’re working on water supply issues so they don’t have to worry about it. We’re trying to keep the costs as competitive as possible within the constraints that we’re working with, and we are part of the community. We’ve got 170 employees that are spread out within the community in Montgomery County that care. It’s their quality of life as well; they want what’s best for this community.

What concerns might the SJRA have on its agenda for the next legislative session?

A lot of the time we watch a lot of this legislation, and as it pops up we say, ‘Whoa, what’s this?’ and try not to let it grow legs. There are some times that there is some good legislation that can be helpful, and that’s what we’re trying to look at and be proactive. For example, in this last biennium, overwhelmingly, the voters all voted for taking money out of the Rainy Day Fund and putting it into the water fund. And when you take a billion or two dollars and put it into the fund, the nice thing is this fund is not just money being given away to entities like the SJRA. It’s loan money, and The Texas Water Development Board … can get a lower interest rate, … so they can offer it to us, … and if it’s a couple percentage points lower than what we can do in the market, they can save us millions of dollars on some of these multimillion-dollar projects we’re doing.

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