AWBD founders sought to help Texas water districts share information, face challenges together.
While today there are over 1,350 water and Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs) in Texas it was certainly not the case back in the 1970s before the Association of Water Board Directors (AWBD) was formed. In the early 1970s – the “early days” as Bob Jones, former owner of the Jones & Carter civil engineering firm, remembers – there weren’t even MUDs in Texas yet.
There was, however, a lot of land development in the Houston area which resulted in the creation of a new water district for essentially every 300- to 400-acre project. Each new water district meant the appointment of a new director, and really no rules or guidelines for this growing number of entities to follow, says Bob.
“There was not a whole lot of history or shared information for a director to look at to know or find out what their job was,” says Bob. “They didn’t have any resources they could rely on to help them make informed decisions.”
Water board directors needed information on taxes and bonds, operating decisions in different scenarios, locating engineers for special projects, legal guidance, and other common issues.
Bill Callegari – who in the early 1970s was an engineer for a firm that primarily did oil and gas business but got involved in municipal engineering to design water and wastewater plants – worked on some noteworthy water district development projects including The Woodlands, the West Harris County MUD, and the Park 10 project. Bill, who later led his own environmental services firm, says as he and his colleagues did more work with water districts in the 1970s, they noticed that they were having the same conversations over and over again.
“Everyone recreated the wheel,” Bill says. “We would go to this meeting with this attorney and engineer, and they would have this problem, and then we would go to the next meeting with an attorney and engineer who would be experiencing the same problem. We got to thinking that we ought to put a group together so we could learn from each other. That was the crux of how the Association of Water Boards got started: How do we learn from each other and not have to recreate the wheel over and over again?”
Bill says he approached the need for an organization from an engineering perspective. AWBD co-founder Joe Allen, the founding partner of Allen Boone Humphries Robinson, LLP, says he came across the same legal issues time and again, which prompted him to get involved in creating the association so that water districts could consult with each other on the common legal issues they faced.
Annexations of water districts (like with Clear Lake and Kingwood), bond issues, compliance – these were important challenges that were shared by water districts, says Joe.
“Water districts not only needed to come together to discuss these common issues, but they also needed a voice in dealing with the Texas Legislature,” Joe says.
The government routinely enacts laws that directly or indirectly impact water districts. Therefore, it was important to not only get guidance on laws affecting water districts, AWBD members would benefit from professionals and consultants that could help them have a say in creating these laws.
As Bill, Joe, Bob, and the other early members of the AWBD got together to create this organization, they began holding annual conferences. Annual conferences later turned into semi-annual conferences. Today, with technology being what it is, members often connect daily.
The AWBD continues to gain members from all over the state and has evolved into exactly what these founders sought:
Colleagues working together and sharing information toward a common goal – the betterment of Texas water district operation and management through education, unification, and advocacy.