LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE
as of August 25, 2019
Is it hot enough for you? July and August are always difficult months for us in Texas. We don’t want to work outside. Our lawns and gardens are suffering. Our water and AC bills are high. I try to remind myself it’s the price we pay for the “other wonderful 10 months” we so much get to enjoy living here. I’m leaving for Lake Tahoe next week to beat the heat. I miss 60 degree lows and 80 degree highs! Here’s what’s going on around Lake Conroe when we’re not complaining about the weather:
AQUATIC PLANT AND FISH UPDATE: A Stakeholder’s Meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) and anglers was held on August 15. A survey of Lake Conroe’s plant and fish populations is currently being conducted by TPWD and should be completed for release by the end of September. Significant information from their 2018 survey showed Hydrilla only in TPWD “test cages” (0.003 acres), 3 acres of Water Hyacinth, 13 acres of Giant Salvinia, 28 acres of Alligator Weed, and only 135 acres of native plants (down from over 2,000 acres in 2006). The reduction of Hydrilla and native plants is directly attributable to the 2006-2008 White Amur Grass Carp releases (about 125,000 Grass Carp).
TPWD estimates that 1,605 Grass Carp remain in Lake Conroe at this time, and that they have kept both Hydrilla and native plants at low numbers. Further, they project a resurgence of both Hydrilla and native plants in the not-too-distant future as Grass Carp numbers decline and their appetite diminishes with age. A program similar to 2006-2008 (with 125,000 Grass Carp introduced) is not the plan going forward. While it all-but-eliminated Hydrilla, it badly decimated the important native plant population. Native plants are vital to a healthy Lake Conroe in terms of water quality, controlling soil erosion, and providing fish habitat.
TPWD laid out a preliminary plan to control future Hydrilla resurgence. It involves a minimal Grass Carp stocking (as few as 500 in a first stocking) as soon as Hydrilla appears coupled with an extensive herbicide campaign with a new product called ProcellaCOR. The benefits of ProcellaCOR are that it is proven to kill Hydrilla while providing only minimal damage to native plants. Unfortunately, it comes at an expensive price tag and will mostly likely require some cost-sharing between TPWD, SJRA and the LCA. The LCA is prepared to do its part. Until Hydrilla re-appears, let’s just enjoy our beautiful lake and know that a cooperative, effective plan will be developed between all the Stakeholders. Any new information will be shared with you upon receipt.
SJRA SEASONAL LAKE LEVEL ADJUSTMENT PROGRAM: As you are witnessing, the lake level of Lake Conroe is being intentionally lowered once again by SJRA under their Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Program. Framed as assisting those downstream (i.e. Kingwood) with flood control during typically high rain months and to cooperate with a dredging program on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, SJRA has lowered the lake to an elevation of 199.46’ MSL (mean sea level) as of today and will continue to lower the lake until it reaches an elevation 199’ MSL – or 2 feet below the standard pool elevation of 201’ MSL. SJRA will maintain that lake level of 199’ MSL through September 30, 2019, and then allow the lake to return to a level of 201’ MSL thereafter (assuming it rains). The LCA opposes this program and has voiced its displeasure at SJRA Board Meetings and to any elected official who will listen. Clearly, the Board of Directors of SJRA doesn’t care to listen as they have voted unanimously two (2) years in a row to lower our lake level. The SJRA vote to continue, modify or discontinue this program for 2020 will occur in February, 2020. The LCA is working to encourage a change to the current program. More to follow.
LCA MEMBERSHIP DRIVE: In May, 2019, the LCA notified its members that we needed to comply with regulations that apply to 501 (c) 3 Non-Profit Organizations by determining the true quantity of our membership. That “quantity” is required to determine a “quorum” for annual voting purposes. Since we had not requested donations since 2006 and so many people had moved (or changed contact information), we could not adequately quantify that membership number. We asked those desiring to continue as a LCA Member to make a donation of $10 or more. While we have 3,006 individuals/families/businesses in our database, those contributing $10 or more in this Membership Drive totaled 492. We are very appreciative of their donations. If you are in our database (3,006), you have received this LCA President’s Update and will continue to do so. But, only those 516 individuals/families/businesses making a donation will be provided a voting proxy at year end. Should you have not received our Membership Drive Request (or simply let it slip your mind) and desire to become a LCA Member, a donation of $10 or more can be mailed to Lake Conroe Association, PO Box 376, Willis Texas 77378. We are working to allow payment by credit card or electronic funds transfer in 2020 as this has been requested by our membership.
4 NEW INDIVIDUALS ELECTED TO LCA BOARD OF DIRECTORS: The LCA contacted 50 POA’s on Lake Conroe in May, 2019 to request volunteers to join the LCA Board of Directors. Over time, a Board ages; and new energy and ideas from incoming Board Members help to invigorate the organization. We interviewed 14 applicants for the positions. We are pleased to announce the following new LCA Board Members (and the sub-division in which they reside):
Kevin Lacy, Seven Coves
Paul Waits, Wildwood Shores
Mike McDuffie, Bentwater and Carlton Woods
Rob Hausler, Harbor Town
These volunteers join an existing LCA Board of Rich Cutler (Shelter Bay), Sue Wheatley (Del Lago Estates), Ben Richardson (Harbor Town and Palms Marina), Dawn Cleboski (Del Lago Sections 1 /2), Gene Barrington (Del Lago Section 3), and Mike Bleier (Bentwater). Should you have a future interest in joining the LCA Board, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AQUIFER PUMPAGE DEBATE: Prior to 2016, 100% of Montgomery County’s water supply was pumped from the Jasper Aquifer. As the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) was concerned about “over-pumping” the aquifer (and the lack of re-charge and fear of subsidence), its Board voted in 2009 to mandate a 30% reduction in the amount of water pumped from the Jasper Aquifer in Montgomery County by 2016. That 30% reduction was achieved by pumping from the Catahoula Aquifer as well as SJRA’s construction of its $500 million Water Treatment Facility (completed in 2015). Soon thereafter, certain entities criticized the LSGCD 30% reduction rule and the cost of buying water from SJRA. Those entities lobbied to change the LSGCD Board from a Governor-appointed Board to a publicly-elected Board; and, in 2017, The State of Texas approved the modification of LSGCD’s Board to publicly-elected. Much political hoopla followed, and a new LSGCD Board was elected by the public in 2018. That new Board made its immediate priority to eliminate the LSGCD 30% aquifer pumpage reduction regulation in a unanimous vote and submitted a revised plan to The State of Texas (with no limit as to how much water could be pumped from the aquifers). The State of Texas rejected LSGCD’s proposed Management Plan (unlimited pumpage from the aquifers) and instructed it to utilize management goals approved by groundwater districts in surrounding counties. Last month, a report released by Southern Methodist University (and funded by NASA and SMU) linked the over-pumping of water from aquifers to the movement of fault lines causing damage across Montgomery County. Who’s right? Will science or politics prevail? Does the cost of water trump environmental concerns? The debate goes on.
DREDGING CONTRACT EXTENDED ON WEST FORK OF SAN JACINTO RIVER: Subsequent to Hurricane Harvey and the devastation incurred in Kingwood and the surrounding area, a contract was executed with The City of Houston, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and The Corps of Engineers for the removal of sand and debris deposited during Hurricane Harvey in the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. That $69.8 Million contract allowed 270 days to remove 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment from a 2-mile stretch of the river above the Lake Houston dam by May 3, 2019.
The City of Houston has spent several months working with FEMA and The Corps of Engineers to determine how much additional material was deposited in the West Fork of the San Jacinto River near the entrance to Lake Houston. In early June, the Corps executed a modification to the West Fork San Jacinto River Emergency Debris Removal contract to dredge an additional 497,400 cubic yards of material that was deposited during Hurricane Harvey. Dredging is expected to be completed before the end of 2019 and the demobilization of equipment in early 2020. As best I can tell, the additional cost of this modification is in excess of $17 Million.
I update you on this project on the San Jacinto River since this contract was the primary reason the SJRA Board of Directors implemented their Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Program. With this contract projected to be completed by early 2020, the LCA feels that the SJRA Board should eliminate or modify the Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Program in its February, 2020 vote.
FEMA FLOOD CONTROL AWARD AND ADDITIONAL GATES TO BE ADDED TO LAKE HOUSTON DAM: FEMA has awarded Houston funds for the construction of 10 additional gates at the Lake Houston dam and detention basins in Inwood Forest. Per District E Councilman Dave Martin, the gates will “increase the flow out of Lake Houston significantly and won’t impact downstream residents”. U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw said the gates would “dramatically improve the city’s ability to manage Lake Houston’s water and accommodate heavy rainfall”. The Inwood Forest project aims to build 12 detention basins on a defunct golf course in Northwest Houston and hold the equivalent of 592 Olympic-sized swimming pools. According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, the two projects include $5.4 Million for permitting/design and $86.8 Million to construct the dam gates and basins.
OIL & GAS DEVELOPMENT ON LAKE CONROE: The LCA, in cooperation with The Center For Biological Diversity, stopped the lease of lands by The Bureau of Land Management in the Sam Houston National Forest for Oil and Gas exploration in 2016. Arguments were made that drilling around and under a water supply reservoir like Lake Conroe were not in the public’s best interests. In 2019, an independent operator has been acquiring rights to private lands around Lake Conroe for the same purpose. Information available to the LCA has been forwarded to SJRA for their consideration.
These pages should be enough to exhaust you by now. Should you have any questions or comments, you may contact the LCA via our website www.lakeconroeassociation.com or contact me directly at email@example.com. Thanks for your interest in our lake community.
Mike Bleier, President
Lake Conroe Association
Crested Floating Heart
Reservoir owners and operators in Southeast Texas are all familiar with the concept of non-native, or invasive, aquatic vegetation growing in their waters and the various management techniques available to help control their existence. Through close partnerships with local, state, and federal organizations, especially the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the Lake Conroe Division of the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) manages invasive aquatic plants, zebra mussels, and other invasive species on the Lake Conroe Reservoir. In addition, the Division has developed a program to establish and maintain native vegetation across the reservoir and sustain a suitable fisheries habitat.
Lake Conroe invasive species efforts have historically targeted three primary species of plants: Hydrilla, Water Hyacinth, and Giant Salvinia. Hydrilla is a submerged and rooted plant that generally grows in shallow water. Water Hyacinth is a floating invasive species with large purple flowers that bloom in the summer. Giant Salvinia also floats freely on the surface of the water and resembles a fern. Each one of these plants presents its own unique challenges, but all three can cause serious environmental, as well as economic havoc on an aquatic environment. Countless hours have been spent to keep these three plants under control on Lake Conroe.
(Source: Phil Petunyia)
(Photo Source: Bugwood.org)
(Photo Source: texasfarmbureau.org)
There are numerous ways in which invasive plants can get introduced into a body of water. The most common way for this to happen is when a boat that was not properly cleaned, drained, and dried travels from an infested lake to a non-infested lake. Just like the zebra mussel, plants are simply transported via boat and trailer from one lake to the other.
Another common way in which non-native plants are introduced to a lake is through the aquarium or water garden industries. Unfortunately, many invasive species are actually quite beautiful to look at and, though illegal to possess, are relatively easy to purchase. Finding plants to stock these outdoor features is often as easy as a few clicks on the internet. There are many ways that garden plants can end up in a local body of water. Often it’s through disposal, but they can also be carried by animals such as birds and reptiles or rising waters during a storm.
Crested Floating Heart
Recently, a fourth invasive plant known as Crested Floating Heart has been identified in Lake Conroe. This is a rooted plant with heart-shaped leaves that float on the water’s surface. The plant was first identified on Lake Conroe in the headwaters of Little Lake Creek.
In the aquatic plant management world, the ability to positively identify plants is the single most important skill a manager can have. One must be able to distinguish between native plants and non-native plants at any time of season.
Crested Floating Heart
Crested Floating Heart is a rooted plant with heart-shaped leaves that float on the water’s surface.
One of the key indicators that allows aquatic plant managers to positively identify Crested Floating Heart is the distinct ridge that runs down the middle of its leaf petals.
(Photo Source: www.texasinvasives.org)
Banana Lily, a plant native to the Southeast United States, can easily be mistaken for Crested Floating Heart.
Banana lily is a perennial plant with leaves that arise from “banana-shaped” rhizomes on the long slender petioles
(Photo Source: plantsrescue.com)
In the case of Crested Floating Heart, this can prove to be a challenge as many native plants resemble Crested Floating Heart. In particular, Banana Lily, a plant native to the Southeast United States, can easily be mistaken for Crested Floating Heart. One of the key indicators that allows aquatic plant managers to positively identify Crested Floating Heart is the distinct ridge that runs down the middle of its leaf petals.
Fortunately, this plant has been positively identified and treatment has already started. The plant was identified on October 30, 2018, and technicians from the TPWD were on Lake Conroe on November 2, 2018, making the initial treatment applications. The treatment of choice is a relatively new herbicide that is safe for the environment and poses no threat to public safety, yet is highly effective on this invasive plant. Only specially-trained applicators are permited to purchase and apply this new product. Technicians with SJRA, in addition to local area contractors, are scheduling to be trained on this product, so that they too can join in the fight.
Erradicating an invasive plant like Crested Floating Heart is usually not possible on a body of water as large as Lake Conroe, but that is the goal of our efforts. What is more likely is that this plant will become a regular part of the on-going aquatic plant maintenance program for Lake Conroe.
Finally, a special warning to boaters. One of several ways that this plant can reproduce is through fragmentation. This means that if a piece of the plant is broken off by a boat propeller or some other means, it can float away and reestablish as an entirely new plant. For this reason, boaters and recreational enthusists on Lake Conroe should take special precaution not to damage plants if they see them. To learn more about this plant please visit:
LCA President’s Update as of November 17, 2018
The lake goes down. The lake goes up. And so has been the story of Lake Conroe since our last LCA President’s Update dated July 29, 2018 when the lake level was 200.52 msl (mean sea level). The San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) began releasing water from Lake Conroe as part of its “seasonal adjustment strategy” on August 1 when they reported a lake level of 200.61. By August 31, SJRA reported its “temporary flood mitigation goal” of 199.0 had been reached and releases from Lake Conroe were to end (subject to future rains). So, of course, it began to rain; so much so that over 11 inches of water were released between September 1 and 13 to again reduce the lake level to 199.0. Gradual rains initiated lake level increases in early October, and then we were inundated with a storm averaging 3.96 inches of rainfall across the watershed such that by October 17 Lake Conroe had risen 1.26 feet and exceeded the normal pool elevation of 201.0 once again. Considerable rain occurred in the northern portion of our watershed and SJRA reported they “wouldn’t be surprised to see runoff continue for a week or more” and “when the ground is fully saturated, we’ve seen 3 or 4 inches of rain result in 15 to 20 inches of lake level rise. It’s amazing how much difference soil saturation makes”. And so we have lived with seemingly endless days of rain throughout October and early November where Lake Conroe has exceeded 201.0 for 32 of the past 48 days. Today’s lake level is reported to be 201.07.
Many of our LCA Members have expressed their dissatisfaction with SJRA’s “seasonal adjustment program” and the lowering of Lake Conroe by 2 feet. In response, we communicated with 55 POA’s on Lake Conroe and numerous businesses to request documentation of difficulties experienced as a direct result of lowering the lake level to 199.0. Many thanks to those of you who submitted responses. We have built a file with the intention of presenting your concerns to the SJRA Board in January, 2019. We anticipate that the SJRA Board will vote in February, 2019 as to whether to continue their “seasonal adjustment program” in 2019 under similar parameters (1 foot reduction March 1 – April 30 and 2 foot reduction August 1 – September 30), modified parameters, or no reduction at all.
SJRA’s “seasonal adjustment program” was initiated in response to flooding in the Kingwood and surrounding areas during Hurricane Harvey and the subsequent Corps of Engineers dredging project of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. That $69.8 million project funded with FEMA monies saw dredge staging begin July 19, 2018, general debris removal/disposal and dredging begin September 21, and demobilization and cleanup to be completed by May 14, 2019 (subject to allowable delays). The aim of this project is to remove 1.8 million yards of sediment deposited as a result of Hurricane Harvey. The LCA receives monthly project updates from the Corps Supervisor responsible for this project.
It should be noted that Harris County voters approved a $2.5 billion flood bond package in August, 2018. Within this bond package, approximately $50 million was been earmarked as “permissible for dredging of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston to remove debris and sediment deposited before Hurricane Harvey”. We envision that supporters of these dredging projects will attempt to utilize these $50 million immediately upon the completion of the current Corps project so as to avoid the removal of dredge equipment from the site and incur the significant start-up costs associated with transporting/setting up out-of-state dredge equipment to the site for the possible 2019/2020 project.
The LCA toured the Kingwood area in May, 2018 to review residential/business devastation and significant sediment deposits (sand bars) resulting from Hurricane Harvey. We were escorted by a very knowledgeable, energized volunteer named Bob Rehak who has expended endless hours attempting to promote the restoration of the Kingwood area as well as programs to reduce flooding in the future. His website, reduceflooding.com, provides much background on the situation should you be interested.
NEW SJRA BOARD MEMBER: Governor Abbott’s Appointment Office has appointed Ms. Brenda Cooper to the SJRA Board. Brenda is a Walden resident and someone active in our community. The LCA welcomes her as an advocate of issues involving Lake Conroe, its residents and local businesses.
NEW AQUATIC INVASIVE SPECIES ON LAKE CONROE – CRESTED FLOATING HEART: SJRA and Texas Parks & Wildlife (TPWD) have identified an invasive species new to Lake Conroe named Crested Floating Heart. This invasive is a rooted, floating leaf plant with heart-shaped leaves and showy white flowers. It is deemed highly invasive due to its unique reproductive habits which include daughter plants that develop on the stem, eventually break free, and float away to become rooted in another location. Further, this plant can reproduce by fragmentation which can be particularly difficult to control since any kind of physical damage to the plants will accelerate their invasion. Fragmentation can occur naturally by insect grazing or storm events, but it is more commonly caused by humans in areas where there is a lot of recreational use and boat traffic (sound like Lake Conroe?). It has been primarily identified in the back of Little Lake Creek (the area northwest of the bridge going over Lake Conroe and towards the town of Montgomery on FM1097) although it has been also identified downstream of that bridge. Remediation has been initiated by SJRA and TPWD via a spray crew from TPWD Jasper applying a new herbicide called Procellacor. Approximately 14 acres were treated on Friday, November 2. Reports of this invasive elsewhere have noted expansion from 20 to 2,000 acres in a period of two years where the plant has gone untreated. A photo of this plant is shown at the bottom of this letter.
LCA ANNUAL MEETING: The Annual Meeting of the LCA will occur on Thursday, January 17, 2019 at 10AM at the SJRA dam site office (3rd floor conference room) off Hwy 105. LCA Members and the general public are welcome. An overview of past year will be briefly provided, questions from attendees will be answered, and ballots will be counted for the 2019 LCA Board of Directors. We will be conducting our Annual Election of the LCA Board of Directors electronically this year (via e-mail) so as to reach the maximum number of eligible voters and reduce the administrative cost of printing and mailing ballots and envelopes. If you are a LCA Member, you should receive your e-mail voting package by December 27, 2018. As always, anyone interested in joining the LCA Board should contact us and attend one of our LCA Board Meetings held a minimum of every three (3) months. We are always looking for new individuals to join the Board and represent your sub-division and community.
Thank you for your interest and time in reviewing this LCA President’s Update. For additional information regarding the LCA, to review previous LCA President’s Updates, or to review links to relevant web sites, please visit us at www.lakeconroeassociation.com. To make a donation to the LCA, contributions may be mailed to Lake Conroe Association, P.O. Box 376, Willis, Texas 77378. Should you have any questions, you may contact us via the LCA web site or e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wishing you safety on the lake and a very happy holiday season.
Mike Bleier, President
LCA REQUEST FOR DOCUMENTATION FROM POA’S
Well, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) has completed lowering Lake Conroe’s lake level to 199’ as part of its “seasonal adjustment” program for the period August 1 to September 30, 2018. As you are aware, SJRA’s rationale behind this program is to allow Lake Conroe to hold more water in a significant rain event (and not release that water downstream) while the West Fork of the San Jacinto River is being dredged. Two (2) dredges measuring 90 feet long by 25 feet wide were transported in, reassembled, and dredging commenced September 6, 2018. The dredging contract is scheduled to be completed May 3, 2019.
The Lake Conroe Association (LCA) desires to gather documentation on the actual consequences of lowering our lake level to 199’. As part of that effort, we are asking POA’s around Lake Conroe to document how lowering the lake level to 199’ affects lake access for residents in your community/sub-division. A best case scenario would be taking 3-5 pictures of locations in your sub-division having the most difficulty with lake access. If pictures aren’t your thing, a brief written description of any problems your sub-division is having would suffice. We’d ask that you forward the pictures and/or written description to me at email@example.com so that the LCA may collect as much data as possible.
Time is somewhat of the essence. SJRA will maintain our lake level at 199’ only until either 1) when we get a significant rain event which requires us to not release water downstream (and our lake level is allowed to rise for downstream flood control), or 2) September 30. After September 30, any rainfall will be captured until the lake level returns to an elevation of 201’. It being September 12 today, you have a very narrow window of opportunity to help the LCA by providing the documentation. Please take a moment NOW and shoot those pictures while we’re at the 199’ elevation. We all know that placing the task on “future to-do list” risks having your more significant priorities delay ever getting to this project….and WE REALLY NEED YOUR HELP!
The LCA is in communication with SJRA on lake level reductions. The LCA is in communication with the Corps of Engineers (contracting entity on the dredge project) on the dredging program and will be obtaining monthly updates on project status. The LCA is meeting with local businesses to inquire whether lake level reductions to 199’ are affecting their revenue and profitability. And the LCA is working with 55 POA’s on Lake Conroe to both obtain “lake level documentation” and provide ongoing communication on this issue.
Again, PLEASE HELP US HELP YOU! Thanks, in advance, for your time and cooperation.
Mike Bleier, President
Lake Conroe Association