LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE as of July 30, 2018

LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE

as of July 30, 2018

The LCA has been informed that the reduction of lake levels on Lake Conroe will begin this coming week. While a final press release is currently being completed by The City of Houston and the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), we can report the following:

1.      The current lake level on Lake Conroe is 200.52.

2.      Water will begin to be slowly released starting August 1 or shortly thereafter.

3.      The release rate should approximate no more than 1 inch per day which has been determined to be a “safe” rate for those downstream.

4.      Between this “1 inch per day release” and daily evaporation this time of year, we would estimate that the lake will reach its intended “seasonally adjusted level” of 199’ by August 16 (this is the LCA’s estimate and not a projection provided by SJRA).

5.      The objective would be to maintain Lake Conroe’s lake level at or near 199’ through September 30, 2018. Rainfall (and associated runoff) will temporarily increase that level and evaporation may decrease that level.

6.      Effective October 1, 2018, water will once again be collected from rainfall (and not released) and the lake allowed to naturally return to its normal pool elevation of 201’ (assuming it rains).

The primary rationale adopted by The City of Houston and SJRA for this “seasonal adjustment” is a) allow Lake Conroe to hold and not release water during small rain events, b) to keep water from being released into the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, c) while dredging is being completed on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) waived its enforcement of regulations on releasing water from Lake Conroe when the lake is at or below an elevation of 201’ SPECIFICALLY to support this “rationale”. Why is this fact important?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing this $69.8 million project. Under the contract terms, the dredging company awarded the contract has 270 days to remove 1.8 million yards of sediment from a 2-mile stretch of the river above the Lake Houston dam. A contract timetable calls for “general debris removal and disposal” and “dredging” to commence on August 20 and September 1, respectively; and calls for “demobilize and cleanup” to be completed by May 3, 2019. Given these contract terms and the “rationale” adopted by TCEQ, water SHOULD NOT BE RELEASED from Lake Conroe after May 3, 2019 unless the lake level exceeds 201’. We could see an SJRA Board and City of Houston-approved reduction of 1’ to a “seasonally adjusted” level of 200’ between April 1 and May 3, 2019, but we should not see any lake level reductions (“seasonal adjustments”) past May 3 on Lake Conroe in 2019.

Of course, contracts get modified, excessive rains can slow contract completion, and TCEQ can modify its “rationale”. The LCA’s future focus will be an ongoing review of contract completion and trying to hold everyone to this May 3, 2019 completion date. Look for SJRA and City of Houston’s press release this week for more specifics. We’ll keep you posted.

Mike Bleier, President

Lake Conroe Association

LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE as of June 17, 2018

We just received letters from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management. Copies of the letters will be posted to our LCA website. Key statements follow:

“As TCEQ understands, SJRA, in coordination with The City of Houston, have developed an emergency driven seasonal strategy for managing the water reservoirs during periods of heavy rainfall. TCEQ further understands that these measures would be utilized only on a temporary basis to mitigate flooding while dredging activities are completed. Those measures include releases under certain conditions from Lake Conroe or Lake Houston as determined necessary to mitigate impacts from future flood events. Additionally, according to SJRA, the lake lowering strategy would be reviewed and evaluated annually in February and must be agreed on by the SJRA Board and The City of Houston to continue.”

“As we move into the 2018 Hurricane Season, in which we have already seen one named storm, the Agency recognizes the need to protect public health and safety by addressing and mitigating potential flooding. Accordingly, if flood mitigation releases made under these conditions result in an exceedance of the annual permitted amounts authorized for diversion or release by SJRA or The City of Houston, the TCEQ Executive Director will exercise enforcement discretion with respect to such exceedance.”

In other words, SJRA WILL BE LOWERING LAKE LEVELS ON LAKE CONROE.

Further, WATER RELEASED FOR FLOOD CONTROL WILL NOT COUNT AGAINST THE APPROXIMATE 5’ OF WATER AUTHORIZED PER YEAR FOR WATER SALES AND/OR CONSUMPTION.

I release this information prior to newspaper publication or discussion amongst the LCA Board in an effort to get this information to you immediately. As the LCA Board has not yet discussed this new information, I have no report on any next action by the LCA.

For all of us on Lake Conroe, this is not good news. As written to me by State Representative Metcalf, “This is obviously not the news we were hoping to hear. Senator Nichols and I will continue to work with our colleagues and others in Austin and Montgomery County to ensure the most protection possible for Lake Conroe.”

From some of you, we expect to hear an outcry for litigation. I am not a lawyer, but I’m guessing it’s an uphill (and extremely expensive) battle to fight decisions made by TCEQ, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Division of Emergency Management…..and endorsed by Governor Abbott. For the lawyers in and around Lake Conroe, I’m certainly open to your feedback. The LCA does have lawyers who have offered assistance in this matter, and we will contact them for feedback as well.

Mike Bleier, President

Lake Conroe Association

Lake Conroe Association President’s Update June 4, 2018

LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE

as of June 4, 2018

 

This Update provides information regarding SJRA-requested lake level reductions on Lake Conroe.

MAY 10, 2018 LCA SPECIAL MEETING:

The LCA hosted a Special Meeting of Lake Conroe POA’s (Property Owner Association) to gather opinions and information from stakeholders related to proposed lake level reductions. 30 POA’s representing 14,748 homes on Lake Conroe attended the meeting. Responses to a questionnaire provided at this meeting (and supplemented with 6 POA’s via phone) is summarized as follows:

·        Average water depth at bulkhead when lake is at 201’ elevation…….35” (Details were 3 less than 1’, 8 between 1-2 feet, 16 between 2-3 feet, 8 between 3-4 feet, 1 greater than 5 feet)

·        What lake level reductions would you accept between April 1 and May 31 for a period of not greater than 2 years?……18 said “None”, 13 said 6”, 5 said 12”, no one said greater than 12”

·        What lake level reductions would you accept between August 1 and September 30 for a period of not greater than 2 years?……15 said “None”, 12 said 6”, 8 said 12”, and 1 said 24”

·        Would you consider a “temporary” lake level reduction extending past 2 years?…..4 said “Yes”, 32 said “No”

·        Do you believe SJRA should fund its new Flood Management Division by increasing the rate it charges for raw water to its raw water customers?…..6 said “Yes”, 30 said “No”

In summary, all 36 POA’s in attendance (or by phone) did not support the SJRA Board vote to reduce lake levels on Lake Conroe by 12” between April 1 and May 31 and by 24” between August 1 and September 30.

 

MAY 24, 2018 SJRA BOARD MEETING:

The LCA presented at this meeting for 25 minutes and provided the SJRA Board and its officers a 42 page packet which outlined information obtained by the LCA and showed that the lake area public consensus did not support SJRA’s decision.  The SJRA Board was asked to reconsider its position and recast a vote on lake level reductions, but SJRA declined to modify its position or recast a vote.

The LCA also requested that SJRA better clarify its use of the term “temporary” as applied in its term “temporary seasonal lake level reductions” and define special circumstances that could lead to lake level reductions going beyond 2 years. No clear clarification was provided by SJRA.

SJRA emphasized that no decision on lake level reductions had been finalized since conclusions had not been received from The City of Houston or Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

 

LCA ACTIONS SINCE THE MAY 24, 2018 SJRA BOARD MEETING:

The LCA has:

·        Shared written communications and held numerous conversations with State Senator Robert Nichols, State Representative Will Metcalf, and State Senator Brandon Creighton (and their respective staffs). They have been in communication with SJRA, The City of Houston, and TCEQ, and have expressed opinions to SJRA’s proposed lake level reduction program. Further, they have asked their staff to remain in communication with TCEQ in the event SJRA or The City of Houston request a water yield permit modification from TCEQ; and have assured the LCA that we will be notified should such a permit modification be submitted to TCEQ.

·        Submitted the LCA 42-page packet of information (same as presented to SJRA and listed above) to The City of Houston Public Works Department Director, the TCEQ Deputy Director Office of Water, and the TCEQ Interim Executive Director. The packets were accompanied by a cover letter stating the LCA’s opposition to SJRA’s proposed lake level reductions on behalf of the Lake Conroe community.

LCA’s CLOSING COMMENTS:

It should be noted that SJRA did not release any water between April 1 and May 31, 2018 under its proposed lake level reduction program. Among the rationale provided, SJRA did not obtain permission to do so from its 2/3 partner (The City of Houston) nor has it been granted a water yield permit modification from TCEQ.

Based on information provided to us, TCEQ has not received a written request from either SJRA or The City of Houston for the modification of their water yield permit.

Some in our lake community believe litigation should be initiated against SJRA, The City of Houston, and/or TCEQ regarding this proposed lake level reduction. The LCA does not currently share this opinion based on: 1) no lake level reduction program has been approved by The City of Houston, 2) no application has been submitted to TCEQ to modify their water yield permit application, 3) no water has been released related to this program, 4) our local elected officials are working with us on this issue, and 5) initiating litigation immediately closes down communication between parties who may have attempted to clarify or modify the current proposal. Too many in today’s world throw around the words “litigation” and “class action lawsuit” as if it’s just the way the world works today. We concur that investigating our legal rights through an attorney is a prudent action, but we feel initiating litigation is premature at this time. We believe there remains much work to be done before resorting to litigation; but, in the event lake levels on Lake Conroe DO plan to be reduced by more than 12” after all reasonable efforts are exhausted, then litigation may become a course of action.

The LCA still believes that providing a “temporary” lake level reduction on Lake Conroe of not greater than 12” is a reasonable accommodation to our downstream neighbors. More than half of those attending our May 10 LCA Special Meeting agreed. We will keep you posted on any significant developments. Should you have questions or comments, please e-mail us at lca@lakeconroe.com.

 

Mike Bleier, President, Lake Conroe Association

The LCA Will Lead the Fight Against Lower Lake Levels

Shared from the 2018-05-11 Courier Of Montgomery County eEdition

Proposal to lower Lake Conroe water levels

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MIKE BLEIER President of Lake Conroe Association

This emotional discussion being aired via Editorials is filled with the denial of facts, misconceptions and misplaced anger. Let me express yet another representation of views from the Lake Conroe area.

Do not characterize the residents and businesses of Lake Conroe, or the Lake Conroe Association (LCA), as selfish and uncaring in the devastation incurred in Kingwood and surrounding communities. We, too, incurred personal and financial hardship in Hurricane Harvey as a reported 300 homes on Lake Conroe flooded and hundreds of boat docks and bulkheads were damaged. No, this does not compare to the Lake Houston area’s reported 16,000 homes and 3,300 businesses suffering damage in Hurricane Harvey; but our pain was real as well. The majority of the 500+ written responses the LCA has received clearly state sympathy for our neighbors downstream and consider compromises to assist them. No reasonable person would wish nature to create such havoc upon another.

Yes, lakefront property owners on Lake Conroe and users of this wonderful reservoir do not favor a “temporary” reduction of our lake level by 2 feet when many boat docks sit in 3-4 feet of water depth at full pool (elevation of 201’). As an example, the entire Bentwater subdivision (over 2,800 homes in total) shoreline with bulkhead was initially dredged to a depth of 4 feet. Walden, our largest sub-division on the lake, has even shallower water in a great number of locations. And, if you’re in one of many “canals” created along the lake like Grand Harbor, your water depth can drop even further. After investing often millions of dollars to enjoy lakefront property under an SJRA policy to maintain lake levels at the 201’ elevation, it should not be surprising that those families expect to enjoy their investment without SJRA and The City of Houston considering “changing the rules”. Might I also point out that when Lake Houston elected to release water during a March storm and drop its lake level by a reported 2 ½ feet, the media reported endless complaints from Lake Houston lakefront property owners that “We can’t get our boats out” and “Our boats are sitting in mud” and “Dropping the lake level is damaging our fishing and the bass that are attempting to spawn”.

And the convenience of getting one’s boat out seems to be the focal point of your describing us as “selfish”. We desire to protect our local economy and maintain property values, just as you do. Our Chamber of Commerce desires to protect our business community, just as yours does. The May 2 Conroe Courier reported $78 million in “Total Direct Visitor Spending” related to annual tourism to Conroe, and Lake Conroe drives a majority of those tourism dollars.

The LCA has attempted to work with leaders in the Kingwood area since Hurricane Harvey. When the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce and Lake Houston Economic Development Partnership initiated your “Plea For 3” campaign (representation on SJRA Board, remediation of San Jacinto River, and permanent reduction of lake levels on Lake Conroe), we were not asked to help but, rather, found out about the program by reading about it in the newspaper. We immediately contacted those organizations to open a discussion. The LCA came out publicly in support of the addition of Kingwood residents to the SJRA Board so as to provide the best information and education to Kingwood residents and businesses. We also publically supported flood control studies and remediation of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River to provide longterm solutions. We did not support the call for a permanent reduction of Lake Conroe by 3 feet.

“Cooperation” is a two-way street. We thought we were enjoying a mutually cooperative relationship with our contacts in the Lake Houston area; holding 15+ phone conversations together and providing your leaders with every written correspondence we had on this topic (which typically comes out in what we call the “LCA President’s Update”). On January 25 and February 11, we wrote your leadership requesting an in-person meeting in Kingwood coupled with an informational tour of the Lake Houston dam. After receiving no response, we wrote again on February 20 and were answered “Currently our group is refocusing and revising our priorities for recovery. Maybe it would be best to meet once it is finalized.” We have not received any communication since then, although we continue to forward our LCA President’s Updates in an effort to resume dialogue. It’s now May 6.

How else have we attempted to work together? Both of our communities share the representation of well-respected Senator Brandon Creighton. We had lunch on January 25 to discuss Hurricane Harvey, the multiple consequences of this event, and possible actions going forward. The LCA forwards all LCA President’s Updates to Senator Creighton, as well as his office staff, and have asked for communication to resume. We have not heard from him or his staff since that January 25 lunch meeting.

Having worked with SJRA since becoming LCA President in 2004 and as a SJRA Board Director through February, 2017, I believe I have an open line of communication with SJRA and their respect. We solicit written feedback from our LCA Members and all POA’s across Lake Conroe, and we have shared that feedback regarding flood control and lake levels in writing with Jace Houston, SJRA General Manager. We were perfectly clear that the LCA felt empathy towards those devastated during and subsequent to Hurricane Harvey, and that the LCA (on behalf of the Lake Conroe community) would SUPPORT THE TEMPORARY REDUCTION OF LAKE CONROE LAKE LEVELS BY 1 FOOT IN THE SPRING AND FALL to provide some emotional and, possibly, practical relief to those downstream. A possible date to initiate such a program according to SJRA was Fall, 2018. Without the courtesy of a phone call or e-mail, SJRA placed the topic of reducing Lake Con-roe lake levels on their April 26 Board Meeting Agenda. In that Meeting, Mr. Houston presented his report and recommended to his Board that Lake Conroe be temporarily reduced by 6 inches in the Spring and 12 inches in the Fall. At the recommendation of Lloyd Tisdale, SJRA Board President for over 10 years, an alternate plan was presented by Mr. Tisdale (which may have represented the desires of Governor Abbott) for a reduction of 1 foot in the Spring and 2 feet in the Fall. With limited discussion and no facts to support the conclusion, the SJRA Board voted unanimously in favor of Mr. Tisdale’s proposal. I guess the SJRA Board thinks it knows better than their General Manager. Unacceptable to the LCA and this community, WE MUST NOW FIGHT THIS PROPOSAL.

And, to add insult to injury, Governor Abbot has requested (and SJRA has accepted) that SJRA create a new Flood Management Division without setting funds in place for this new Division. One of SJRA’s first actions was the employment of a new person to manage this Division at a reported annual salary of $180,000. To pay for this new Division and its associated costs (until some form of State or Federal funding is provided), SJRA is raising the rate it charges its customers for raw water by 1 ½ cents per gallon. So, who are those customers that will bear the burden of paying for a program that is highly focused on relieving flooding in the Lake Houston area? Out of courtesy, I will not specifically name SJRA’s three largest corporate customers; but I can tell you they do not reside in Harris County. But the largest purchaser of raw water is SJRA’s own GRP Division which removes water from Lake Conroe, processes that water, and sells it to its GRP customers in Montgomery County (most specifically, Conroe and The Woodlands). One can only assume that the GRP Division will pass along this 1 ½ cent per gallon increase and that this increase will, ultimately, be charged to the residents and businesses who consume that water. How is it that residents and businesses outside Harris County will pay for a SJRA Division which focuses on relieving flooding in Harris County?

Before I close, let me just point out a few final observations:

• Lake Conroe releases only accounted for 10-15% of the water entering Lake Houston and 18-20% of “peak flows” entering Lake Houston

• While the almost 80,000 acre feet per second being released from Lake Conroe at its peak was a tremendous quantity of water, Lake Conroe was receiving (via rainfall and run-off) 130,000 acre feet per second. If the SJRA dam and Lake Con-roe were not here, the Lake Houston area would have seen this entire 130,000 acre feet per second

• You can’t plan flood control based on an historic event that may not happen for another 500 years

• Through no fault of residents and businesses in the Lake Houston area, why was this area developed in a possible flood plain at the convergence of so many water sources? Could the answer lie in Harris County wanting to enhance its tax base and developers desiring profits? If so, why aren’t they paying to restore a quality of life to those so devastated?

• How could Harris County have constructed the Lake Houston reservoir and not considered its use for flood control? How would two (2) service gates ever release water fast enough in a storm event? How would intake pipes not located deep enough allow water of be pumped in a drought?

• SJRA has held its position in writing since the construction of Lake Conroe that it WAS NOT A FLOOD CONTROL RESERVOIR. Why is it now?

• Why are lake levels on Lake Conroe being reduced for four

(4) months of the year, but lake levels on Lake Houston propose to remain unchanged (except for releases prior to storm)?

Yes, the Lake Con-roe Association will lead afight with SJRA, The City of Houston, Harris County, and TCEQ regarding the temporary lowering of Lake Conroe by two (2) feet. We will fight to stop any modification of SJRA’s permit with TCEQ that desires to not have water released from Lake Conroe for flood control count against the current 100,000 acre feet per year maximum yield established upon construction of Lake Conroe in 1973. The fight can be avoided, and relief can be felt in the Lake Houston area, by accepting a more reasonable approach of temporarily lowering Lake Conroe by not more than 1 foot for flood control. The “powers to be” now know clearly our position with no hidden tactics or agenda, and it’s up to them to decide a best course of action. Let us help you rather than fight.

For information regarding the Lake Conroe Association (a 501 c 3 non-profit organization staffed exclusively by volunteers), you may visit www.lakeconreoassociation.com. Comments may be submitted via e-mail to lca@lakeconroe.com. We thank you for listening.