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.

LCCN petitioning LSGCD’s impending 2016 regulations

Posted: Sunday, May 3, 2015 9:44 pm

The Lake Conroe Communities Network is in the process of garnering signatures for a petition urging the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District to suspend impending groundwater regulations that would go into effect in 2016.

The petition claims the regulations will cause a water deficit of 100,000 acre-feet per year by 2035 when factoring in Montgomery County population growth projections. They want the district to take time to study the viability and sustainability of using alternative methods of accessing water, including taking it from Lake Conroe.

The petition also calls upon the district to initiate other water conservation tactics instead of only cutting back on aquifer use. LCCN also wants LSGCD to distinguish the four aquifers under Montgomery County as such and not as one Gulf Coast Aquifer as LCCN claims.

“This is unprecedented as far as we’re concerned, to influence Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District through a petition,” LCCN President Scott Sustman said.

The network held a series of forums in Lake Conroe communities on April 27 and 28 introducing the petition and gaining support and signees.

“The petition deals with the economic viability, practicality and sustainability of alternative water sources,” Sustman said. “That’s actually right in the charter Lone Star Water Conservation District has, and before they constrict water usage from a particular source, they need to make sure that the alternative source is economically viable, ethical and sustainable.

“We feel there’s some question about that when they’re pointing to Lake Conroe potentially as an alternative water source because there’s a finite amount of water in Lake Conroe, and quite frankly, there’s more water in the aquifers than there is in Lake Conroe.”

Kathy Turner Jones, general manager for LSGCD, said the district has no intentions of delaying the implementation of the regulations on Jan. 1, 2016.

Jones said the district is performing studies to determine the impact of the 2016 regulations as well as the additional availability of groundwater.

“The current plan has adequate options for anticipated growth through 2070 and it will be under revision starting next year to incorporate revised population estimates,” Jones said. “Montgomery County will need to be able to draw upon a variety of diversified sources of raw water for future public needs and economic development. If additional groundwater is determined to be available it will be incorporated in the next planning round as a viable future supply.”

Jones also said the study the district is undertaking distinguishes the aquifers as separate strata and not as one “Gulf Coast Aquifer,” as does the Houston Area Groundwater Model.

LSGCD partakes in groundwater conservation education, Jones said, and it has fulfilled its statutorily mandated duties in doing so.

“The district has been active in promoting conservation for all entities within the county,” Jones said. “The district’s offices has (sic) many examples of conservation measures for outdoor water and rainwater harvesting as well as native plant landscaping for water savings. It has also assisted in the establishment of the Gulf Coast/Montgomery County Water Efficiency Network consisting of water professionals from around the region that meet regularly to share industry information and discuss conservation issues.”

The petition currently has over 400 signatures

For more information about the petition, visit www.lakeconroecn.com.

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LCCN to host ‘Save the Lake’ town halls

Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2015 9:39 pm

The Lake Conroe Communities Network is hoping for a good turnout at their “Save the Lake” town halls on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

The informational meetings will be about the LCCN’s argument against increasing Lake Conroe’s contribution to the Montgomery County water supply, as the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District intends to do starting Jan.1.

“LCCN has done a lot of research relative to the things that LSGCD wants to have transpire Jan. 1 regarding reduction of pumpage,” LCCN President Scott Sustman said. “We’re going to present information and analysis by some hydrologists that have not been involved in the process questioning some of Lone Star’s beliefs that the (main Montgomery County) aquifer is in distress.”

Sustman said they aren’t butting heads with the LSGCD, but that more information needs to be gathered before they make any decision regarding Lake Conroe.

“We need to take a little more time, do more research and gathering more facts,” he said. “Lone Star is going that to an extent with a project that’s going on but that won’t be done for a few years.”

The town hall meetings will be one hour including a 40-minute presentation by one of two experts that agree with LCCN’s position in the issue.

Bob Harden is a professional hydrologist and the president of R.W. Harden Associates. He will speak at the April Sound Country Club on Tuesday, and again on Wednesday at Walden Yacht Club.

Michael Thornhill is the president of Thornhill Group, as well as a professional geologist and hydrogeologist. He will speak at the Northshore Church in Bentwater on Tuesday and the Seven Coves Clubhouse on Wednesday.

After the presentation, attendees will also have a chance to sign a petition asking LSGCD to postpone any regulation changes.

Both presentations begin at 7 p.m. with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. For more information go to www.LakeConroeCN.com/ #Save_The_Lake.

SJRA plans study on Catahoula well site

Posted: Sunday, February 2, 2014 10:58 pm

LAKE CONROE – The San Jacinto River Authority will conduct a feasibility study to determine where it will place its Catahoula water well.

While the SJRA has shown interest in positioning the well near Entergy’s Lewis Creek power station, the utility company might connect two to three municipal utility districts in the area, SJRA General Manager Jace Houston said at Thursday’s SJRA board meeting.

The Lake Creek Reservoir is located on Lake Conroe just north of FM 1097.

“We’ll look at the cost of connecting two or three MUDs and see how financially feasible they can be,” Houston said.

Catahoula wells being drilled are classified as providing an alternative water source from the Evangeline and Jasper aquifers for the water suppliers around Southeast Texas.

The study is expected is take six to nine months, Houston said.

Drought contingency plan:

The SJRA has until May 1 to submit its revised Drought Contingency and Water Conservation plans to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The SJRA board approved a four-step contingency plan.

Stage 1: A 5 percent reduction in water use is activated when the lake level drops to 199 feet at sea level.

Stage 2: Also known as moderate drought conditions, it brings a 5 percent reduction in the winter months of October through March. There is at least a 10 percent reduction in the summer when the Lake Conroe level drops below 197 msl.

Stage 3: A 10 percent reduction in winter and 20 percent reduction in summer months. Mean sea level falls below 194 msl.

Stage 4: A reduction of 15 percent in the winter and 30 percent during the summer months are required when water depth falls below 190.

Water conservation includes the plans already in use by the residents around Lake Conroe.

TAG: LSGCD

County outgrowing water supply

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 10:33 pm

The population of Montgomery County is growing too fast for the groundwater to sustain it, and human consumption isn’t even the biggest drain on the county’s water resources; it’s lawn irrigation.

In The Woodlands, as much as 80 percent of the township’s water is used on lawns during the summer, according to data from The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency. WJPA restricts residents from watering their lawns more than twice a week. Beginning in June, residents may find an extra surcharge on their water bills if they are caught watering off-schedule.

Jim Stinson, WJPA’s general manager, said these measures along with conservation education programs are essential for responsible usage, but the rates continue to rise.

“Historically, we’ve had plenty of water resources to cover Montgomery County,” said Mark Smith, Groundwater Reduction Plan administrator for the San Jacinto River Authority. “But urbanization puts those resources under pressure.”

The county’s population doubled more than four times from 1960 to 2010, according to Census data; and as the area north of Houston continues to grow, Montgomery County will have to look elsewhere for water.

Smith said Lake Conroe holds the key, at least for now. That’s where SJRA is building two 5 million-gallon tanks and prepping to lay 57 miles of pipeline that will carry water from the lake to homes and businesses in certain areas of the county, including The Woodlands, Oak Ridge North and Conroe.

“Without that, we would have to stop growing for lack of water,” he said.

Montgomery County’s portion of the Chicot, Evangeline and Jasper aquifers can recharge by 64,000 acre feet, or 20.8 billion gallons, a year. But Montgomery County residents used more than 28 billion gallons in 2009. The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District(LSGCD), the county agency that regulates these underground bodies of water, estimates the demand will grow to more than 50 billion gallons by 2040.

The lake can sustainably provide 32.5 billion gallons of water a year. The SJRA may have to dig deeper or buy water from other counties in the future, but eventually demand will likely outpace the supply. Conservation could significantly reduce the demand for water.

“The cheapest alternative supply is to simply use less,” Smith said.

Keep off the grass

Landscaping is a point of pride in The Woodlands. Residents take care to ensure their lawns are vibrant and well-watered. Stinson said Woodlands residents triple the amount of water they use on their lawns in the summer, and about half of that is wasted.

He said grass needs only about an inch of water each week. Too much water can keep grassroots from growing deep enough, causing them to become “addicted” to the excess. He said residents routinely over-water their lawns.

Not even the drought in 2011 slowed them down.

John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist, said Texas’ 2011 drought was the worst of any single year on record.

Most of the state suffered its driest year. Temperatures topped 100 degrees on 52 separate days for most of Montgomery County. Nearly 30,000 trees died in The Woodlands. WJPA issued water restrictions as part of a drought contingency plan, and its residents used 1.8 billion gallons of water more than the previous year.

“Those numbers would have been higher had restrictions not been in place,” Stinson said.

Nielsen-Gammon said conditions won’t be as severe as they were in 2011, but Texas still is experiencing a drought. Higher-than-average temperatures and less-than-average rainfall will worsen the drought statewide.

“Things are probably going to dry faster than they normally do,” he said.

And despite water conservation programs – like Woodlands Irrigation System Evaluation (WISE Guys) implemented in early 2010, which recommends ways homeowners can reduce their water use – Stinson said residents continue “to waste this vital resource.”

A year after initiating the WISE Guys program, WJPA saw a modest decline in the township’s usage – from 67,546 gallons per person in 2009 to 67,092 in 2010. Then the drought hit in the beginning of 2011 and erased those gains in conservation.

At a time when water was most scarce, The Woodlands’ then-95,715 residents used more than 8 billion gallons of water for an average of 83,988 gallons each. In 2012, at 68,236 gallons per person, usage rates fell but were still well above the 2010 low.

And some of the township’s municipal utility districts use more than others.

The most water-frugal MUD is No. 7, which covers parts of Panther Creek and the northernmost section of Cochran’s Crossing, using 42,411 gallons per person in 2012.

By comparison, MUD No. 2, the smallest, covering 762 people in southwestern Grogan’s Mill, used nearly double the township’s average at 128,537 gallons per person in 2012.

“To have an effective conservation program is a process that takes several years,” Stinson said.

In the meantime, the county’s conservation and utility agencies continue to educate the public about watering lawns and to devise creative solutions to meet water needs. For example, The Woodlands’ golf courses water their fairways with wastewater from SJRA’s water plants.

But in the long run, no single solution will be adequate. If the region continues to grow, its citizens will be required to develop more resources and use them responsibly.