LCCN study: County insulated from lake issues

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2012 11:17 pm

By Howard Roden, Conroe Courier

LAKE CONROE – Montgomery County’s healthy, broad and diversified economy is likely to absorb any impact associated with lake level conditions at Lake Conroe, according to a study conducted by Texas A&M University.

The independent study was commissioned in 2010 by the Lake Conroe Communities Network at a total cost of $142,000 to determine what impact – if any – use of the lake’s surface water will have on the surrounding economy.

Among conclusions in the 60-page study is that the “direct economic impact” of the lake is limited to the city of Montgomery and the retail trade sector around the lake.

A study of the sales tax revenue in that area determined quarterly retail trade revenues reported to the state Comptroller’s Office decline 11.5 percent (or $1.6 million per year) in the city of Montgomery per foot of water in the lake, whenever the lake level falls more than 2 feet below the full pool of 201 feet.

However, that impact around Lake Conroe is not as “detectable” in the larger, more diverse economies of Conroe or Montgomery County, or more isolated economies (the city of Willis), according to the study’s executive summary.

“The more the business relies on the lake traffic for business the greater risk from lake fluctuations that may occur in the future,” the study stated.

Although some of the study’s conclusions came as no surprise, LCCN Director Dan Davis said A&M compiled a “very credible” study.

“The study was consistent with what people told us; not only appropriate but defensible,” he said.

County Judge Alan B. Sadler, SJRA Deputy General Manager Jace Houston, Conroe Mayor Webb Melder and Lake Conroe Association member Mike Bleier were contacted about the study, but all said they had not gone over the study in enough detail to comment.

Among other conclusions in the study included:

Lake levels are expected to fall more than 4 feet below full pool 1.6 times more often in phase one of the San Jacinto River Authority’s Groundwater Reduction Plan than in prior periods, and increase to 8.5 times more often in phase four.

Residents in lakefront communities expected a 28 percent decline in residential property values, in which case losses in real estate values would amount to $1.1 billion in the area.

In the near term, immediate proactive conservation efforts should be encouraged.

Two areas of greatest concern expressed by residents and business owners involve the lack of operational control by the local city and county officials. This may mean finding mechanisms to exert their views into operational matters or negotiating an ownership in the lake, or working toward an identifiable role on the SJRA board.