Houston soon may tap Lake Conroe for water supply

Falling lake levels raise concern

Without rain soon, Houston will take emergency step to ensure water plant can still operate

By CINDY HORSWELL HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Aug. 4, 2011, 5:18AM

Along the shores of Lake Houston and Lake Conroe, many landlocked boat docks lead to nowhere while grassy islands and sandbars sprout where water once flowed.

Pieces of an old railroad, long hidden by the ample waters of Lake Houston, are suddenly visible.

Now both lakes may soon enter uncharted territory as the incessant drought and searing temperatures continue to deplete these two reservoirs’ precious water supplies.

And things could grow drastically worse if no significant rain falls in the next week and a half, authorities warn. Each lake was built on the San Jacinto River as a source of drinking water for Houston.

The city of Houston this week has alerted the San Jacinto River Authority that it may have to take an emergency step that has not been done for two decades – order Lake Conroe to release up to 150 million gallons of water a day from its dam. The water would then flow downstream to Lake Houston, so that reservoir would remain deep enough to assure the city’s water purification plant there can continue operating.

However, if Lake Conroe is drained of this amount for two months, the lake’s water level will quickly plummet to a new all-time record low.

Conroe’s current lake level is 197.3 feet above mean sea level, which is 3.7 feet below normal. The lowest the level has ever dropped is 5 feet below normal. That record was set in 1989, the only other time the city of Houston ordered water withdrawn for seven months, said San Jacinto River Authority’s deputy general manager, Jace Houston.

With water levels nearly 7 feet below the normal 44-foot elevation on Lake Houston, boaters are more often hitting stumps or becoming stranded on sandbars that have surfaced.

Officer Gary Crawford with the Houston Police Department’s Lake Patrol pointed to hundreds of old pilings now visible from a 2-mile railroad trestle crossing the lake from Huffman to Walden.

“We’re working to cut them down below the waterline,” he said. “But we could never tackle all the stumps. It would take an army to do that.”

Different kind of summer

Duesen Park has also been forced because of insufficient water to close ramps that used to provide sailboats and kayaks access to Lake Houston. Residents around Lake Conroe are likewise unhappy that their lake level is hurting.

“The number of residents using the lake this summer seems to have dropped slightly because of the low level,” said Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden Brannon Meinkowsky.

The shallower north end, he said, appears to be suffering the most.

“I don’t have a lake now,” complained Mike Bleier, president of the Lake Conroe Association. “I used to have lake-front property. But now I have a forest.”

He cannot launch a boat or jet ski from his dock and gave up recreational use of the lake for the summer.

“It’s dangerous to be out there if you’re not familiar with it,” he said. “Your boat prop can easily hit a stump or a sandbar now.”

Nonetheless, Gary Lewis, TowboatsUS operator, said the lake continues to be populated by boaters.

“I don’t see it as all detrimental, except for those who have boathouses that aren’t usable,” Lewis said. “I just see it as having more exposed sandy beaches to play on.”

To secure the city’s water supply, Houston taxpayers years ago paid for the construction of both lakes on the San Jacinto River. Lake Houston, covering 12,000 acres in northeast Harris County, began operations in 1953, followed by the 21,000-acre Lake Conroe in Montgomery County in 1973.

Lake Conroe is used to hold water in reserve until it’s needed by Lake Houston’s water plant.

“The water level on Lake Houston cannot fall below 37 feet or the water plant’s intake pumps won’t work,” explained Alvin Wright, Houston’s public works spokesman.

Down 3½ inches a week

The water level on Lake Houston currently stands at 37.6 feet, dangerously close to the mark that triggers withdrawals from Lake Conroe. The level is dropping by as much as 3½ inches a week.

“We’re experiencing much higher water usage, while water pipes are also breaking from the extreme heat,” Wright said. “Usually we have 250 repairs pending, but now we’ve got 600 repairs.”

Plus, the municipal water supply is dwindling because of greater evaporation from triple-digit highs and no rain to replenish the losses.

“Houston’s mayor and public works director will make the call to order any release from Lake Conroe. We’re still hoping that won’t happen,” said Wright, who said the city wants to avoid dipping into its reserves until absolutely necessary.

However, he stressed that Lake Livingston, Houston’s main drinking water supply, is nearly full, and the city has sufficient reserves to last two years.

cindy.horswell@chron.com

City of Houston May Request Water from Lake Conroe – SJRA Press Release

City of Houston May Request Water from Lake Conroe

Although an official notice has not yet been received, the City of Houston has given preliminary indications that it will soon request a measured release of water from its two-thirds share of the water rights in Lake Conroe to meet the City’s operational needs in Lake Houston. An exact quantity and start date is not yet known, but initial estimates are that the City might request a release of up to 150 million gallons per day beginning sometime within the next two weeks. This equates to approximately half an inch per day.

Engineering staff for the City of Houston have indicated that the purpose of the release is not to raise the level of Lake Houston but simply to stabilize the lake level for operational needs at the City’s Northeast Water Purification Plant. The amount of water requested from Lake Conroe would be adjusted daily based on weather conditions in the Lake Houston watershed, and the releases would likely continue until the current drought conditions begin to abate.

Lake Conroe was built as a joint venture between the City of Houston and the San Jacinto River Authority, with the City owning two-thirds of the water rights in the reservoir, and the SJRA owning the other one-third. In September of 2009, the SJRA and the City executed a long-term water supply contract that secured the SJRA’s right to use all of the water in Lake Conroe for the SJRA’s countywide Groundwater Reduction Plan (GRP) program. The GRP program will not need a significant amount of the City’s water until at least 2025, and during those years in which the City’s water is not used by the GRP, the contract allows the City to call on the water for its own short-term uses on a year-by-year basis.

Based on current weather patterns and inflows into Lake Houston, the SJRA does not currently see an immediate need to make any releases from the SJRA’s one-third share of Lake Conroe to meet the needs of its own downstream industrial customers; however, if severe drought conditions continue, it may become necessary for the SJRA to release a small amount of water in addition to the City of Houston’s release. If this were to occur, the SJRA’s release would be relatively small – probably in the range of 10 to 15 million gallons per day (approximately 1/20 of an inch per day or one and a half inches per month). If such releases are required, the SJRA would reimburse the GRP program for the appropriate amount of reservation fees that were paid for the SJRA’s share of the water in Lake Conroe.

In terms of impact to the level of Lake Conroe, the estimated release of up to half an inch per day would equate to three or four inches per week. During the hot summer months, this is approximately equal to the amount of water that evaporates from the reservoir. Lakefront property owners with boat slips should monitor water levels and take appropriate action as needed to trailer their boats or store them in marinas until normal rainfall patterns return and lake levels begin to rise.

For additional information, please visit the SJRA’s website at www.sjra.net. To receive updates via the internet or email, you can link to our Facebook page from our website or register your email address by signing up using the field in the lower right corner of our home page.}

LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE

In late September, the LCA conducted a survey to establish the understanding of water conservation, the use of surface water, the effect of using surface water on the level of Lake Conroe, and the economic impact the lake has on the Montgomery County economy. Senator Nichols presented the results of the survey to the participants at the “Water Summit”. The results of the survey are presented below:

 LAKE CONROE ASOCIATION

SUMMARY OF SEPT’09 “QUESTION AND ANSWER SURVEY”….2,565 RESPONSES

 1.        96% were aware that water is a most valuable resource and that the aquifer is depleting (2,465 “yes” and 100 ”no”)

2.       85% were aware that Lake Conroe was built as a reservoir to provide water for the City of Houston and Montgomery County (2,189 “yes” and 376 “no”)

3.       86% were aware that Montgomery County residents must reduce water consumption from aquifers (underground water) by 30% by 2015 (now 2016) (2,197 “yes” and 368 “no”)

4.       86% were aware that a proposed solution to reducing water consumption from aquifers is to pump the needed water out of Lake Conroe (2,200 “yes” and 365 “no”)

5.       97% were aware that pumping water out of Lake Conroe will lower the lake’s level unless alternative sources of water for Montgomery County are identified (2,484 “yes” and 81 “no”)

6.       97% believe lowering the level of Lake Conroe will hurt our local economy (2,480 “yes” and 85 “no”)

7.       97% believe lowering the level of Lake Conroe will hurt local property values (2,490 “yes” and 75 “no”)

8.       91% are concerned lowering the level of Lake Conroe could damage the structural integrity of the dam (especially during storms) (2,323 “yes” and “242 “no”)

9.       98% believe lowering the level of Lake Conroe will, at times, restrict access to the lake for recreational use of boaters and anglers (2,521 “yes” and 44 “no”)

10.   94% believe lowering the level of Lake Conroe may damage integral native aquatic plant life which provides fish and bird habitat, controls shoreline erosion, and contributes to water quality (2,420 “yes” and 145 “no”)

11.   92% believe lowering the level of Lake Conroe may promote excessive growth of noxious, invasive, non-native vegetation such as Hydrilla (2,368 “yes” and 197 “no”)

12.   95% believe strong water conservation measures must be implemented in existing sub-divisions (2,427 “yes” and 138 “no”)

13.   97% believe that all future land developments must be approved with regulations restricting amenity lakes and irrigation systems that use ground water or surface water (2,496 “yes” and 69 “no”)

14.   98% believe this water shortage problem should be solved with all available options instead of simply using water from Lake Conroe (2,521 “yes” and 44 “no”)

 

Mike Bleier, President

Lake Conroe Association

LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE

What a relief!! Our rains have filled Lake Conroe and we can again enjoy the Lake at its best. We thought you’d like an update, so here goes…

LAKE LEVEL:

Lake Conroe was at 196.68 feet (above sea level) on October 12 and rose to its highest point of 201.27 feet on November 10. The San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) has since released water and we are at a level of 201.0 feet today. SJRA does not plan to allow Lake levels to exceed 201.0 feet (other than during storms) and would release water if further rains raised the level over 201.0 feet.

Factoid: The Lake rose from 196.68 feet to its highest point of 201.27 feet, or an increase of 4.59 feet. Assuming Lake Conroe to have approximately 21,000 surface acres, and assuming 0.25 inches of water over 21,000 acres equals 180 million gallons, then our 4.59 feet increase equaled over 39 billion gallons of water. That’s a lot of rain!!

Factoid: During Summer’s heat, Lake Conroe loses 180 million gallons per day to evaporation (or 0.25 inches per day over its 21,000 surface acres).

Factoid: SJRA is authorized to sell up to 90 million gallons per day. Of this, 30 million is allocated to municipal, industrial (currently to Entergy) and irrigation (various golf courses and home owners) contracts. 60 million gallons per day are set aside for the City of Houston (although they have not drawn water from Lake Conroe under this contract since 1989).

HYDRILLA:

With a net increase of 4.5 feet of water in the Lake, most of the hydrilla is under the surface. Sure looks nicer!! It’s not gone….it’s just hidden. Hydrilla will not grow as rapidly in the cooler months, and we will see less of it until spring. The exact growth rate of the hydrilla and the effectiveness of our White Amur will not be known until then. We can be assured that hydrilla will be back in our Lake in the spring (including the summer’s dry lakebed now covered with water). Until then, we would not expect to see any further additions of White Amur or herbicide treatments for hydrilla.

GIANT SALVINIA AND WATER HYACINTH:

The heavy rains have “flushed out” significant quantities of Giant Salvinia and Water Hyacinth from the northern portions of Lake Conroe. These areas have primarily low water levels and are not typically accessible by SJRA or the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) for herbicide applications. Unlike hydrilla which anchors itself to the lakebed through roots (tubers), Giant Salvinia and Water Hyacinth typically float. In a heavy rain, they just “float” South towards the dam. The current infestation of Giant Salvinia and Water Hyacinth across our Lake is serious, and serious action is being taken by both SJRA and TPWD. Both have committed financial and personnel resources to actively spray herbicides on these plants (to date in 2006, no money has been contributed by the LCA for herbicide applications). The most effective herbicide for Water Hyacinth is “Diquot”, but it does not work well on Giant Salvinia. Since “Glycophosphate” (with an “AquaKing” surfactant) works on both Water Hyacinth and Giant Salvinia, it is the herbicide of choice currently. SJRA and TPWD provide notices with recommended precautions in your area if they are spraying herbicides.

“Weevils” have been used on Lake Conroe as a biological supplement (to herbicides) to reduce Giant Salvinia. Due to quantity of Giant Salvinia “flushed out” into our Lake currently, herbicides are being applied to Giant Salvinia (which will also kill the “weevils”). Going forward, SJRA intends to only utilize “weevils” for Giant Salvinia infestations west of Little Lake Creek Bridge (going into Montgomery on FM 1097) and in the northern National Forest (both of which areas are uninhabited). “Weevils” are utilized to determine their effectiveness compared to herbicides (both to reduce our use of herbicides in our Lake and to reduce the high cost of herbicide applications).

WHITE AMUR:

With November 13th’s White Amur release, we should now have an estimated 27,048 White Amur in Lake Conroe (after factoring in mortality of fish during 2006). The maximum number of fish allowable under the 2006 Lake Conroe Hydrilla Management Plan was 30,000. Approximate White Amur release locations and quantities are summarized as follows: 10,000 in Little Lake Creek (Walden boat ramp), 8,000 in Lewis Creek (FM 830 boat ramp), 5,000 in Caney Creek (Scott’s Ridge boat ramp), 2,000 in Atkins Creek (Del Lago boat ramp), 1,500 from Cape Conroe and 500 near the 1097 bridge. The “LakeConroeAssociation.com” website has a more detailed map for your review.

The cost of our 27,048 White Amur was approximately $216,000. Approximate funding was provided as follows: $110,000 LCA, $81,000 SJRA and $25,000 Montgomery County Precinct 1.

TPWD WAIVES $2 FEE:

TPWD charges a $2 per White Amur processing fee throughout Texas. While final authorization has not been signed in Austin yet, TPWD acknowledges that the TPWD Commissioners have approved waiving this $2 fee beginning around January 1, 2007. At $2 per fish, over $54,000 was paid to TPWD in 2006 for Lake Conroe’s introduction of White Amur.

2007 AQUATIC MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR LAKE CONROE:

The current 2006 Hydrilla Management Plan for Lake Conroe is soon to expire and will be replaced by the 2007 Aquatic Management Plan for Lake Conroe. The 2007 Plan will extend beyond Hydrilla and address the control or eradication of Hydrilla, Giant Salvinia and Water Hyacinth on our Lake. The first draft of the 2007 Plan has been completed by TPWD and submitted to SJRA for review. With SJRA’s comments to be submitted shortly, a second draft will be produced and reviewed by the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee is encouraged to make comments and recommendations, but the final decision of the contents of the 2007 Plan will fall upon TPWD and SJRA as “Cooperators” of the Plan.

Members of the Advisory Committee (other than TPWD and SJRA) are referred to as “Stakeholders”. The proposed “Stakeholders” will be a diverse group approximating representatives of four (4) resident/POA/HOA’s, four (4) local businesses, four (4) angler associations, one (1) independent consultant, and four (4) local individuals currently active in addressing Lake Conroe’s weed infestation. The LCA will hold one (1) of the “resident/POA/HOA” designations.

FUND RAISING:

Through your generous contributions, the LCA has raised in excess of $200,000 during 2006 (out of its $250,000 goal). These contributions have allowed the LCA to act as the primary funding source for White Amur in 2006 and established sufficient reserves to help fund the LCA’s portion of anticipated White Amur purchases in 2007. Of course, the LCA’s Fund Raising efforts cannot stop here. The LCA is already thinking towards anticipated 2008 White Amur purchases, ongoing White Amur introductions for maintenance levels, reserves for herbicide applications should Giant Salvinia, Water Hyacinth or some new invasive weed get out of control, reserves for surveying and testing, and reserves for the unforeseen incidents that occur on a Lake and always need money to remedy.

If you have not yet contributed to the LCA’s Fund Raising efforts, we would greatly appreciate your donation as each dollar gets us closer to our $250,000 goal. Donations can be mailed to Lake Conroe Association, P.O. Box 376, Willis, Texas 77378-9998. The LCA is a 501 ( c ) (3) non-profit corporation, and your donation should be deductible for income tax purposes. Approximately ninety-six percent (96%) of all monies donated to the LCA since 2000 have been utilized to purchase White Amur or herbicides (and all related fund raising costs such as printing and postage). The LCA is staffed by volunteers and pays no compensation.

Support from local businesses in the LCA’s Fund Raising Campaign has been disappointing. To better communicate our need to the many local businesses who may consider financially assisting the LCA and our community, the LCA is currently working more closely with the Lake Conroe Chamber of Commerce and its members through participation at Chamber meetings, public speaking, trade show booths and whatever other source that allows us to make a “connection” between the LCA and local businesses.

TPWD will be waiving its $2 per White Amur fee. SJRA has agreed to split the cost of White Amur with the LCA, and has significantly increased its Aquatic Plant Management budget. Having met numerous times with Montgomery County Commissioners Court, the LCA is drafting its request for additional 2007 funding from Montgomery County. The LCA’s Fund Raising Committee is utilizing volunteers to search for State and Federal Grants which may be available to assist with Lake Conroe’s 2007 Aquatic Plant Management Program. Efforts across the State are being made to restore a Federal “CORE $” program discontinued in 2004 which, if funded, would again make monies available to TPWD and/or SJRA for our Aquatic Plant Management needs. Texas Black Bass Association is investigating funding sources to deal with the eradication or control of Giant Salvinia on Lake Conroe. The Seven Coves Bass Club (Lake Conroe) has applied for a State Grant to secure funds for lake health and maintenance. It’s beginning to feel like we’re all working together in Lake Conroe to solve this serious problem, and we sincerely thank everyone for their efforts.

LCA ANNUAL MEETING:

The LCA will hold its Annual Meeting for its Members and Board on Friday, January 19, 2007 at 10AM at the SJRA offices on Highway 105. The agenda will include updates on all Aquatic Plant Management issues, voting on proposed LCA By-Law revisions and electing the LCA Board of Directors for 2007. All LCA Members will be receiving in the mail a written invitation as well as a proxy ballot for the 2007 LCA Board of Directors should the Member be unable to attend the Meeting. The current LCA Board has thirteen (13) Directors. YOUR RETURN OF THE ANNUAL MEETING PROXY IS CRITICAL TO OBTAIN A QUORUM. Without a quorum, elections cannot be held and the meeting will have to be rescheduled followed by another mailing. Please return your Proxy today.

NEVER SHORT !!

These LCA Updates are never short due to the quantity of information and infrequency of distribution. We will endeavor to provide more timely communication to you via our website (“LakeConroeAssociation.com”). We thank you for reading to the end and supporting our collective cause to preserve our wonderful Lake Conroe.

Mike Bleier

President, Lake Conroe Association