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.

Lake Conroe’s impact worth measuring

Published by The Conroe Courier – Over the years, development has enveloped Lake Conroe, representing a sizeable contribution to the Montgomery County economy.

But exactly how big is that contribution, and exactly how would the county be affected if lake levels in a time of drought dropped 12 feet or more?

It’s a question that deserves an answer, but it’s going to cost some money to get it.

The Lake Conroe Communities Network is seeking participants and funding for a quantitative study of the economic impact of lower lake levels. If lake levels were to drop significantly, it would definitely have an impact on the Lake Conroe economy, and would begin to dry up sales tax revenues and eventually could affect revenues from property values. The objective of the study, according to our story by Reporter Howard Roden, would be to provide an assessment of the economic impact from sustained lower water levels of the lake. The study would include surveys of local residents, historical analysis and study of other communities in comparable circumstances.

The network is asking city of Montgomery officials for a contribution of $5,000 to help fund an economic study of the area based on declining water levels. The proposed study by Texas A&M University would cost approximately $140,000 and take up to 16 months to complete. Already, according to the network, the Lake Conroe Association, the city of Conroe and Commissioners Court have pledged support to the project.

It’s clear, from just a glance at the residential and business development that surrounds it, that Lake Conroe is a key part of the county’s economic success. It would be worthwhile knowing exactly how significant that impact really is, and how plummeting lake levels could affect that value. For more information about the LCCN effort to raise support for a study of the economic impact of lower water levels on Lake Conroe, call (936) 448-1809.

In this Lake Conroe community, an experiment continues

This is an article published in the Conroe Courier by Jim Fredricks, publisher concerning the issue of water conservation and shortages in Montgomery County. Please read!!!

Throughout Montgomery County, officials are trying to prod residents to conserve water.

They’re imposing higher water rates in some cases, and in Conroe and The Woodlands at least, paying for irrigation experts to inspect a homeowner’s sprinkler system at their request.

But in one Lake Conroe community, leaders there have launched something different – a public experiment.

In Bentwater, eight homeowners have agreed to participate in a pilot program to encourage conservation, dubbed “Water Wise.” It goes beyond focusing on the most obvious and biggest target for conservation – sprinkler systems – to incorporate a comprehensive approach to changing water habits. High-efficiency shower heads and water-efficient commodes, for example, recently have been installed in the eight pilot homes. Even more, each month, data on water use for the eight homes – for sprinkler systems and uses inside the house (including showers and filling swimming pools) – is posted on the Bentwater Civic Association’s website. You can check it out at www.bentwatercivic.com. Those eight homeowners, in other words, are under a microscope.

The Water Wise program is headed by a committee chaired by Bentwater resident Pat MacParland, who is applying his considerable talents as a retired chemical engineer to the problem of getting people to start saving water.

“Every month we publish data on our eight pilot homes, and we have an update every month we put up there,” he said in a recent interview. “We’ve been at it for six months, we’ve been recording activities and water consumption inside the house, which includes when you wash the car, and even includes filling the swimming pools. It’s kind of all-encompassing.

“We also record irrigation water. And it turns out that at our eight pilot homes, their total consumption over the summertime was right at the 50th percentile of all the community’s homeowners – which is right around 20,000 gallons a month.”

It’s an accomplishment, MacParland said, but he believes the homeowners can do even better as usage data begins to kick on the new, more water-efficient devices in the homes that were installed.

One of the biggest goals was to demonstrate that irrigation systems are dumping way too much water on the lawns of the community’s 1,600 homeowners, and that cutting back wouldn’t diminish a lawn’s beauty, even through the brutal heat of a Texas summer. Irrigation, according to most experts, accounts for about two-thirds of household usage – and half of that is wasted.

One of the eight pilot homes had an UgMo system installed that involves wireless moisture probes buried 4-6 inches below the soil surface. The probes tell the sprinkler system when it is time to water. Meanwhile, the other pilot homes simply tried to watch their sprinkler usage better, eventually getting, on average, down to just 1.25 inches a week. The home with the UgMo system got down to about an eighth of an inch a week. And the lawns are still green. “I think we’ve pretty well shown that an inch a week is quite adequate,” MacParland said.

As a resident of a lakeside community, MacParland says the urgency of conservation is increasing, especially as the county prepares to shift an enormous amount of its water supply from the aquifers to Lake Conroe. Lake Conroe residents continue to be concerned how that issue will affect lake levels, despite the persistent assurances of San Jacinto River Authority officials that they need not worry.

But even more, MacParland said, the pilot demonstrations show that conservation is more possible than many of us think – if we’ll just do it.

“I’m actually kind of flabbergasted with the opportunity that exists. I’m also flabbergasted at the amount of water that is wasted.”

Jim Fredricks is publisher of The Courier; he can be reached at (936) 521-3400 or jfredricks@hcnonline.com.