Impact of Lake-Level Reductions on Lake Conroe Area – Texas A&M Report

Here is the final report for Texas A&M estimating the impact of the lake level reductions: Lake-Conroe-Final-Report

Bottom Line Summary

  • The GRP scenarios are likely to impact lake-levels significantly. Lake-levels are expected to fall more than four feet below full pool 1.6 times more often in phase one than in prior periods, and increase to 8.5 times more often in phase four.
  • Direct economic impacts are most likely to occur geographically near the lake.
  • Residential properties in lakefront communities enjoy a 15% premium, which declines quickly with geographic distance.
  • Residents in lakefront communities expect a 28% decline in residential property values, in which case losses in real estate values would amount to $1.1 billion in the area.
  • For each foot of lake-level decline beyond the first two feet, retail trade revenue in the City of Montgomery decreases about $414,000 per quarter per foot, or about $1.6 million per year per foot.

Impact of Lake-Level Reductions on Lake Conroe Area – Texas A&M Report

Here is the final report for Texas A&M estimating the impact of the lake level reductions: Lake-Conroe-Final-Report

Bottom Line Summary

  • The GRP scenarios are likely to impact lake-levels significantly. Lake-levels are expected to fall more than four feet below full pool 1.6 times more often in phase one than in prior periods, and increase to 8.5 times more often in phase four.
  • Direct economic impacts are most likely to occur geographically near the lake.
  • Residential properties in lakefront communities enjoy a 15% premium, which declines quickly with geographic distance.
  • Residents in lakefront communities expect a 28% decline in residential property values, in which case losses in real estate values would amount to $1.1 billion in the area.
  • For each foot of lake-level decline beyond the first two feet, retail trade revenue in the City of Montgomery decreases about $414,000 per quarter per foot, or about $1.6 million per year per foot.

Some Marinas and Boat Launch Facilites Getting Ready for Lower Lake Levels on Lake Conroe

Still Putting Boats in the Water

As more and more public and private boat launch locations become unusable, E-Z Boat began deepening its North Ramp by extending it another 4 feet into the lake. Although the channel to the lake has too many high spots for much continued use beyond today’s level (5.5 ft low), the ramp will provide an extremely protected and calm boat launching ramp on the main body of Lake Conroe. The opportunity to go 5 feet down may seem mundane at first, but add the 5 and a half feet the lake is already down and you are 10 feet below lake level.

Dredging and Launch Maintenance

E-Z’s South Ramp got a facelift last month with a new breakwater to block prevailing southerly winds of summer. Always a deep ramp, boats are still being
launched for tenants of the storage facility. In fact, new dredging has begun to add another 3 foot capablity to the channel extending a couple hundred feet plus to reach the lake. With the current rate of water level drop, this may keep the ramp open for a few more weeks.

LCA PRESIDENT’S UPDATE

Wrapping up 2011, it’s been a year unlike any other in Lake Conroe’s 37-year history and record breaking for Montgomery County and most of the State of Texas.  We were parched by record temperatures for most of our Summer and Fall, and the state-wide drought created problems not seen since the 1950’s.  Our poor little Lake Conroe saw record low lake levels, and these low levels have frustrated boaters, fishermen, local businesses, our real estate community and elected officials of City, County and State government.  Cooler temperatures and recent rainfall have become reason for higher spirits, but our dying trees and lingering low lake levels remind us each day of a year most are pleased see come to an end.

Topics concerning Lake Conroe and the LCA follow:

1.      LCA ANNUAL MEETING: Our LCA Annual Meeting will be held on Friday, January 20, 2012 at the dam site offices off Highway 105 of the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) at 10AM in the Lake Conroe Conference Room.  In conjunction with this Annual Meeting, a Meeting Agenda and Voting Proxy will be mailed to our LCA Members next week.  The Voting Proxy allows Members to vote by mail on the election of 2012 LCA Directors and also recommends a change to our LCA Bylaws permitting voting by e-mail in 2013 (as a means to conserve funds currently spent on the cost of mailing envelopes, return envelopes and postage).  We are pleased that all nine (9) LCA 2011 Directors have offered to volunteer their time for 2012 in the same capacity, if re-elected by our Members.

  1. 2.      LAKE LEVEL DATA:  After the generous rainfall we experienced over the past two weeks, our landscape may be happier but our lake level remains at a dismal level of 192.79 as of today…..8 feet,3 inches below normal pool.  These lake levels reflect the lowest levels in the history of the Lake.   The City of Houston reduced its daily withdrawl rate from 165 MILLION GALLONS to 60 MILLION GALLONS as of November 28, 2011 and, on November 30, stopped withdrawing altogether.  The City of Houston has withdrawn an estimated 48,654 acre feet (or 15.8 BILLION GALLONS) between August 16, 2011 and today (approximately 2.6 feet of water over our lake’s surface).  The City of Houston can still withdraw an estimated 18,013 acre feet (or 5.9 BILLION GALLONS) before December 31, 2011 under its 2011 allotment provided under its contract with SJRA.
  2. 3.      CATAHOULA AQUIFER:  As you are most likely aware, SJRA will initiate its Groundwater Reduction Plan (“GRP”) in 2016 by removing approximately 1 foot of water per year from Lake Conroe to assist with meeting the ever-growing water demands of Montgomery County.  Some success has been achieved by identifying and testing water located in the Catahoula Aquifer below portions of Montgomery County.  Montgomery County has always pumped water from the Jasper Aquifer, and possible use of water from the Catahoula Aquifer (never utilized before) could supplement our water supply and possibly reduce the demand of water from Lake Conroe.  Currently, 3 wells have been drilled into the Catahoula Aquifer in Montgomery County (at Bentwater, April Sound and Panorama) and testing is underway to determine the feasibility of use of the Catahoula for our future.  For an extensive discussion of the Catahoula Aquifer, you can visit the Lake Conroe Community Network’s website at www.lakeconroecn.com or SJRA’s website at www.sjra.net.
  3. 4.      TEXAS A&M LAKE LEVEL STUDY:  The $152,000 study commissioned by Montgomery County (of which the LCA paid $69,000) and coordinated by Lake Conroe Community Network has had its completion date pushed back.  Texas A&M University was engaged to review the effects of removing water from Lake Conroe as part of SJRA’s GRP (referenced above).  Of particular concern are future lake levels, potentially reduced sales tax and property tax collections by Montgomery County, and effects on real estate values and local businesses.  A November 7, 2011 Public Meeting summarizing findings-to-date was postponed to give Texas A&M further time to gather complete information.  It is expected that the Public Meeting will be held sometime in March, 2012.
  4. 5.      LCA DUES FOR 2012:  As you may recall, the LCA waived its dues requirements for LCA Members for the year May, 2011 through April, 2012.  This decision was based on our overall suffering economy, the LCA’s current cash balance, and the LCA’s projected cash needs for that year.  Not envisioning large cash demands on the LCA in the coming year, the LCA Board currently plans to waive the collection of dues for the coming year May, 2012 through April, 2013.  We do this confident that, should a significant event occur in the next year needing extensive contributions from the LCA for the benefit of our lake community, our Members would respond positively to an emergency fund raising campaign to secure needed monies.  You would, right?
  5. 6.      DRIVING A VEHICLE IN THE DRY LAKE BED:  Lake Conroe has an imaginary line dividing the southern 2/3 of Lake Conroe (enforcement governed by SJRA) from the northern 1/3 of Lake Conroe (enforcement governed by the Texas Forest Service).  For those familiar with the northern portion of Lake Conroe, Scott’s Ridge Public Boat Launch and Campgrounds denotes the beginning of that portion of the lake under Texas Forest Service enforcement.  In the northern 1/3, vehicles are prohibited from operation in the dry lake bed.  In the southern 2/3, specific regulations have not been developed to preclude use of a vehicle in the dry lake bed.  Should SJRA encounter significant problems created by vehicle use, they reserve the right to modify this policy.  In general, the objective is to protect emerging grasses and the environmentally sensitive lake bed.  As an example, driving around in 4-wheeler doing “donuts” in front of someone’s property would not be viewed favorably nor environmentally conservative by SJRA.  I’d say the simple rule would be “Use some common sense.”
  6. 7.      “CLEANING” THE DRY LAKE BED:  Removing loose trash from the dry lake bed such as bottles, cans, life preservers, tires, and miscellaneous man-made stuff is acceptable to both SJRA and the Texas Forest Service.   SJRA has stated that cutting tall vegetation directly in front of your boat dock which would impede use of your boat (if we had water) is acceptable.  Without advance permission, the cutting of/removal of tree stumps or the removal of fishing “spider blocks” (concrete blocks with steel or aluminum pipes protruding from them as to resemble a brush pile or fallen tree) are not permitted.  If you find something you think may be a “spider block”, SJRA has offered to accumulate a list of locations where “spider blocks” are found and, subsequently, tow them into deeper water (at no cost to the homeowner) for use of fishermen in deeper waters where a boat prop or swimmer will not be harmed.  If in question about removing something, I’d contact SJRA at 936-588-1111 and ask for Bret Raley.
  7. 8.      PUBLIC BOAT LAUNCHES IN SERVICE:  Without having conducted a complete search of the entire lake, we can tell you that the following locations are reported to still have enough water to launch your boat.  The LCA has not visited these locations and cannot report specific water depths.  If interested, I’d place a phone call to the facility prior to towing your boat to any location…and make a safe decision on your own.  Those locations include Cagle Recreational Area, EZ Boat Storage, Lake View Marina, Palms Marina and Stow-Away Marina.  Updates on launch site openings and closures can be reviewed at SJRA’s website (www.sjra.net).
  8. 9.      REMOVAL OF DANGEROUS STUMPS IN THE MAIN BODY OF LAKE CONROE:  In the spirit of contributing towards an enjoyable and safe boating experience on Lake Conroe, the LCA is reviewing the cost of contracting a company for the removal of specific tree stumps in the main body of the Lake.  To be clear, this is in the main body of the lake.  This does not pertain to coves off the main body of the Lake nor to any stumps in the northern 1/3 of Lake Conroe.  We have identified approximately 250 stumps by jet ski for consideration.  The potential contractor has met with SJRA to agree upon rules to be applied, and both SJRA and the contractor will have agreed upon the specific stumps to be removed and the disposal, if any, of the tree trunk debris.  No agreed-upon price has been settled nor any contract signed.  Again, it is in the spirit of providing a safe boating experience for our community that we have considered this request from our Members, and the LCA feels this falls under our purpose of “overseeing, directing, initiating, and promulgating programs that directly affect the control, use, and enjoyment of Lake Conroe for the benefit of any private member or shareholder”.
  9. 10.  DON’T SINK IN LAKE BED MUD:  While the dry lake bed may appear to be safe for an afternoon stroll, please exercise caution when approaching “the mud”.  I experienced a young woman this Sunday taking her dog for a walk in the dry lake bed when her journey took a foreseeable bad turn.  As she decided to venture off “the sand” and into “the mud”, she quickly began to sink…..first boots high, then knee high, then waist high, and finally chest high.  While our football-watching party of 40 or so found some level of entertainment in her poor choice, her predicament caused enough concern for us to call “911” for help.  Ultimately, she somehow pulled herself out of the muck before “911” emergency personnel arrived; but her clothes (and her pride) will never be the same again.  Please be careful out there. 

Thank you for sharing your time in reading this LCA President’s Update.  We hope you find the information helpful and informative.  Should you desire to learn more about the LCA, review previous correspondence with our Members, or provide feedback on this edition of LCA President’s Update, you can utilize our website at www.lakeconroeassociation.com.  Have a happy and safe Holiday Season, and we look forward to a wonderful 2012 !!

Mike Bleier, President

Lake Conroe Association

As Lake Conroe’s waterline sinks, concerns rise

By LINDSAY PEYTON, HOUSTON CHRONICLE CORRESPONDENT
Published 12:35 p.m., Tuesday, August 30, 2011

When the city of Houston ordered a gradual release of water from Lake Conroe on Aug. 15, concerns about the lake’s future began to rise as water levels started to drop.

On Aug. 16, the San Jacinto River Authority released 50 million gallons of water into the San Jacinto River, and the amount increased throughout the week to reach a daily rate of 150 million gallons. The water flows downstream to Lake Houston, so that reservoir remains deep enough to keep Houston’s water purification plant there operating.

Stew Darsey, president of the Lake Conroe Area Chamber of Commerce, said that the resulting lower lake levels could hurt area business owners.

If visitors to Lake Conroe opt to travel elsewhere for weekend getaways, Darsey said it could hurt service stations and hotels, as well as lakeside attractions.

Several business owners on the lake, however, maintain they are not worried.

Jim Winkler, a developer in the Lake Conroe area for more than 20 years, owns a land development on Texas 105 housing several waterfront businesses.

“It’s just what goes with lake territory,” Winkler said. “It’s what a lake does.”

Houston taxpayers years ago paid for the construction of both lakes on the San Jacinto River to secure the city’s water supply. 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.

Winkler’s development includes the Marina at Waterpoint, offering personal watercraft and boat rentals and boat storage.

He said experience has taught him not to be too concerned. “We don’t get upset about the lake like we used to,” he said. “In business and on the lake, we go through ups and downs. We’re just going through a low right now with lake levels.”

Conroe’s current lake level is 196.6 feet above mean sea level, which is 4.4 feet below its normal level of 201 feet. The lowest the level has ever dropped is 5 feet below normal 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.

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.

Houston explained the city owns two-thirds of the lake’s water and may use up all 67,000 acre-feet if there is no relief from the drought this year. The San Jacinto River Authority owns the remaining third of the water.

At the current rate of 150 million gallons released per day, the city would use its allotment sometime in January.

The city is then entitled to draw another 67,000 acre-feet per year.

“Lakes are designed to yield a certain amount for seven years,” he said. “We would have to have a seven year drought to dry up Lake Conroe.”

Houston said that the city is not using the lake at maximum capacity. The water release equates to a loss of three or four inches per week. Adjusted for evaporation during the drought and with summer heat, the lake level could decline five to six inches a week.

“It’s a hardship on residents. It’s hard for boaters and local businesses that rely on the lake, but we have plenty of water on supply,” he said.

Winkler said that when the lake levels are down, it affects real estate sales of waterfront properties.

“It makes buyers unsure, especially if they don’t have any history on the lake,” he said.

When the levels return to normal, Winkler predicts that sales will also rise.

“Everyone will forget the lake was ever low,” he said. “The water level will get back really fast when we see rain. We just haven’t seen rain for awhile.”

Gary Richardson, a partner at the Palms Marina located on FM 830, agrees that fluctuating water levels should be expected.

“The lake will fill back up. People need to realize that,” Richardson said. “All it takes is one big rain.”

Richardson said that marinas located in deep water could benefit from lower lake levels. He said people will still be able to launch their boats from those marinas.

“You just have to navigate carefully along the shoreline,” he said.

Richardson, also a broker with Prudential Gary Greene, said that negative publicity about the lower lake levels has slowed down home sales, but he also blames discussions of state and city budget issues.

“I think all real estate has slowed down. Everyone seems to not want to spend money right now,” he said.

Richardson said sales around Lake Conroe have been up from the previous year, if only a marginal amount.

“Still, it’s going in the right direction,” he said. “I think people still want to move here.”

Richardson said he and his brother have operated businesses on the lake since it was established in the 1970s and that lake levels have been fairly constant. “I watched the lake go up,” he said. “It’s been low one time before and that filled up in a few months.”

Richardson said the marina will still prepare for the worst case scenario, digging deeper down just in case the water level continues to subside.

David Mosberg, general manager of April Sound Country Club, said the largest problem he has faced is the effect on the club’s aquatic golf range.

He said the first ten feet of the range are no longer in water.

Mosberg said for April Sound residents, the issue is mainly aesthetic, but he said the views from the country club have not been affected.

“It really hasn’t affected a lot of our views,” he said. “From our dining rooms, you can’t see much of a difference.”

Some of the residents of April Sound cannot launch their boats from their own slips and some waterfront homes could now better be described as beachfront.

Darsey believes that Houston’s call for water should serve as a wake-up call for Montgomery County residents.

“I’m confident that what’s happening now will make us sit up and realize that we need to do something to establish an alternate water source,” he said. “If we wait longer still, shame on us.”

With an eye on long-term growth in the county, Darsey said water is a top concern.

“If we don’t have enough water to support the people who live here, we can’t grow,” he said.

Accompanying Photo and Caption

Lake Conroe's Low Lake LevelWaterfront homeowners in La Torretta, on Lake Conroe’s Lake southwest side, can’t use their boats or boat docks because of the low water conditions. Conroe’s current lake level is 197.3 feet above mean sea level, which is 3.7 feet below normal. The lake may be drawn down even more if the City of Houston starts drawing water from the lake. Some lake front homeowners are unable to use their boats dock and boaters are being warned to be extra careful while using the lake. Photo by David Hopper Photo: Freelance, David Hopper / freelance