Proposal to lower Lake Conroe water levels
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We thank you for listening.