ARE YOU TIRED OF LOW LAKE LEVELS ON LAKE CONROE YET? CHAPTER 1

October 1, 2019, marked the end of a second year of the San Jacinto River Authority’s (SJRA) Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Program on Lake Conroe where the lake level is reduced by a minimum of two feet (2’) between August 1 and September 30.  Of course, what we’re seeing is not a lake level reduction for only 2 months.  Even with 5.2 inches of rain since October 1, we have now seen a Lake Conroe down 2 or more feet for over 4 months (with a lake level of 198.79 on December 2, 2020).  Were we in a drought, we may well be looking at lake levels down 3 to 4 feet.  SJRA’s Board will vote in February 2020 as to whether to extend, modify, or eliminate the program going forward.  If you are tired of artificially low lake levels, the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) is asking you to make your feelings heard.

The lake lowering program was implemented by SJRA following the significant flooding of communities located well downstream of Lake Conroe during Hurricane Harvey.  The emergency releases from Lake Conroe contributed a relatively small portion of the total water flow (estimated at not more than 15%) downstream and were necessary as the water level in Lake Conroe was threatening to exceed dam design levels and flooding many lake front properties as well. The lake level rose almost 5 1/2 feet before the releases and was over two times the largest ever historical storm effect.

Local businesses and residents that have ties to lake activities have been negatively impacted for two years by the decision to lower lake levels.  Many cannot launch their boat or fear damage navigating through lowered lake levels.  Boats have run aground on sand bars exposed by lowered lake levels that would normally have been safely submerged. The Southern Empress, a commercial paddleboat operating on Lake Conroe was stranded on a sand bar on September 7th with 83 people aboard. Those people had to be rescued and returned to shore in the dark by small boats called in to help.  Businesses relying on boat traffic such as lakeside restaurants experience a decrease in business as customers fear docking in shallow water and accessing high fixed dock decks from their boats. Stumps normally 3-5 feet underwater are now much closer to the surface and causing damage to boats and jet skis. These uncharted and unmarked hazards cause significant risk to the boating public especially those towing children or adults on tubes, on skis, or on wake boards.  Marinas are being forced to spend thousands of dollars to dredge adequate access to their facilities.  Potential lake front home buyers squirm when see sand bars and vegetation hindering lake access from their potential dream home.  Anglers fear damage to shallow native vegetation that supports the lake ecosystem and serves as a breeding ground for the next generation of fish.  Professional angling organizations hosting lucrative national competitions on Lake Conroe may choose to go elsewhere.  Many fear bulkhead damage due to the lack of hydrostatic pressure as lake levels are reduced.

SJRA’s Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Program was designated as “temporary” by the SJRA Board when it voted to implement the program. “Temporary” was tied to completing dredging of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River.  The dredging is designed to improve the flow of water through the river and reduce flooding in Kingwood and surrounding areas.  Dredging is expected to be completed before the end of 2019. It is reasonable to expect that the seasonal “temporary” program should be over by then.

The LCA met with a SJRA Management Team on October 8 to discuss their Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Program and how we ended up here.  While they could not speak for the SJRA Board’s individual votes to implement and continue this program, they stated that the Board was most likely influenced by the fact that Kingwood-area residents have written letters and attended SJRA Board Meetings demonstrating their desire for and support of SJRA reducing lake levels on Lake Conroe.  Conversely, they described Lake Conroe-area residents as apathetic and uninvolved noting that they do not write or attend.  We need to be seen and heard, and it starts with you.

The LCA invited 61 POA’s/HOA’s to a meeting on November 13 to discuss their concerns over lowered lake levels and what steps should be taken prior to the SJRA Board’s February 2020 vote.  Those in attendance agreed, without question, that our residents and businesses need to make their opinions heard by SJRA.  If you disagree with SJRA’s Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Program and want to see it removed, let SJRA’s Management and Board know how you feel.  To write letters, SJRA’s mailing address is PO Box 329, Conroe, Texas  77305.  To send e-mails to Management, the General Manager’s e-mail address is jhouston@sjra.net.  To contact the SJRA Board, please visit www.sjra.net/about/board or e-mail floodmanagementdivision@sjra.net .  You can also express your feelings by attending a SJRA Board Meeting on December 12, January 23 or February 27 which start at 8AM and are held at SJRA’s Lake Conroe Campus at 1577 Dam Site Road in the 3rd Floor Conference Room.  If you don’t take the time to let SJRA’s Management and Board of Directors know how you feel, you should expect continued lower lake levels for years to come.

The LCA will be presenting to the SJRA Board in the January 2020 Board Meeting in advance of the February 2020 SJRA Board vote.  LCA’s goal is to ensure the SJRA Board holds a transparent, objective, and fact-based assessment of the lake lowering program. We believe the current program was enacted by the SJRA Board with minimal technical basis against the recommendations of the SJRA Management and without extensive notice or debate. Our intention is to represent what YOU WANT.  We will be preparing that presentation over the next couple months.

Don’t let another year of this program continue without making your opinions known.  Please let us help you and thanks for listening.

 

Mike Bleier, President, Lake Conroe Association

LOWERING THE LAKE LEVEL ON LAKE CONROE – CHAPTER 2

Kingwood was developed in a known flood plain and civil engineers failed in their responsibility to determine the best methods to minimize flooding.  Kingwood was subsequently annexed by The City of Houston out of sheer greed to expand its tax base.  The City of Houston cut costs by not adequately engineering Lake Houston for flood control they knew would be required.  The City of Houston cut costs by not maintaining Lake Houston and the West Fork of the San Jacinto River even as they saw sand, silt and debris rise annually that inhibited water flow and promoted flooding.  Developers and investors built Kingwood in a known flood plain out of sheer greed to put profits in their pockets.  Individuals purchased homes in a known flood plain to have access to beautiful Lake Houston, live in a highly forested area, have minimal commute times to Houston and enjoy so many favorable aspects of the Kingwood community.   And now, Lake Conroe is expected to see its lake level reduced to help solve the problems not created by Lake Conroe or the residents and businesses who have invested their life savings to call Lake Conroe home.

Since its inception in 1973, Lake Conroe has been deemed a “water supply reservoir” and not a “flood control reservoir”.  The San Jacinto River Authority has emphasized this point repeatedly as it has been attacked over the years by anyone experiencing flooding South of Lake Conroe (whether the water came from Lake Conroe or not).  Not until Hurricane Harvey and enormous pressure being applied to elected officials such as Governor Abbott and Houston Mayor Turner did the pressure get turned up on the San Jacinto River Authority to modify its position and state Lake Conroe was now a “flood control reservoir”.  Funny how that works in an election year where there are more votes in Houston and Kingwood than little Lake Conroe.  Funny how that works when Governor Abbott appoints the Board of SJRA and serves as the SJRA General Manager’s boss.  And while he was at it, Governor Abbott told SJRA they needed to create a new Flood Management Division – but didn’t provide any funding to do so.  Without funding, the Flood Management Division is supported by those purchasing raw or treated water from SJRA.

Funny how many “funny things” have occurred in the decision to lower Lake Conroe’s lake level.  The process of decision-making at SJRA initiates by SJRA’s Management evaluating the facts of a situation, presenting the suggested resolution to its Board, and the Board voting on it.  The staff and Management at SJRA do a wonderful job of evaluating  and providing best resolutions; and because of that, in my experience of over 15 years working with SJRA, the SJRA Board has NEVER overturned a proposal by SJRA Management.  NEVER!  So, when SJRA Management proposed a “Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Plan” to its Board in February, 2018 that called for a 6” reduction in the Spring and a 12” reduction in the Fall, it struck me as odd that 1) the SJRA Board President took the floor and suggested a 12” reduction in the Spring and 24” reduction in the Fall, 2) the SJRA Board President immediately requested that a vote be taken on his lone wolf proposal, and 3) the SJRA Board voted unanimously in favor of the Board President’s proposal.  Did I say earlier that Governor Abbott appoints the SJRA Board?

SJRA is designed to provide and implement strategies for a water supply reservoir in the San Jacinto River Basin.  At best, Kingwood represents less than 0.5% of the San Jacinto River Basin’s total square miles.  Why then, after Hurricane Harvey, did Governor Abbott appoint not one but two individuals residing in Kingwood to the SJRA Board?  That’s two out of seven Board positions, or 29% of the Board.  Any question on how those Kingwood Board Members voted?

When a reservoir is impounded in Texas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) determines a maximum “yield” for that reservoir – meaning  how much water can be safely removed in a given year without harming the reservoirs ability to provide water in a drought.  For Lake Conroe, that annual “yield” is 100,000 acre feet (or about 5 feet of water across the reservoir).  When SJRA’s Board voted to release water and reduce Lake Conroe’s lake level by 12” in Spring and 24” in Fall, that 3 feet of water (valued at over $10 Million at SJRA’s raw water rate) would count against the 5 feet allowed by TCEQ annually – leaving only 2 feet of water for water consumption and drought contingency.  Knowing 2 feet of water would be insufficient to cover consumption and drought contingency, TCEQ decided it would selectively choose to not enforce its own ruling and not count any water released for SJRA’s Seasonal Lake Lowering Program against the 100,000 acre feet maximum yield.   Any guess who appoints the Board of TCEQ?  If you guessed Governor Abbott, you’d be correct.

I recognize that many of these decisions were made with the best of intentions; namely, to avoid future flooding and assist those experiencing terrible flooding during Hurricane Harvey.  But why must residents and businesses of Lake Conroe suffer unnecessarily for the poor decisions of those outside the Lake Conroe area?

The SJRA Board will vote on February 27, 2020 as to continuing, modifying or eliminating its current Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Program for the next year.  If you disagree with this Program and want to see it removed, let SJRA’s Management and Board know how you feel.  To write letters, SJRA’s mailing address is PO Box 329, Conroe, Texas  77305.  To send e-mails to Management, the General Manager’s e-mail address is jhouston@sjra.net.  To contact the SJRA Board, please visit www.sjra.net/about/board or e-mail floodmanagementdivision@sjra.net.  You can also express your feelings by attending a SJRA Board Meeting on December 12, January 23 or February 27 which start at 8AM and are held at SJRA’s Lake Conroe Campus at 1577 Dam Site Road in the 3rd Floor Conference Room.  If you don’t take the time to let SJRA’s Management and Board of Directors know how you feel, you should expect continued lower lake levels for years to come.  Please be heard.

Mike Bleier, President

Lake Conroe Association