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

FACTS DON’T SUPPORT SJRA LAKE LOWERING – CHAPTER 3

In defense of their votes to lower the lake level on Lake Conroe, the San Jacinto River Authority’s (SJRA) Board touts engineering reports that support its position.  And when SJRA Management issued a Press Release dated November 21, 2019, they frequently sited those engineering reports.  Maybe they didn’t read the same reports that I did as these “engineering reports” do not support SJRA’s Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Program (the “Program”).  Please allow me to make a few observations.

Has there been any report produced by SJRA or its engineers that quantifies how flooding of the Kingwood area during Hurricane Harvey would have been reduced had Lake Conroe’s lake level been two feet lower (as it is today under SJRA’s Program)?  SJRA’s answer is “no”.

SJRA directs people to a report issued by Freece and Nichols (SJRA’s primary outside engineering firm) entitled “FNI Lake Conroe Dam Gate Operations Modification Analysis – 4/10/2018” which can be found on SJRA’s website at www.sjra.net/floodmanagement.  It attempts to quantify the “benefits” of starting with a lower lake level during a 100-year storm event (1% probability to occur in a given year) and a 500-year storm event (0.02% probability to occur in a given year and similar to a Hurricane Harvey-type event).  The report estimates the impact on several key parameters including the increase in the San Jacinto River’s level at the intersection of I-45 (it does NOT address water levels in Kingwood).  It concludes “The average change in downstream water surface elevation by decreasing Lake Conroe to a 199’ elevation (2 feet below normal pool) is a reduction of approximately 1.0 feet for both the 100-year and 500-year storm events.  These reductions are relative to flows that are on average 8 feet above the channel banks in the 100-year event, and more than 12 feet above the channel banks in the 500-year event.  The benefits to those downstream, though the water surfaces are reduced by a foot or more in places, are generally not enough to be considered wholesale improvements to the flood hazard and show minimal differences in spatial extent.”  In other words, an 8 foot flood at I-45 might be reduced to 7 feet, and a 12 foot flood (like Hurricane Harvey) at I45 might be reduced to 11 feet.  And as that water spreads out across the land past I-45, the flood benefit becomes even less than 1 foot.

Carrying this a step further, the report goes on to state that “For storm events larger than a 500-year event, it is anticipated that reducing Lake Conroe by 2 feet before a storm event could potentially increase the flood hazard downstream of the dam if the peak release is delayed such that it occurs at the same time as other tributaries to the West Fork of the San Jacinto River.”

A second Freece and Nichols report entitled “Proposed Lowering of Lake Conroe Conservation Pool: Potential Impacts on San Jacinto Basin Water Supplies” and listed on SJRA’s website is argued to be support for the Program.  This 31-page report does little to address Hurricane Harvey or flooding in the Kingwood area.   Stating the obvious, the report says if the lake level on Lake Conroe is reduced, there will be less water available to sell and less available for drought contingency.  It goes on to say “Reduction in pool elevation could result in larger and more prolonged reductions in storage during dry conditions…..and could potentially reduce recovery to the 201’ normal pool elevation”.  And finally, “Replacement of water diversion reducing pool elevation could require the development of major project infrastructure with associated costs”.

Summarized information from the two (2) Freece and Nichols reports described above was used to develop a response from SJRA to Lyle Larson, Chairman, House Committee on Natural Resources in a letter dated April 16, 2018.  You may review the redundant information on SJRA’s website as it is listed as further support used by the SJRA Board in making its decision to lower Lake Conroe’s lake level.

Lake Conroe was reduced by 1 foot under SJRA’s Program between March 1 and April 30, 2018, by 2 feet between August 1 and September 30, 2018, and by 2 feet between August 1 and September 30, 2019.  We had no storm events, and Kingwood experienced no benefit from SJRA’s Program.

Lake Conroe was reduced by 1 foot under SJRA’s Program between March 1 and April 30, 2019.  SJRA’s November 21, 2019 Press Release suggests their Program is a success because it rained in early May, 2019 and the Program “resulted in both lower peak Lake Conroe lake levels during the storm and lower release rates from the Lake Conroe dam”.  I won’t refute the words in between the “quotes”, but I certainly wouldn’t therefore deem the Program a success.  During this rain event, Lake Conroe rose by 2 feet.  Homes on Lake Conroe would not have flooded with the addition of 2 feet of water and water released from the dam could have been done so at a slow and consistent rate so as not to unnecessarily flood those downstream including Kingwood.

During September, 2019, Hurricane Imelda hit the Houston area and caused flooding in Kingwood again (with some Kingwood areas flooding worse than the floods caused by Hurricane Harvey).  The Conroe area saw minimal rainfall and had no necessity to release any water (with or without SJRA’s Program in place).  Kingwood floods – that’s all there is to it.  Since its creation in 1973, Lake Conroe and SJRA have been blamed for Kingwood flooding.  Even when SJRA doesn’t release water from its dam, it gets blamed for Kingwood flooding.  Due to its geographic location where many tributaries converge, poor civil engineering design and improper maintenance of Lake Houston and the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, Kingwood floods.   The SJRA Program will not change that.

And what of the “value” of the water released under SJRA’s Program?  Water is always touted as a valuable commodity not to be wasted.  SJRA has released 21.5 BILLION gallons of water in 2019 under its Program.  Applying SJRA’s raw water rate of $0.48 per 1,000 gallons or the City of Houston’s raw water rate of $0.7209 per 1,000 gallons, that comes to $10.3 MILLION or $15.4 MILLION, respectively.  Both argue that without a customer to buy the water, the water maintains no value and they are wasting nothing.  Yet both SJRA and the City of Houston are selling raw water to themselves daily, treating that water for purification, and selling the treated water to the public.  If the raw water has no value, maybe they should just charge customers a “processing  fee” for water purification and eliminate the charge for the raw water itself.

Let it not be forgotten that Lake Conroe’s lake level has been down greater than 2 feet for four consecutive months now – not just the two months of August and September, 2019.  Without any valid technical support upon which to base its decision, I do not agree with any vote by the SJRA Board in favor of continuing SJRA’s Program.  Nor do I see how the elected officials in support of SJRA’s Program can continue to sit in the background and do nothing to eliminate it.

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 SJRA’s 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 to see continued lower lake levels for years to come.  Please be heard.

Mike Bleier, President

Lake Conroe Association

 

 

 

 

A fourth invasive plant known as Crested Floating Heart has been identified in Lake Conroe

Crested Floating Heart

Reservoir owners and operators in Southeast Texas are all familiar with the concept of non-native, or invasive, aquatic vegetation growing in their waters and the various management techniques available to help control their existence. Through close partnerships with local, state, and federal organizations, especially the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the Lake Conroe Division of the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) manages invasive aquatic plants, zebra mussels, and other invasive species on the Lake Conroe Reservoir. In addition, the Division has developed a program to establish and maintain native vegetation across the reservoir and sustain a suitable fisheries habitat.

Lake Conroe invasive species efforts have historically targeted three primary species of plants: Hydrilla, Water Hyacinth, and Giant Salvinia. Hydrilla is a submerged and rooted plant that generally grows in shallow water. Water Hyacinth is a floating invasive species with large purple flowers that bloom in the summer. Giant Salvinia also floats freely on the surface of the water and resembles a fern. Each one of these plants presents its own unique challenges, but all three can cause serious environmental, as well as economic havoc on an aquatic environment. Countless hours have been spent to keep these three plants under control on Lake Conroe.

Water Hyacinth

Water Hyacinth is a floating invasive species with large purple flowers that bloom in the summer.

(Source: Phil Petunyia)

Hydrilla

Hydrilla is a submerged and rooted plant that generally grows in shallow water.

(Photo Source: Bugwood.org)

Giant Salvinia

Giant Salvinia also floats freely on the surface of the water and resembles a fern.

(Photo Source: texasfarmbureau.org)

There are numerous ways in which invasive plants can get introduced into a body of water. The most common way for this to happen is when a boat that was not properly cleaned, drained, and dried travels from an infested lake to a non-infested lake. Just like the zebra mussel, plants are simply transported via boat and trailer from one lake to the other.

Another common way in which non-native plants are introduced to a lake is through the aquarium or water garden industries. Unfortunately, many invasive species are actually quite beautiful to look at and, though illegal to possess, are relatively easy to purchase. Finding plants to stock these outdoor features is often as easy as a few clicks on the internet. There are many ways that garden plants can end up in a local body of water. Often it’s through disposal, but they can also be carried by animals such as birds and reptiles or rising waters during a storm.

Crested Floating Heart

Recently, a fourth invasive plant known as Crested Floating Heart has been identified in Lake Conroe. This is a rooted plant with heart-shaped leaves that float on the water’s surface. The plant was first identified on Lake Conroe in the headwaters of Little Lake Creek.

Little Lake Creek

In the aquatic plant management world, the ability to positively identify plants is the single most important skill a manager can have.  One must be able to distinguish between native plants and non-native plants at any time of season.

Crested Floating Heart

Crested Floating Heart is a rooted plant with heart-shaped leaves that float on the water’s surface.

One of the key indicators that allows aquatic plant managers to positively identify Crested Floating Heart is the distinct ridge that runs down the middle of its leaf petals.

(Photo Source: www.texasinvasives.org)

Banana Lily

Banana Lily, a plant native to the Southeast United States, can easily be mistaken for Crested Floating Heart.

Banana lily is a perennial plant with leaves that arise from “banana-shaped” rhizomes on the long slender petioles

(Photo Source: plantsrescue.com)

In the case of Crested Floating Heart, this can prove to be a challenge as many native plants resemble Crested Floating Heart.  In particular, Banana Lily, a plant native to the Southeast United States, can easily be mistaken for Crested Floating Heart.  One of the key indicators that allows aquatic plant managers to positively identify Crested Floating Heart is the distinct ridge that runs down the middle of its leaf petals.

Fortunately, this plant has been positively identified and treatment has already started.  The plant was identified on October 30, 2018, and technicians from the TPWD were on Lake Conroe on November 2, 2018, making the initial treatment applications.  The treatment of choice is a relatively new herbicide that is safe for the environment and poses no threat to public safety, yet is highly effective on this invasive plant.  Only specially-trained applicators are permited to purchase and apply this new product.  Technicians with SJRA, in addition to local area contractors, are scheduling to be trained on this product, so that they too can join in the fight.

Erradicating an invasive plant like Crested Floating Heart is usually not possible on a body of water as large as Lake Conroe, but that is the goal of our efforts.  What is more likely is that this plant will become a regular part of the on-going aquatic plant maintenance program for Lake Conroe.

Finally, a special warning to boaters.  One of several ways that this plant can reproduce is through fragmentation.  This means that if a piece of the plant is broken off by a boat propeller or some other means, it can float away and reestablish as an entirely new plant.  For this reason, boaters and recreational enthusists on Lake Conroe should take special precaution not to damage plants if they see them.   To learn more about this plant please visit:

https://www.texasinvasives.org/plant_database/detail.php?symbol=NYCR