Results of May SJRA Board Meeting and Decision to Temporarily Lower the Level of Lake Conroe

At its May Board meeting, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) chose not to reconsider its April decision to lower the level of Lake Conroe temporarily at the peak of hurricane season. The board also chose not to put reconsideration of the resolution on its agenda for next month. This now puts the decision about whether to lower Lake Conroe temporarily into the hands of the City of Houston and the Texas Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Protest by Lake Conroe Association

The Lake Conroe Association protested last month’s board resolution to temporarily lower the level of Lake Conroe by up to two feet in September. The resolution was intended to help protect Lake Houston area residents from flooding until other mitigation measures, such as dredging, can be implemented. The Governor specifically directed the SJRA to make such protection part of its mission.

However, the president of the Lake Conroe Association (LCA), Mike Bleier, urged the board to reconsider its decision and was given unlimited time to present his case. Bleier spoke for more than half an hour. Bleier’s main concerns were the potential impacts on recreation, home values and businesses around Lake Conroe. Several other members of the association spoke in support of reconsideration.

Kingwood Residents Speak in Favor of Lowering

More than a dozen Kingwood residents also attended the meeting. Four spoke in favor of letting the motion stand.

Guy Sconzo, former superintendent of the Humble Independent School District, thanked the board for its decision to lower the lake. Then he talked about the impact of flooding on Lake Houston area infrastructure. His talk  addressed massive losses by the school district, Kingwood College, and more.

TxDoT hopes to repair damage to the I-69 bridge by September, more than a year after Harvey. In the meantime, residents endure massive traffic jams.

Robert Westover talked about a flooded retirement community where several elderly residents died due to injuries incurred during high-water rescues and related stress.

Amy Slaughter complemented the board for its decision to lower the lake and explained how it would help insure that people had time to rebuild while other flood mitigation measures were completed.

Dennis Albrecht, who owns homes on both Lake Houston and Lake Conroe also spoke. Albrecht compared the relative impacts of flooding and lower lake levels on home values. Albrecht pointed out that the value of his Lake Conroe home has increased steadily despite lower lake levels at times. He also pointed out the devastating impact of the flood on the value of his Lake Houston home. “There’s no comparison,” said Albrecht.

Many other Kingwood residents attended the meeting to support the SJRA Board’s decision.

When is a lowering not really a lowering?

Bleier said that his members would accept a one foot lowering, but not two. Several Kingwood residents pointed out that evaporation already typically reduces the level of the lake by more than a foot and a half during September. The LCA’s decision to accept a one-foot lowering was, therefore, actually no concession at all; they would likely give up nothing.

Assuming average loss due to evaporation, the actual lowering would amount to only 4.8 inches.

Dianne Lansden, co-chair of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots flood prevention initiative, and I gave Bleier a tour of the devastation in Humble and Kingwood yesterday. After a two-hour tour, while professing to be sensitive to the needs of downstream residents, Bleier proceeded to tell us the concerns of upstream residents. Among them: his members might not be able to take their boats to lakefront restaurants. (Editorial comment: Spooky shades of Marie-Antoinette!)

Not All Lake Conroe Residents Support LCA

To be sure, not all Lake Conroe residents agree with Bleier. Hundreds of homes on Lake Conroe also flooded during Harvey and reportedly most of the owners also favor a temporary seasonal lowering of the lake level, according to SJRA Board Chairman Lloyd Tisdale.

Lake Lowering Could Still be Nixed

Despite the SJRA board’s decision this morning, Lake Conroe still may not be lowered. To take effect, both the City of Houston and the TCEQ must also agree to lower the lake. The City owns two thirds of the water in the lake. The TCEQ must decide whether any lowering will count as an emergency release or be deducted from the City’s draw rights. If not considered an emergency release, the City may not support the decision to lower the lake.

Uncertainty Surrounding Weather Outlook

Some forecasters are beginning to worry about a possible drought. As of May 22, pointed out that abnormal dryness is currently affecting approximately 13,612,000 people in Texas, which is about 54% of the state’s population.

However, NOAA issued an outlook saying that 2018 will be a slightly above average hurricane season.

And, Thursday night, the National Hurricane Center predicted a 90% chance of tropical development in the Gulf this weekend.  That system could dump up to ten inches of rain on neighboring Louisiana and other gulf states.

How a 10-Inch Rain Could Affect Kingwood

If we got ten inches of rain from a storm, such as the one entering the Gulf this weekend, that could constitute a 50-year rain at a time when the river is clogged with sand. That could produce a higher-than-normal flood for that amount of rainfall, and re-flood parts of Kingwood and Humble before dredging could even begin.

Personal Recommendation

Personally, I favor lowering the level of the lake. The actual amount of manual lowering, assuming this is an average year, would be only 4.8 inches. Even in the depths of the 2011 drought, the loss of 4.8 inches would have not have been disastrous.

There’s little chance, despite the hyperbolic rhetoric from LCA that 4.8 inches will destroy the Lake Conroe area. And it could help protect the Lake Houston area from another disaster.

In fact, in eight of the last 18 years, Lake Conroe has lost more than two feet of water due to evaporation and the lake is still one of the state’s most desirable destinations for tourists.

LCA Vows to Escalate the Fight

LCA has vowed to press its fight with the City and TCEQ and claims to have enough political support lined up to kill the proposal to lower Lake Conroe temporarily.

So get involved. Urge the TCEQ, Mayor and City Council to TEMPORARILY lower Lake Conroe  until other mitigation measures, such as dredging, take effect.

Posted on 5/25/18 by Bob Rehak

269 Days since Hurricane Harvey