SJRA Board Votes to Maintain Lake-Lowering Policy for Another Year

At its February 28th meeting, the San Jacinto River Authority voted to maintain its lake-lowering policy for another year. The policy calls for lowering Lake Conroe one foot below normal pool level (from 201 feet to 200) during the wettest months in Spring and two feet during the peak of hurricane season.

Extra Safety from Flooding

Until other mitigation measures can be put in place, the plan gives downstream residents an extra measure of safety from massive releases like those experienced during Hurricane Harvey. Those include dredging and additional flood gates for Lake Houston.

This is good news for the Lake Houston Area where Harvey made approximately 11,000 people homeless overnight.

Complaints from Lake Conroe Association in January Meeting

The Lake Conroe Association set the stage for conflict last month. The Association testified that last year’s lowering had a negative impact on business and home values in the area. They also maintained that the Board had acted unilaterally – without consultation – and that the project was only supposed to last through the end of dredging.

Having been at last year’s meeting where the proposal was discussed, I would disagree with these statements. The board considered dredging and gates for Lake Houston. The board also acted on the report of a consultant hired to review the proposal.

Mark Micheletti, a SJRA board member, said the board had received no complaints from businesses on the lake and that a check with realtors found no negative effect on home prices.

Reportedly, the Lake Conroe Association had also collected signatures on a petition asking for the policy to be reversed. At today’s meeting, the room was crowded with spectators, but I did not see the Association’s president, Mike Bleier. The association presented no petition.

The cataclysmic impacts on Lake Conroe’s economy did not materialize. Because of evaporation, the lowering really only amounted a little more than a foot in the fall.

Speaking for Kingwood

During the public comment section of the meeting, three Kingwood residents, Bill Fowler, Amy Slaughter and I, spoke FOR continuing to lower the lake. So did one Lake Conroe resident who flooded during Harvey.

I pointed out the fact that dredging was NOT yet complete and that the river still had an exaggerated flooding response to moderate rainfalls because of sediment dams. Fowler talked about normal evaporation levels in the lake and how the lowering was not as great as the targets would imply. Slaughter mentioned the impact of flooding on her family and recent Supreme Court rulings on inverse condemnation.

The Lake Conroe resident said he wished the Lake were lowered year round. He flooded during Harvey and thought that the lower levels would actually help Lake Conroe home values.

“But what if there’s a drought?”

When it came time to speak AGAINST the lowering, one man spoke up. He used water conservation as his main argument and posed the specter of drought.

When the board began debating the measure, Jace Houston, SJRA’s general manager, pointed out that many people misunderstood the measure. He said that the SJRA was not going to lower the lake beyond the 1- and 2-foot levels in the policy. If the lake was already down a foot due to evaporation, for instance, the SJRA would release no additional water.

Chuck Gilman, Director or Water Resources and Flood Management, thenshowed a series of slides that led to discussions about:

  • Lake-lowering strategy
  • Progress of the current West Fork dredging and Lake Houston Gates projects
  • Rainfall averages and historical lake levels by month
  • How the lowering and subsequent raising of the lake worked last fall
  • Staff recommendations
Graph presented by Chuck Gilman showed how gradual lowering and natural refilling of Lake Conroe worked last year.
Gilman also showed a slide discussing the status of additional gates for Lake Houston.

To see all the slides in the original high-resolution PDF format, click here.

Brenda Cooper, a new SJRA Board Member, then mentioned that some Lake Conroe residents had approached her to voice their disapproval of the project.

Motion Passes Unanimously

Board President Lloyd Tisdale finally called for a voice vote. “All members present voted FOR the lowering,” said Mark Micheletti, one of the Lake Houston Area’s two members on the SJRA board. “The vote could not have gone better from the Lake Houston area’s perspective.”

The SJRA will continue to lower Lake Conroe seasonally. The measure will come up for discussion again next February.

Community Reaction

Bill Fowler, Vice Chair of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiation, said, “I was impressed by the Board’s firm grasp of the importance of lowering Lake Conroe on a seasonal basis for downstream residents. Their willingness to help until permanent solutions can be implemented impressed me.”

Kaaren Cambio, another SJRA board director from the Lake Houston area, said, “I’m happy that the board is balancing the needs of both upstream and downstream communities.

Amy Slaughter, the Kingwood lawyer whose home flooded badly, said, “They did the right thing.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on February 28, 2019

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