Exact Text of Lake Lowering Policy Adopted by SJRA

This morning, the San Jacinto River Authority put out a press release about the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe. I reported the results of the board vote last Friday. The elements of the policy in this press release do not differ. Regardless, I’m printing this press release verbatim for two reasons: a) its the official version, and b) I want the historical record to be complete. I have four comments on the official wording below the release.

Kingwood Town Center Apartments after Lake Conroe release during Harvey. For reference, that’s the roof of an SUV in the foreground and the Town Center Apartments are more than a mile from the river.

SJRA Board of Directors Recommends Renewing Flood Mitigation Strategy

Conroe, Texas—San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) Board of Directors last week approved a recommendation to the City of Houston (COH) to continue a temporary flood mitigation program at Lake Conroe. The board’s vote proposed extending the initiative through December 2022 and serves as a recommendation to the City of Houston who owns the majority of the water rights in Lake Conroe.

At the special board meeting, over 100 constituents voiced their opinions on the initiative to reduce water level in Lake Conroe on a seasonal basis to create extra capacity to catch rainfall and storm water runoff. During the meeting SJRA Director of Water Resources and Flood Management, Chuck Gilman, gave a presentation to the board that included 20 years of rainfall and lake level data for consideration. 

After approximately five hours of presentation, public comment, and board discussion, the SJRA Board of Directors approved the following recommendation to the COH regarding the operation of Lake Conroe:

  • Spring strategy: Beginning April 1, release only an amount of water from Lake Conroe to create a one foot capacity to catch rainfall and storm runoff (from 201’ mean sea level to 200’ msl). Recapture of lake level beginning June 1.
  • Fall strategy: Beginning August 1, release only an amount of water from Lake Conroe to create a one foot capacity to catch rainfall and storm runoff (from 201’ msl to 200’ msl). After September 1, increase capacity an additional six inches (from 200’ msl to 199.5’ msl). If a named storm is predicted to impact our region, the COH may initiate an additional release of six inches (to 199’ msl) by notifying SJRA in writing of their call for release. Recapture beginning October 1.
  • All releases come from the COH’s 2/3 share of permitted water supply in Lake Conroe at the city’s request. SJRA staff to coordinate with COH staff on the details and timing of any releases.
  • If the lake level of Lake Conroe has already dropped to the target elevation due to natural evaporation, no releases should be made. 

The strategy of temporarily creating capacity in Lake Conroe on a seasonal basis began in 2018 to provide flood mitigation benefits for regional downstream constituents in both Montgomery County and Harris County by catching rainfall and runoff in Lake Conroe. 

The COH supports the strategy. Mayor Sylvester Turner notified SJRA the day before the special board meeting that the city wished to extend the initiative until the completion of additional dredging and construction of flood gates on the Lake Houston Spillway.

Lake Conroe was built in the 1970s as a partnership between COH, SJRA, and the Texas Water Development Board as a water supply reservoir for the region. COH owns 2/3 of the water rights in Lake Conroe; SJRA owns 1/3. The City of Houston may call for the release of water from Lake Conroe for the city’s use at any time. Upon release, the city’s water flows down the west fork of the San Jacinto River eventually ending up in Lake Houston for use by Houston.

One of the major river authorities in Texas, SJRA’s mission is to develop, conserve, and protect the water resources of the San Jacinto River basin. Covering all or part of seven counties, the organization’s jurisdiction includes the entire San Jacinto River watershed, excluding Harris County. For additional information on SJRA visit our website at www.sjra.net, like SJRA on Facebook@SanJacintoRiverAuthority, follow us on Twitter @SJRA_1937, or find us on Instagram @sanjacintoriverauthoritysjra.

Observations about Curious Wording Within the Release

I found several things interesting about nuances of the language in this press release.

First, the headline talks about renewing the lake lowering policy, not modifying, tweaking, changing, or revising it.

Second, they characterize what they did as a recommendation to the City of Houston, as if it is not the policy that they officially adopted over the City of Houston’s recommendation.

Third, they omitted mention of the difference between the City’s recommendation and the SJRA’s.

Fourth, they omitted any mention of affected residents who live outside of the City, but inside the West Fork watershed. For instance, approximately a dozen residents testified from River Plantation on behalf of the hundreds who flooded there. Woodloch and other Montgomery County communities upstream from the Lake Houston area also experienced severe flooding. More than 1100 homes on the West Fork flooded during Harvey between Kingwood and Lake Conroe.

Fifth, in the last paragraph, the SJRA omitted flood prevention in the boilerplate about their mission! Their enabling legislation clearly included it. The governor recently reconfirmed it. And it was the reason for months of debate that consumed two communities. While the omission may seem trivial, it speaks of an entrenched attitude. I trust the State Sunset Commission will consider that during its review of the SJRA’s performance this year.

Posted By Bob Rehak on 2/26/2020

911 Days after Hurricane Harvey