They’re baaaa-aaaack. Yesterday, less than a day before the SJRA spring seasonal lowering program was set to kick in, the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) applied for a temporary restraining order to prohibit it. The LCA also seeks a permanent ban on the entire program. For the complete text of their 30-page lawsuit, click here. For a summary, see below.
History of Lake Lowering Policy
After disastrous flooding during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Governor Abbott instructed the SJRA to get into the flood mitigation business and identify strategies to reduce the risk of downstream flooding. The simplest, fastest, most effective strategy that required no grants, funding, design or construction was to lower Lake Conroe during the peaks of spring and fall flood seasons. This created an extra buffer against downstream flooding by creating extra capacity in the upstream lake.
The seasonal-lowering policy started in 2018 and continued in 2019. By late 2019 when the SJRA was getting ready to review the policy for another year, the Lake Conroe Association mobilized opposition in a major-league way. People came to SJRA Board meetings in busloads. There were so many that they couldn’t all get in the SJRA boardroom to be heard. So the next meeting was held in the Conroe Convention Center. Close to a thousand “Stop the Drop” protesters showed up. They argued that lowering the lake a foot was destroying businesses around the lake, undermining property values, destroying the local school system, and threatening the entire tax base of Montgomery County.
They also argued that Lake Conroe was never intended to be a flood control reservoir, and that the policy wasted water, produced no benefit, and had minimal effect. The current lawsuit makes many of these same hyperbolic arguments.
Allegations in Lawsuit
Below, see the major allegations in the seasonal-lowering lawsuit (italics) and my responses (normal text).
The SJRA and City of Houston are unlawfully discharging billions of gallons of water from Lake Conroe which causes it to remain below full capacity. However, a quick check tonight showed that the lake was actually above its normal capacity.
The Lake Conroe Dam is being operated contrary to state law. The operation was initiated at the request of the governor and approved by the TCEQ as an emergency measure while permanent downstream flood mitigation efforts could be put in place.
Lake Conroe Dam operation is contrary to the interests of the parties “for whom the lake is maintained, regulated and conserved.” The City of Houston paid for the construction of the dam and owns two thirds of the water in the lake. The operation benefits Houston residents and was requested by the Mayor of Houston. So I ask, “For whom is the lake maintained, regulated and conserved?”
The State is entitled to regulate water to protect its citizens’ health and safety. Isn’t that what the lake-lowering policy ensures?
Lake Conroe is not a flood control reservoir. Right! We’re trying to do the best with what we have.
The policy doesn’t conserve water. Right again! But it does conserve downstream property and lives. Somehow those got lost in the LCA arguments. For a list of Lake Houston Area damages during Harvey, click here.
There’s no evidence that the policy works. Tell that to the people who didn’t flood in this storm.
The policy is not really temporary. Why was the policy enacted for three years then? It’s intended to allow safe completion of additional gates on the Lake Houston Dam.
The seasonal releases happen far in advance of a storm. Lake Conroe’s gates can release water 15 times faster. If a major storm approaches and a large release becomes necessary, it could overwhelm the gates on Lake Houston. The slow seasonal release safely reduces that risk.
Harris County Flood Control’s Harvey Report found the benefits of lowering Lake Conroe to be “negligible.” That’s a lie. The word negligible never appears in the report. And the lawsuit distorts the figures. It claims the Lake Conroe release accounted for at most 16% of the water going over the Lake Houston Dam. But it was one third of all the water coming down the West Fork where the vast majority of the damage occurred. The lawsuit allegation includes East Fork water to exaggerate its claim. The Lake Conroe Dam has no effect on East Fork flow. Also consider this. All by itself the Lake Conroe release during Harvey would have ranked as the ninth largest flood in West Fork history. Hardly negligible!
Petitioners continue to be affected in their rights to their use and enjoyment of Lake Conroe. Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. But these photos show little impact on recreation even when the lake was lowered two feet.
Water released as part of a seasonal lowering will never be available for use. Rain replenishes the lake at no cost.
Without the TRO, Lake Conroe residents will have no adequate remedy to protect the “public’s interest.” Which public? The owners of the water? Or residents of Lake Conroe?
Lake Conroe Residents Don’t All Agree with LCA
Not all Lake Conroe residents agree with this petition. Though the petition gives no hint of that. Many who flooded during Harvey have previously testified that they want the lake lowered – permanently!
Exaggeration Upon Exaggeration
This lawsuit exaggerates. And that’s its biggest flaw. It sounds like the kid who tells the teacher “My dog ate my homework, right before a bus ran him over, and a 747 crashed into the bus. I tried to retrieve my homework, but the fire department washed it down the sewer. And now it’s floating in Lake Conroe where water skiers are tripping on it. That’s going to destroy home values on Lake Conroe and undermine the tax base of the school district. So you see, Teach, we have much bigger things to worry about. Like your salary and job security.”
For more about the seasonal lake lowering policy, click on this page.
It’s not clear yet how this lawsuit will affect the spring lowering of Lake Conroe scheduled to start Thursday. The lawsuit is scheduled for a hearing on 4/19/2021 in Montgomery County.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/1/2021
1311 Days after Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.