Lake Conroe flood gates

Lake Conroe Association Complains About Lowering Lake Conroe … Again

Updated 6/25/24 – After the near miss with Tropical Storm Alberto, Lake Conroe Association (LCA) President Kevin Lacey penned an angry, demanding letter to the City of Houston (CoH) about lowering the lake 5 inches.

Complaints In Lacey Letter

Among other things, the letter complains that:

  • Lowering the lake after June 1 is a “breach” of the “Active Storm Management Agreement”
  • The amount of rainfall in the original prediction did not justify the amount of “excessive” lowering
  • CoH did not stop lowering Lake Conroe when the storm veered to the southwest
  • CoH wasted its water, instead of using it “beneficially”
  • The lake likely won’t be able to recover its normal water levels during summer

Use of the word “breach” by Mr. Lacey seems to imply that his association has legal standing to dispute the actions of the SJRA and CoH. He demands that they account to him for their actions during the storm at a special meeting with LCA.

The Lake Conroe Association has a long history of protesting lake lowering. LCA sounds like a homeowner’s association, but it is not. LCA was originally founded as a nonprofit 50 years ago to combat the growth of Hydrilla (a fast-growing invasive plant species) around the lake.

Since then, LCA claims it has raised a million dollars ($20,000 per year) through donations. Currently it claims it is also fighting for “safe water levels.”

Motive Behind the Fight?

Some believe that insufficiently dredged areas around Lake Conroe motivated this fight. Regular HOAs cannot afford dredging and homeowners have difficulty operating their boats when lake levels are down.

Mr. Lacey seems oblivious to fact that many around the lake see preemptive lowering as a positive thing that helps reduce their flood risk. Anecdotally, I have heard that many homes flooded around Lake Conroe during May although I don’t have an exact count.

May Storm Dramatizes Problem of Forecast Uncertainty

After 7 inches of rain fell north of Lake Conroe in late April, SJRA began releasing water for days. They had the release rate down to 8,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) and were actually decreasing the release rate, when another 11 inches fell in the same location.

Lake Conroe flood gates
Gates at Lake Conroe can release water 15X faster than Lake Houston’s gates. This makes coordinating pre-releases difficult.

Within hours, SJRA escalated the release rate to 72,000 CFS, flooding hundreds of homes downstream, nearly flooding thousands more, breaking sand mine dikes, and sweeping sediment downstream – just as the CoH was about to begin a $34 million dredging program.

Seventy-two thousand CFS was SJRA’s second highest release rate in its history. Only Hurricane Harvey’s 79,000 CFS exceeded that.

Decreasing the release rate just hours before increasing it 9X underscores the difficulty of precisely predicting how much rain will fall where.

But Mr. Lacey didn’t acknowledge that difficulty anywhere in his letter. Nor did he reference the May storm. Or homes around Lake Conroe that flooded. Or that the City of Houston has the right to call for SJRA water year round.

He especially forgot to mention that when Alberto was pushing southwest, the National Hurricane Center predicted that another potential tropical storm could move north toward Houston. That explains the likely reason Houston continued calling for 660 CFS even after Alberto headed for Mexico and the Valley.

Ultimately, the second storm followed Alberto into Mexico yesterday. But had it moved north, there wouldn’t have been time to achieve meaningful lake-level reduction without flooding homes downstream and staying within the bounds of Lake Conroe’s permit from the TCEQ.

Correcting Other Allegations

To correct some other issues in the Lake Conroe Association letter:

  • While releasing 660 CFS per second before and during Alberto, SJRA did not exceed its TCEQ Permit which specifies 700 CFS maximum. If Mr. Lacey supported increasing that, perhaps next time, SJRA could release water closer to storms when the certainty level of forecasts is higher.
  • Breach implies some kind of a contract exists between LCA and CoH. It doesn’t. Rather, SJRA has a series of operational guidelines in place with CoH.
  • CoH owns two-thirds of the water in Lake Conroe. The “agreement” referenced by Lacey isn’t even labeled as an agreement. It’s a series of operating protocols. They let CoH call for water whenever it wants, not just during peak rainy seasons in the Spring and Fall. (More on that tomorrow.)
  • Many would consider preventing the potential flooding of homes a beneficial use of the water released, even if it did ultimately flow into the Gulf of Mexico.
  • We’ve heard LCA claim before that Lake Conroe won’t be able to return to its normal level in summer because of such releases. In 2021, LCA actually filed a lawsuit based on that claim. The judge ultimately dismissed the case with prejudice after SJRA had to increase release rates repeatedly that summer to keep homes and businesses around the lake from flooding.

Previous Exaggeration

In 2018, the Lake Conroe Association also claimed that seasonal lowering would destroy home values around Lake Conroe. A spot check of the Montgomery County Appraisal District site shows that many lakefront homes have actually doubled in value since lake lowering went into effect. I found one that virtually tripled.

Perhaps Lake Conroe residents are more concerned about whether their homes will flood than how far they have to step down into their boats. After all, the National Hurricane Center has predicted the most active hurricane season ever.

For More Information

To read the actual text of documents referenced in this post, follow these links:

The last includes elements of seasonal lowering, but differs in several important ways. It represents a compromise among automatic, season-long lowering and:

  • Construction delays for additional Lake Houston Gates
  • Upstream convenience and downstream risk reduction
  • Drought and water conservation concerns.

It does this by approaching lake lowering on an as-needed basis. It also specifies when the SJRA and City may bypass the protocols. See more tomorrow.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/24/2024

2491 Days since 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.