Tag Archive for: Lake Conroe Association

Case Finally Closed on Lake Conroe Association Lawsuit against City, SJRA

In April, 2021, a Montgomery County District Court dismissed the Lake Conroe Association’s lawsuit against the City of Houston for its Lake Lowering Policy. In August 2021, the court dismissed the same case against the SJRA with prejudice. The Lake Conroe Association (LCA) and several Lake Conroe residents appealed the decisions.

Then on April 20, 2022, LCA and the other appellants asked that the Court dismiss their appeal. Neither the City, nor SJRA, opposed the motion. Three judges of the Ninth District Court of Appeals in Beaumont then unanimously dismissed the appeal. Case closed.

“Takings” Claim Disputed

Lake Conroe Association contended that the SJRA’s lake lowering policy amounted to a “taking” of residents’ property.

The City of Houston and SJRA contended that the water at issue did not belong to lakefront homeowners. It belonged to the State of Texas and the City. Therefore, the Lake Conroe Association had no basis for a “takings” claim.

Sources close to the process said that before the matter was heard on appeal, the LCA realized it would never win. So its leaders decided to drop the case and avoid more legal fees.

Clearing the Way for Lake-Lowering Policy to Remain in Effect

This clears the way for the SJRA’s seasonal lake lowering policy to remain in effect during construction of additional floodgates on the Lake Houston Dam. The policy helps ensure that extra “storage capacity” (parking space for water) remains in Lake Conroe during the rainiest months in spring and the peak of hurricane season.

This reduces chances of another devastating release that floods downstream residents during a major storm, such as Hurricane Harvey. The SJRA released 79,000 cubic feet per second during Harvey, one third of all the water coming down the West Fork between Humble and Kingwood.

However, as time went by, Lake Conroe residents became upset with the policy. That led to a contentious confrontation between upstream and downstream residents, as well as the lawsuit.

2022 Version of Lake-Lowering Policy is a Compromise

Over time, the SJRA has reduced the amount of lowering in its policy. Currently, the spring lowering is one-half foot below 201 during April and May, the level of the conservation pool in the lake. Originally, it was one full foot below 201. Most people call that the “normal” level. However, the mean level of Lake Conroe is below that about two-thirds of the time. (See last table below.)

Current Lake Conroe Level

Evaporation and low rainfall currently have Lake Conroe at 200.8, or about 3 inches above the new seasonal target level and 3 inches below the conservation pool.

Currently Lake Conroe’s level is at 200.8 feet and the City of Houston (COH) has not called to lower the lake further.

A close reading of the policy reveals that for the lake lowering to begin, the City of Houston must call for the water.

Below-Average Rainfall Has Delayed Need for Spring Release

However, below-average rainfall for the last two months has delayed the need for a spring release from Lake Conroe this year. Much of the state is now in drought.

Montgomery and northern Harris Counties are currently rated as “abnormally dry.” Southern Harris, Fort Bend and Waller Counties all have “moderate drought.”

Jace Houston, general manager of the SJRA, said, “We haven’t had a big rain in a long time and there’s no significant rain in the foreseeable future. The feeling is that evaporation will soon take the lake down to the target level. The City of Houston must initiate the lowering. If we get a lot of rain, we’ll start releasing again.”

Time for Healing

In addition to reducing the spring lake lowering, the 2022 policy lowers Lake Conroe to 200.5 in August and 200 in September – both a half foot higher than the original policy.

Hopefully, this compromise will help upstream and downstream residents live together now that the lawsuit has been dismissed. It’s time for some healing.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/22/2022

1697 Days since Hurricane Harvey

MoCo Judge Dismisses Lake Conroe Association Lawsuit Against SJRA With Prejudice

Judge Michael Mayes of the 284th Judicial District Court in Montgomery County filed an order today dismissing the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) lawsuit against the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA). But the most significant part of the dismissal was the way he did it.


Meaning of “With Prejudice” and “Want of Jurisdiction”

“With prejudice” means that the plaintiff cannot refile charges in another court. Basically, the court is saying that it found the case meritless. One lawyer told me, “It’s like saying, ‘Don’t waste the court’s time anymore.'”

The massive floodgates on Lake Conroe (above) have 15X the release capacity of Lake Houston’s. The seasonal lake lowering program was conceived in part as a way to give Lake Houston more time to shed water in advance of major storms.

Re: Plea to the Jurisdiction, according to the website Houston Courts and Cases, “In Texas…A plea to the jurisdiction can challenge either the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s pleadings or the existence of jurisdictional facts.”

In April 2021, the Judge dismissed the case against the City of Houston for want of jurisdiction, but the case against the SJRA remained active until today.

The ruling means that the SJRA’s Seasonal Lake Lowering Plan may remain in effect.

Purpose of Lake Lowering Plan

The Seasonal Lake-Lowering Plan was conceived shortly after Harvey as a way to provide an extra measure of flood protection for the Lake Houston Area while it implemented other flood-mitigation measures such as dredging and additional gates for the Lake Houston spillway. By creating extra storage capacity within Lake Conroe during the wettest months of the year, the SJRA hoped to reduce the risk associated with another massive release like the 79,000 cubic feet per second during Harvey. By itself, that was the ninth largest flood in West Fork history.

2800 Pages of Legal Briefs Come to a 102-Word End

The Lake Conroe Association pulled out the stops for this lawsuit. It filed approximately 2800 pages of legal briefs in four months, ran out of money, and started begging with residents to donate more so it could continue the fight. Today’s ruling will put an end to that.

Reality repeatedly contradicted the LCA’s factual claims. LCA claimed:

  • Home values around Lake Conroe would plummet because of the plan. They increased.
  • The school district would run out of money. It didn’t.
  • Nature would not be able to recharge the lake after a lowering. It did. Repeatedly.
  • Lake Conroe was not conceived as a flood-control lake. Flood control is a key element of SJRA’s charter.
  • The lowering would not help protect people in the Lake Houston Area. It did.
  • The City of Houston committed fraud … by calling for the release of its own water.

In contrast to (or maybe because of) the 2800 pages of legal briefs, today’s court order was mercifully brief – 102 words.

“On this 30th day of August, 2021, came on before the Court San Jacinto River Authority’s Plea to the Jurisdiction, and after considering same, all Answers, Responses, Replies, pleadings, stipulations, evidence, affidavits and attachments filed by the parties, all statutory and caselaw authorities, and all arguments relating thereto, the Court was of the opinion that the following Order should be entered; it is therefore ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that San Jacinto River Authority’s Plea to the Jurisdiction be, and it is hereby, GRANTED AND SUSTAINED, and that the above Cause be, and it is hereby, DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE FOR WANT OF JURISDICTION.”

Now a Meaningful Dialog Can Begin

I’m sure this must come as a bitter blow for some residents of Lake Conroe who supported the long court battle. But perhaps some good will come from the clarity that now exists.

Hopefully, this will open the door to reasonable people who wish to craft a long-term joint management plan for both Lake Conroe and Lake Houston. The people of this region are inextricably bound together by the need to balance water and flood control. Perhaps now we can start a meaningful dialog that addresses both.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/30/2021

1162 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Engineers Testifying for LCA are Electrical and Chemical, Not Civil

Yesterday’s post cited the testimony of two “licensed professional engineers” in the State of Texas who claimed that Lake Conroe could not refill from rainfall in the Spring or Fall after being lowered one foot to provide an extra margin of safety, which helps prevent flooding homes on both sides of the dam. However, the lake did refill…and then somewithin two days after the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) filed their affidavits in its lawsuit to prevent the seasonal lowering.

Deeper investigation reveals that neither engineer is a civil engineer. One is an electrical engineer and the other a chemical engineer.

From https://pels.texas.gov/roster/pesearch.html

“The Engineer Shall Not…”

Here’s why it is important. Note Paragraphs A and C below.

From Page 84 of PDF at https://pels.texas.gov/downloads/lawrules.pdf

Paragraph A states that engineers shall practice only in their areas of competence.

Paragraph C states, “The engineer shall not express an engineering opinion in deposition before a court … which is contrary to generally accepted scientific and engineering principles without fully disclosing the basis and rationale for such an opinion.”

There was no such disclosure in their affidavits.

In fairness, the engineers also testified as residents and they had more concerns than flooding.

However, both:

  • Cited their professional credentials at the start of their affidavits – without disclosing their areas of expertise.
  • Drew the same conclusion about the inability of the lake to refill through rainfall – without stating the basis of their conclusions.

Mr. Elliott has retired and his license is inactive. Mr. Waitts’ license is still active.


Only two days after LCA filed the engineers’ affidavits, rainfall raised the lake level two feet above normal, and threatened homes and businesses. SJRA had to release water at almost 10,000 CFS to avoid flooding them.

Seasonal Release from Lake Conroe, 529 cfs from one tainter gate open six inches.
SJRA Seasonal Release on 4/15/2020. One tainter gate open six inches released a slow, steady stream of 529 cfs.

Without the seasonal lake lowering policy, someone on either side of the dam would likely have flooded. Dam operators would have been forced to flip a coin to see who. But the seasonal lowering – about which the chemical and electrical engineers complained – helped protect everyone. No one, to my knowledge, flooded on either side of the dam due to river flooding.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/23/2021

1363 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.

LCA Claims “Seasonal Lake Lowering Policy Does Not Allow Lake Conroe to Refill Through Rainfall in Spring, Fall”

Never says never. Especially in a lawsuit. It didn’t take long to disprove that claim! Two days after LCA filed the claim on April 28th, the SJRA had to open its gates to keep Lake Conroe homes and businesses from flooding. And they are still releasing water…three weeks later.

SJRA Dashboard as of 6pm Friday night, 5/21/2021. Normal level is 201. Despite near constant releases this month, the lake’s level has remained above average.

This afternoon, I read the third supplement to the petition by the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) in its lawsuit against the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) and nearly busted a gut laughing. After a week where we received more than half the rain for the year so far, I needed the comic relief. And got it.

Two licensed professional engineers – with more than 80 years of experience between them – filed affidavits. They claim that the SJRA’s seasonal lake lowering policy “does not allow Lake Conroe to refill through rainfall in the Spring and Fall.” Their claim is repeated over and over again in affidavits by others.

Lake Conroe Association’s Third Supplement to its Original Petition

SJRA Forced to Go Beyond Seasonal Lowering to Avoid Flooding

Twice this month, the SJRA has had to release water from Lake Conroe above and beyond the seasonal lowering policy to prevent flooding. After the May Day event, they released almost 10,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) for several days to keep the homes and businesses around Lake Conroe from flooding.

The boats are in slips, but the docks are underwater. Near Monty’s Lighthouse and Fajita Jacks on Lake Conroe on 5/1/2021, when the water level exceeded 203 feet halfway through the Spring seasonal lowering.

The rains this week have been more spread out, but the SJRA still had to release almost 3,000 CFS most days to reduce flood risk around Lake Conroe.

Engineers rarely deal in absolutes. They deal in extremes and qualify almost everything they say. But these intrepid professionals stepped over the edge on the far side of reality. Mother Nature always gets the last word.

One of Many Exaggerated Claims

The LCA lawsuit seeks to stop the SJRA’s seasonal lake lowering policy. The “refill” claim is just one of many exaggerated claims that LCA has made.

This lawsuit overflows with self-destructive claims and internal contradictions.

Say That Again!

The latest filing claims that the Lake Conroe Association has the authority to speak for all of its members because LCA feels it proved actual or imminent damages to at least one of its members. In logic, they call that “the fallacy of generalization.” I know at least one influential member of LCA who disagrees vehemently with the lawsuit. So which of those two individuals should we listen to?

LCA also asserts that the Association’s rights are “in every practical sense identical” with “its members.” Its interests, however, may not be.

Some may not find flooding enjoyable.

In its original petition, LCA claimed that its purpose was “over-seeing, directing, initiating, and promulgating programs that directly affect the control, use, and enjoyment of Lake Conroe…” Had it not been for the seasonal lake lowering policy, many homes and businesses upstream or down would likely have flooded after the May Day rains.

In the same sentence about enjoyment, LCA also claims that Lake Conroe is operated exclusively for the benefit of the citizens of Montgomery County, Texas.

Did they really mean to say that Lake Conroe is operated exclusively for MoCo residents when the City of Houston owns two thirds of the water in it?

At one point, the lawsuit claims the sole purpose of Lake Conroe is to supply drinking water. But most of LCA’s complaints refer to lost recreational opportunities.

The second supporting document LCA filed sought relief for irreparable damages but did not specify what those were. Previously LCA members have complained about:

Could Dredging Costs Be The Real Issue?

But LCA’s latest filing reveals what could be the real issue here: dredging. Reportedly, the former president of the LCA had shallow water next to some lakefront property he was trying to sell. But with the water lowered, shallowness made the property less marketable.

Shallow water especially impacts residents at the north end (headwaters) of the lake.

Some LCA affidavits claim that access channels to the lake have been cut off by siltation. This latest filing references dredging in numerous places.

Wildwood Shores claims the estimated cost to dredge area canals exceeds one million dollars. They have hired an engineering company to set up a multi-year dredging plan that would spread out the costs. But they worry that the costs may still not be affordable. Dredging companies have explained the costs of dewatering the dredged materials; hauling them out of the floodplain; and the Army Corps’ permitting process.

Residents from Wildwood Shores, an area without fire hydrants, also claim that the Sam Houston National Forest could burn down if a house fire gets out of control and the local fire department can’t find a way to draw water from the lake.

I wonder if they’ve compared the cost of dredging to putting in a water well and tank from which tanker trucks can refill. I googled “cost of water tanks” and quickly found one that holds 90,000 gallons for $35,000. That’s a lot less than a million dollars for dredging. And the capacity would be enough to fill up at least 30 of the tanker trucks they reference in the lawsuit. The engineer who filed that affidavit didn’t explore that option. Perhaps because he had something else in mind…like boating, for instance.

Let’s Focus on the Real Issues and Work Together

I’m not trying to minimize the:

  • Loss of recreational opportunities
  • Inconvenience of silt
  • Expense of dredging.

We in the Lake Houston Area have been grappling with those same issues…on top of the flooding that silt dams contribute to. They are all real.

But making claims that are false at face value; inventing one doomsday scenario after another; and ignoring reasonable, cost-effective alternatives only undermine your own credibility.

Keeping water high is a temporary solution at best. Eventually, silt will pop up all around Lake Conroe. Especially after heavy rains.

Until you start enforcing regulations that reduce the effects of egregious development (including sedimentation) and form a Flood Control District to help dredge, this problem will dog you.

Realize that we’re all in this together – upstream and down. Let’s focus on ways to mitigate our mutual problems, not fight each other for a temporary advantage.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/22/2021

1362 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.

Lake Conroe Keeps Rising Despite Increasing Discharges by SJRA

In the last two weeks heavy rains have slammed the areas upstream from Lake Conroe leading to steady rises in the lake level. Had the lake not been lowered earlier, neighborhoods could be flooding now. Streets in several places are already cut off.

As of 7:30 pm Saturday night, 5/1/2021

More Than Three Foot Increase Above Lowered Level

The rain a week ago erased the one-foot seasonal lowering that SJRA started on April 1. Then yesterday’s rains increased the lake more than 2 feet above its normal level of 201 – despite increasing discharges by the SJRA. The lake is now threatening lakeside homes and businesses as you can see from the photos below.

If you’ve watched the dashboard at SJRA.net, the SJRA started discharging 450 cubic feet per second (CFS) before the most recent round of storms. Now the discharge rate has increased to 9275 CFS, which is close to the max rate that the antiquated flood gates on Lake Houston can handle. But even at 9275 CFS, Lake Conroe continued to rise this afternoon.

So did Lake Houston, despite the fact that the Coastal Water Authority has been trying to lower the lake a full foot for several days now.

As of 5:30PM Saturday.

Water Coming from Other Sources, Too

However, in addition to the water from Lake Conroe, Lake Houston is also picking up water from other sources, a number of which are in danger of coming out of their banks.

Status of streams as of 4:15PM on 5/1/2021 according to the Harris County Flood Warning System.

Yellow triangles indicate a stream could come out of its banks. Red exclamation points mean flooding is likely.

This is precisely the scenario that the SJRA designed its lake lowering policy to prevent – an ugly choice between flooding people upstream or downstream.

But the Lake Conroe Association has fought the lowering for the last two years both in a court of law and the court of public opinion. The Association mounted an expensive campaign including billboards, lawsuits, and a legislative offensive against the SJRA. Now, the rapid rise in lake levels may undermine LCA’s support; it certainly undercuts their arguments against seasonal lake lowering.

Water Creeping Closer to Homes and Businesses around Lake Conroe

A Lake Conroe resident who wishes to remain anonymous took the pictures below this afternoon. They show docks underwater, the lake invading shorelines, streets cut off, and homes and businesses being threatened by rising waters.

The docks at Papas on Lake Conroe are underwater.
Water is creeping closer to the Villas at Margaritaville.
This resident said water from the rising lake levels was keeping water from draining into the lake and backing it up into streets.
Docks in front of Monty’s Light House and Fajita Jacks. Those boats are in their slips. The docks are under water.

The marinas on 105 are closed for two reasons. First, the lake is closed to boat traffic because of dangerous conditions. Second, the water is high enough that you can’t get trailers in deep enough, according to one resident. The Walden marina looked like the one above, he said.

One More Round of Thunderstorms Tonight

Expect one more round of storms tonight. National Weather Service radar shows them already sweeping into the Lake Conroe area. They aren’t predicted to dump large amounts of rain, but they will put additional pressure on the homes and businesses around the lake, especially as runoff from previous storms continues to work its way to the lake.

The East Fork in southeast Montgomery County remains under a Flash Flood WARNING, especially areas around Caney and Peach Creeks.

Caney Creek gage at FM2090 as of this afternoon.

And virtually the entire region remains under a flash flood watch through tomorrow morning. A Flash Flood Watch means that conditions may develop that lead to Flash Flooding. Flash Flooding is very dangerous. You should monitor forecasts and be prepared to take action should Flash Flood Warnings be issued.

From National Weather Service on 5/1/21

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/1/2021 based on information from Lake Conroe residents and the NWS

1341 Days since Hurricane Harvey

MoCo Judge Dismisses Lake Conroe Association Suit to Block Seasonal Lake Lowering

It has been a busy ten days at the Montgomery County Courthouse. On March 31, the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) filed a lawsuit to block the seasonal lowering of the lake. But a hearing was not set until April 19. Meanwhile, the SJRA and City of Houston initiated a release of 450 cubic feet per second on April 1. That prompted the LCA to request an immediate order to stop the release on April 6. And that may have backfired on the Association. It forced the judge to look at the case sooner. And today, the judge dismissed the entire suit with respect to the City of Houston for lack of jurisdiction. Co-defendant SJRA has yet to file its response in the case, so the judge could not rule on that.

Dismissed for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

In its initial response to the LCA suit, the City argued what lawyers call a “plea to the jurisdiction.” The City claimed that LCA lawyers relied on outdated case law, that the City enjoyed governmental immunity, and that the plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The arguments re: immunity are complicated and technical. Briefly, Texas law gives governmental entities broad immunity. Plaintiffs must challenge the validity of a statute under which a government took action to challenge the government’s action. But, says the City, the seasonal lake lowering policy is not a statute or ordinance; it is simply a policy. Thus, “Plaintiffs’ declaratory judgment action is barred by governmental immunity.”

More Hail Mary’s

To stop the seasonal release once it started, Plaintiffs then filed their first supplement to the Application for a temporary restraining order. They also filed a Supplement to their Original Petition. And a second supplement. The filings claimed that the release of 450 CFS was:

  • Causing irreparable harm
  • A public nuisance
  • A “taking” of their property
  • An unreasonable loss of water
  • Diminishing their enjoyment of the lake

The City of Houston answered these allegations one by one in a seven-page brief filed on 4/7/2021. I’ll dispense with the legal arguments; you can read them for yourself. They discuss whether the allegations have merit and meet the legal definitions involved.

Even without a law degree, it appears on the surface that the only claim with validity is the enjoyment claim. But balanced against the City’s property rights (in the water), plus the potential flood-reduction and property-protection benefits, it pales.

Judge’s Ruling

Suffice it to say, that around 9 a.m. today, the judge agreed with the City of Houston’s Plea to the Jurisdiction. “The Court having considered the Plea and the response, if any, is of the opinion that it should in all things be SUSTAINED.”

“IT IS THEREFORE, ORDERED that City of Houston’s Plea to the Jurisdiction is SUSTAINED and that Plaintiffs’ claims are DISMISSED for lack of jurisdiction.

Judge in LCA Case

Altogether, plaintiff’s filed 86 pages of legal briefs so far. I’m glad I’m not a Lake Conroe homeowner paying the bill for that!

Irreparable Harm? Really?

Some LCA claims stretched credulity. A 1-foot reduction causing irreparable harm? Really?!! During public testimony before a special SJRA Board meeting this morning, Lake Conroe callers mentioned that sales tax receipts are up, boaters are enjoying the lake, and home values are also up substantially since the seasonal lake lowering policy started.

Boats on Lake Conroe during last year’s seasonal lowering in the Spring.

Homeowners around Lake Conroe should demand to learn what and who is really behind this exercise.

Effect on SJRA

To date, the City of Houston has taken the lead on various pleadings. That makes sense because the lake lowering program involves its water.

The judge’s order this morning did not affect the SJRA. That’s because SJRA has not yet filed any answer, pleadings, or briefs in the case. The extent of SJRA activities on this case so far was to brief its board this morning and get its support to engage outside legal counsel. The board approved hiring two firms. Expect more from the SJRA in the coming days.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/9/2021

1319 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.

SJRA Began Spring Seasonal Release on April 1

The San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) began slowly releasing water yesterday afternoon to lower the level of Lake Conroe to 200 feet per the temporary seasonal release policy adopted more than a year ago. When the seasonal release began, the lake stood at 201.01 feet – its normal target level. By noon today, the level stood at 200.94 feet.

Screen capture of SJRA dashboard as of 4:50PM yesterday.

Community Impact claims the release started at 4:20PM on 4/1/2020.

These pictures show the release.

Start of SJRA spring release. What 450 cubic feet per second looks like.
The slow release is designed to help protect downstream interests.
Looking back toward Lake Conroe.

Lake Lowering Policy by the Numbers

In the spring, SJRA lowers the lake one foot, starting April 1 and begins recapturing water on June 1.

In the summer and fall, it’s a little more complicated. On August 1, SJRA releases water again to reduce the lake level back to 200. Beginning Sept. 1, they take the water down another six inches. But the City of Houston may call for it to be lowered another six inches (to 199) if a named storm is predicted in the Gulf.

Statistically, the peak of hurricane season is September 10. The lake-lowering policy builds additional capacity to absorb heavy rains that could threaten the dam, and help prevent massive releases that cause downstream flooding.

Upstream/Downstream Differences of Opinion

Downstream residents love the policy. They saw their communities destroyed during Harvey when the SJRA started releasing 80,000 cubic feet per second. Many Lake Conroe residents who flooded during Harvey also love the policy.

But some Lake Conroe residents feel inconvenienced and persuaded the Lake Conroe Association to file a lawsuit requesting a temporary restraining order to stop the lake lowering. A Montgomery County judge scheduled arguments in the lawsuit for April 16th, two weeks from now.

One resident who joined the suit claims the lower lake levels forced her to repair her bulkhead at a cost of $2000. And a bait shop owner claims he was driven out of business in 2018 when people couldn’t get their boats in the water.

But pictures taken during last year’s lowering show plenty of boaters having plenty of fun despite the lower level. Evaporation often takes the lake down partway to the target level anyway. So, the SJRA may only need to release inches rather than feet to reach its target level – especially in late summer.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/2/2021

1312 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.

Lake Conroe Association Applies for Temporary Restraining Order To Prohibit Seasonal Lowering of Lake Conroe

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.

Seasonal Release from Lake Conroe, 529 cfs from one tainter gate open six inches.
SJRA Seasonal Release on 4/15/2020. One tainter gate open six inches releases a slow, steady stream of 529 cfs.

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.

Flood control is not permitted for Lake Conroe. But the TCEQ did permit it. And the TCEQ rejected an LCA appeal last year.

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.

As of 8pm on 3/31/2021, Lake Conroe was at its normal “target level.” The SJRA lake lowering policy calls for lowering it one foot during April and May.

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.

Hearing Scheduled

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.

Lake Conroe Association Complains to TCEQ about Seasonal Lake Lowering

In June, the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) filed a 102-page complaint to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) through Austin attorneys about the San Jacinto River Authority’s (SJRA) policy of seasonally lowering Lake Conroe. The SJRA’s purpose for the lowering: to lower flood risk for downstream residents.

To download the complete complaint by Birch, Becker & Moorman LLP, click here. Warning: 20-meg file size.

Complaint Based on Three Arguments

The attorneys make three arguments.

  • State law prohibits the wasting of water.
  • The policy will not prevent downstream flooding.
  • Also, the policy threatens the area’s water supply.

“In summary,” says the complaint, “SJRA and Houston are only authorized to divert or release and use water from Lake Conroe for municipal, industrial, mining, and agricultural purposes. Any other use of surface water from Lake Conroe is not authorized by the Amended Certificate, and thus, is a violation of the Amended Certificate and state law.”

The complaint fails to mention flood control in that last list (prominently mentioned in the SJRA’s enabling legislation). To follow the LCA’s arguments to their logical extreme, SJRA would not have been allowed to release water during Harvey. Every home on Lake Conroe would have flooded.

TCEQ Response to Complaints

On July 29, the TCEQ replied to the complaint. Toby Baker, TCEQ’s Executive Director, says that:

  • “TCEQ does not have jurisdiction over future water supply strategies or State and Regional Water Planning.”
  • “Both SJRA and the City have adopted Water Conservation Plans that comply with TCEQ’s Chapter 288 rules.”
  • “Therefore, these diversions, which are in compliance with the terms of the Certificate and the Conservation Plan, are not a waste of water under the law.”
  • The City and SJRA are within their rights.

LCA Lodges Supplemental Complaint

Just the day before, on July 28, 2020, the same law firm filed a 4-page supplemental complaint to halt the fall lowering. The second complaint and the TCEQ’s response to the first complaint may have crossed in the mail.

The law firm acknowledged in its supplemental complaint that the lowering would only amount to 2.75 inches. However, the firm also claimed the water would be needed in a drought. Then it showed a Texas Water Development Board Drought Map as evidence. But map showed that no drought near the San Jacinto watershed.

TCEQ Finds City and SJRA in Compliance

Mr. Baker of the TCEQ replied to the supplemental complaint on August 6. He concluded, “After review, the TCEQ determined that the San Jacinto River Authority and the City of Houston are in compliance with the terms and conditions of Certificate of Adjudication 10-4963.”

In the End, Mother Nature, Not SJRA, Lowers Lake This Year

After all of that, evaporation alone took Lake Conroe down to the SJRA’s seasonal lowering target of 200 feet. It took Mother Nature an extra week to get there, but…

SJRA RELEASED NO WATER from Lake Conroe to achieve its August target level.

SJRA still has not released any water since the early spring.

Lake Conroe dashboard as of 4pm Saturday, August 15, 2020. Source: SJRA.net.

LCA Pleads for More Money to Keep Fighting

Now the Lake Conroe Association is pleading with residents for donations to replenish its war chest. It will be interesting to see what they plan next.

Posted by Bob Rehak on August 15, 2020

1082 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Lake Conroe Lowered to Target Level for August; LCA May Be Gearing Up For Another Fight

Since August 1, the level of Lake Conroe has hovered around 200 feet. As of this writing, it stands at 199.95 feet, virtually at the target level of the seasonal lowering for the month. That’s three hundredths of a foot above its seasonal average for the last 46 years and five hundredths of a foot below the target level. Yet the Lake Conroe Association appears to be gearing up for another fight to end the program.

Lake Conroe level as of 8/10/20 at 4:30 pm. Source: SJRA.net.

Seasonal Averages

Lake Conroe seasonal levels by month. Source: SJRA

History of Strategy

The SJRA started seasonally lowering the level of Lake Conroe in 2018 after Governor Abbott directed the SJRA to develop strategies to help protect downstream communities from flooding. Due to a slight drought in late 2019, the lake level did not recover quickly. The Lake Conroe Association (LCA) then organized protests as the SJRA reconsidered the strategy for this year.

Seasonal Release from Lake Conroe, 529 cfs from one tainter gate open six inches.
SJRA Seasonal Release on 4/15/2020. One tainter gate open six inches releases a slow, steady stream of 529 cfs. No one flooded downstream last Spring during the release.

Ultimately, the strategy adopted by the SJRA represented a compromise. During September/October, the lake will remain a half foot higher than in previous years (200 vs 199.5).

Here’s how the current and previous targets compare to what Mother Nature provides through rainfall and evaporation.

In August, little manual lowering should be needed. In September and October, much less lowering will be needed compared to the previous plan adopted in 2018.

SJRA’s Plan for Fall Lowering

SJRA’s current official policy reads as follows.

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.”

Compared to the seasonal average, the plan really only amounts to lowering the lake 2 to 3 inches in September and October.

Lake Conroe Association Gearing Up for Another Fight?

Regardless, the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) is reportedly gearing up for another fight.

Community Impact newspaper reported in its August 2020 issue that LCA filed a complaint with the TCEQ on June 30 to end the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe.

On August 7, they sent an email out to requesting Lake Conroe residents to donate money to the Lake Conroe Association so that it could “replenish the reserve funds spent to oppose the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) lake lowering program.”

In the next paragraph, they ask Lake Conroe residents to provide comments to the Sunset Commission reviewing the SJRA.

Screen Capture of LCA Communication on 9/7/2020. Links not active.

Neither of those two actions is a threat. But juxtaposing them like that is certainly walking up to the firing line … with the chamber loaded.

There sure is a lot of energy expended over two or three inches of water.

Lake Conroe people claimed last winter, when the SJRA was reconsidering the policy, that the lowering would not help Lake Houston Area residents. Lake Houston Area residents, still feeling the pain of Harvey, want all the help they can get.

Enough said.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/10/2020

1077 Days after Hurricane Harvey