Tag Archive for: lake lowering policy

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.

Rep. Metcalf Introduces Bills to Deny Downstream Representation on SJRA Board

Texas State Representative Will Metcalf from Conroe has introduced two bills in the 87th Legislature that would affect the composition of the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) Board. The two bills have major differences. One calls for the election of Board members. In case that fails, the other recommends how the Governor should appoint directors. Both bills, however, introduce an upstream bias in the selection of board members at the expense of downstream residents.

Excluding Harris County Voters

HB4575 would create a Board of seven directors who must be legal voters in the State of Texas. It does not specify who gets to vote in the election. It simply says voters in the District will elect Board members at large. But the boundaries of “the District” are not defined in HB4575. They are, however, defined in Section 5 of the SJRA enabling legislation to EXCLUDE Harris County. So far, no other sponsors have signed onto the bill.

Stacking Deck in Favor of MoCo

HB3116 relates to recommendations for the appointment of SJRA directors. It calls for the Governor to appoint six directors, all of whom must be Texas voters and property owners. Four of the six must reside in Montgomery County, the only county wholly encompassed by the District defined in the SJRA boundaries.

The Commissioners Court of Montgomery County would get to recommend two directors to the governor. Other counties in the watershed could each recommend one. But, again, four – a two-thirds majority – would have to reside in Montgomery County.

The SJRA board currently has seven members, so this bill would reduce that number by one and also increase the possibility of tie votes. That could help stymie approval of policies, such as lowering Lake Conroe seasonally or fighting subsidence. As of this date, no other sponsors have signed onto this bill either. It was referred to the Natural Resources committee yesterday.

Could Impact Lake-Lowering Policy

Metcalf’s filing of these bills comes hot on the heels of a contentious debate last year about seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe to provide a buffer against flooding in downstream communities. The hotly contested issue drew hundreds of Lake Conroe residents to a board meeting that had to be held in the Montgomery County Convention Center to accommodate the crowd. Protestors complained that it would ruin recreation and the tax base of Montgomery County.

In the end, the appointed board voted to continue its lake lowering policy. The policy calls for lowering the lake from 201 feet to 200 during April and May, then again in August. During September, the peak of hurricane season, the SJRA would lower Lake Conroe an additional half foot to 199.5. The City of Houston owns two-thirds of the water in the lake, and all releases come from the City’s share, and only at the City’s request. SJRA staff coordinate with City staff on the details and timing of all releases. And if the level of Lake Conroe has already dropped to the target elevation due to natural evaporation, no additional releases are called for.

The SJRA board first adopted this policy after Governor Gregg Abbott visited the flood-ravaged Lake Houston Area in 2018. That year, he also appointed two downstream residents who flooded during Harvey, Kaaren Cambio and Mark Micheletti, to the SJRA board.

Kingwood Greens Evacuation During Harvey by Jay Muscat
Photo by Jay Muscat of the Kingwood Greens Evacuation during Harvey after the SJRA release from Lake Conroe.

If Metcalf’s bills gain traction, the bills could potentially undermine the lake-lowering policy. The SJRA Board extended it for three years starting last year. That would give the City of Houston time to add more gates to the Lake Houston dam. FEMA gave the City three years to complete the gates when the project clock started ticking on April 8th of last year. The City is still in the preliminary engineering phase of that project, and trying to prove up the benefit/cost ratio for FEMA.

Could Also Impact Groundwater and Subsidence Debates

Metcalf’s bills could also affect the subsidence debate between upstream and downstream interests.

Shortly after the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) first elected its board in 2018, the LSGCD board began advocating for higher groundwater pumping. It has also stonewalled any mention of subsidence in the desired future conditions for Montgomery County in Groundwater Management Area 14.

Private groundwater providers, such as Quadvest, heavily backed a slate of candidates for the LSGCD Board in 2018. Their candidates won based on the promise to “restore affordable water,” but residents report that water rates have not gone down.

The SJRA has opposed the unlimited pumping of groundwater. Electing the SJRA board, too, opens it up to the same kind of shadowy influence exerted by Quadvest prior to the 2018 election. If Quadvest is successful again, Quadvest could eliminate its primary opposition on the subsidence issue. The residents of northern Harris and southern Montgomery Counties would then potentially face increased subsidence. And subsidence can damage foundations, walls, ceilings, cabinets, doors, driveways, streets, pipelines, and more.

As the map below shows, subsidence could also tilt Lake Houston toward the Harris/Montgomery County line by two feet relative to the amount of subsidence at the Lake Houston Dam. That could increase flood risk for people living in the upstream reaches of the lake.

Drawing down aquifers in MoCo by 30% (leaving 70%) was supposed to have produced no more than 1 foot of subsidence, but models showed it could produce 3 feet in the Kingwood and Huffman areas of Harris County.
The same amount of pumping produced 3.25 feet of subsidence in southern MoCo.

Neither Elections, Nor Appointments, Should Exclude Affected Residents

I normally don’t oppose elected boards. But I also don’t want to return to the days just before Harvey when the SJRA board represented only upstream interests and downstream areas flooded disastrously.

If the SJRA board is elected, downstream residents in Harris County should be able to vote on the board members. Metcalf’s bills have the appearance of populism, but they strive to stack the deck against downstream residents. Both are wrong.

Everyone who lives and works along the San Jacinto should get to vote on the composition of the SJRA Board if board members will be elected.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/20/2021

1299 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.

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

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