Tag Archive for: lake lowering

City Will Lower Lake Houston Sunday in Advance of Heavy Rainfall

Houston District E City Council Member Fred Flickinger announced today that Houston Public Works will lower Lake Houston beginning Sunday afternoon. They expect to complete the lowering before rain starts on Monday. Houston Public Works is actively monitoring weather forecasts.

The National Weather Service has predicted 3-5+ inches of rainfall in our watershed beginning Monday through the coming week. A forecast of 3+ inches of rain triggers the opening of the Lake Houston Spillway Gates. 

Gates on Lake Houston. File photo of 2019 release.

Flickinger advises property owners along the lake secure their property, including patio and outdoor furniture.

The Gates will remain open to manage storm inflows until the inclement weather has moved out of our region.

Lake Houston is currently at 42.22 ft (normal pool is 42.4) and Lake Conroe is at 200.64 ft (normal pool is 201.

The City put the lake-lowering policy in place after Hurricane Harvey. It has saved many homes and businesses from flooding during many events since then. The City is even planning on adding additional floodgates to Lake Houston to lower water faster.

Monitor Current Weather Events

To monitor current Lake Houston water levels, visit www.coastalwaterauthority.org.

To see current levels for Lake Conroe you can visit www.sjra.net.

For up-to-the-second weather for your zip code, visit the National Weather Service. NWS published the warnings below on Sunday, 1/20/24.

From Weather.gov on 1/20/24. As of 9:45am.
From Weather.gov as of 1/20/24 at 3:30pm. Updated frequently.

More than the Lake Could Flood, So…

Please keep in mind that flash flooding, affecting roadways and inland neighborhoods, is also possible in this storm. That’s a separate issue. Most storm drains are designed to handle only an inch of rainfall per hour.

Stay weather aware and avoid roadways if possible during rain events. It only takes 6 inches of water to move a car. If you see rising water near a stream, bayou or underpass, always turn around, don’t drown.

For more information, please contact the District E office at (832) 393-3008 or via email at districte@houstontx.gov.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/20/24

2335 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TWDB to Consider $50 Million Grant for Lake Houston Gates

Save the date. On December 7, 2023, the Texas Water Development Board will consider a $50 million grant to the City of Houston for structural improvements to the Lake Houston Dam. The improvements will extend the life of the dam and enable rapid lowering of lake levels in advance of a flood.

The project, led by outgoing Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin and Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello, will benefit thousands of residential properties in the surrounding area.

Make sure the next mayor supports it. Get out and vote. Better yet, take your neighbors with you!

Background

The $50 million grant will complement funds from other sources including FEMA. The addition of new tainter gates will enable Lake Houston to shed water faster before and during storms, reducing the risk of flooding.

Until now, pre-releasing water has been risky. The old gates on the Lake Houston dam can release only 10,000 cubic feet per second. As a result, to significantly lower the lake, releases must start far in advance of a storm. But storms can veer away during that extended time. That increases the chances that the City could waste water.

After several years of study, the City has found that the optimal option would be to add tainter gates to the eastern, earthen portion of the dam. But the cost increased significantly compared to the crest gates initially favored.

Proposed location for new tainter gates
Proposed location for new tainter gates.

Earlier this year, the Legislature set aside more funds for the new tainter gates and specifically directed the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to provide those funds. The TWDB’s executive administrator has recommended authorizing the funds. The Board just needs to approve them.

TWDB Board Meeting In Houston

The TWDB board will consider the approval at a rare Houston meeting at the Harris County Flood Control District in early December.

Date/Time:
Thursday, December 07, 2023; 9:30 AM
Location:
In person at 7522 Prairie Oak Drive
Michael Talbott Pavilion, Harris County Flood Control District Service Center
Houston, TX 77086

To view the webinar online, you must register for details.

Visitors who wish to address the Board should complete a visitor registration card and attend the meeting in person. The Texas Open Meetings Act prohibits visitor participation by telephone only. The visitor registration card is available and should be completed and submitted by e-mail to Customer Service no later than 8:00 a.m. on December 7, 2023, or in person at the registration desk.

Here is the full agenda. The $50 million grant for more gates is #14. Here is the backup information.

New, higher capacity gates were one of the three primary recommendations made by the Lake Houston Area Task Force after Harvey to mitigate flooding in the area. If all goes according to plan, construction could start in mid-2026, according to Costello.

Will Next Houston Mayor Support the Project?

Large infrastructure projects like this depend on unwavering political support. Completion of this project could take until the NEXT mayoral election. In the meantime, make sure we elect a mayor who will support the Gates Project until then. Keep it moving forward.

In that regard, John Whitmire has already demonstrated his support. If you haven’t yet voted, make sure you do. Take your neighbors, too. And then walk around your block and knock on some doors. Keeping this project will depend on turnout in the current runoff election.

So far, Acres Homes has had eight times more early voters than Huffman. And fewer than 4,000 people have voted in Kingwood.

As of 12/1/2023 according to Harris Votes.

The last day for early voting is December 5th. Polls are open from 7 am to 7 pm except for Sunday when they open at noon. Your last chance to vote is on Election Day, December 9th. For complete election information, visit Harris Votes.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/1/2023

2285 Days since Hurricane Harvey

SJRA Appoints Aubrey Spear New General Manager

November 15, 2023 – The San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) Board of Directors announced today the selection of Aubrey A. Spear, PE, as general manager.

Aubrey Spear

Duties

As general manager, Spear will oversee the development and implementation of SJRA’s vision, mission and strategic goals through the collaboration with the SJRA’s Operating Divisions: General and Administrative Services, Lake Conroe, Woodlands, Groundwater Reduction Plan, Highlands, and Flood Management. In addition to providing managerial oversight, Spear will be instrumental in overseeing the development and execution of capital improvement plans, planning, external affairs, leadership development, and budget.

SJRA Board President Ronnie Anderson expressed confidence in Aubrey Spear’s arrival saying, “After a thorough search, the SJRA Board of Directors is proud to welcome Aubrey to SJRA. Aubrey’s extensive experience in water utility management, water and wastewater infrastructure projects, and stakeholder relationships make him a great fit for our team.”

Goals

“I am excited to join the dedicated team at SJRA,” said Spear. “I look forward to collaborating with key stakeholders including employees, customers, and elected officials to determine major areas of focus for the Authority moving forward. I am passionate about implementing the river authority’s vision to provide reliable, cost-efficient, and sustainable water resource management that supports the significant growth in the region while earning the trust and confidence of our customers and community.” 

Background

Aubrey Spear brings extensive professional leadership and managerial experience to SJRA. He served the City of Lubbock in a senior management role as Director of Water Utilities for 16 years leading the city’s Water Utilities Department of more than 200 employees. Additionally, he served as liaison to multiple water boards including the Lubbock Water Advisory Commission, Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, High Plains Underground Water Conservation District and served as the chairperson of the Region O Water Planning Group and on the executive committee of the Upper Brazos Regional Flood Planning Group. 

Spear has also guided public relations, marketing, and customer service activities and facilitated major projects including the city of Lubbock’s first new surface water supply reservoir in more than 25 years, Lake Alan Henry. 

Spear will start with SJRA in January 2024.

Challenges

Aubrey Spear’s appointment comes almost six months after Jace Houston resigned from SJRA at the end of May 2023.

After 16 years with the SJRA, Houston had become the focus of criticism over a groundwater reduction plan designed to reduce subsidence and ensure the water future of Montgomery County. Houston had led the conversion from dwindling groundwater to surface water. That included construction of a water treatment plant at Lake Conroe and several water distribution pipelines.

However, several signatories to the Groundwater Reduction Plan eventually balked at higher prices despite the reduction in subsidence. Conroe state representative Will Metcalf proposed an amendment to the SJRA’s sunset review bill that would have ousted Houston had the state senate supported it.

As Spear prepares to navigate new waters in SE Texas, he will be forced to thread a needle between downstream and upstream interests.

Memories of the SJRA’s role in downstream flooding during Harvey when it released 79,000 cubic feet per second from Lake Conroe will constrain him. So will the reluctance of Lake Conroe residents to live with seasonally lower lake levels. Lake lowering didn’t generate much controversy this year. Because of drought, lake lowering wasn’t necessary.

However, it could in the future if the project to add more flood gates to Lake Houston ever gets off the drawing boards.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/15/23 based in part on a press release from SJRA

2269 days since Hurricane Harvey

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.

Judge Mays dismissed the case WITH PREJUDICE FOR WANT OF JURISDICTION.

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

Lake Lowering to Start as Peak of Hurricane Season Nears

According to its lake lowering policy adopted last year, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) should start to drop the level of Lake Conroe this weekend.

Text of Lake-Lowering Policy

The lake-lowering policy states:

“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.”

As of 5PM Friday, 7/30/21, Lake Conroe stood at 200.87 feet. The only release from the lake was the water feeding the SJRA water treatment plant to supply drinking water to area customers (GRP Diversion).

Before the SJRA can lower the lake, however, the City of Houston (COH) must call for the lowering to start. And according to a spokesman in Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s office, the City has called for the release to start.

The City owns two thirds of the water in the Lake and the release will come out of the City’s portion. When the numbers in the box labeled “COH diversion” on the SJRA’s dashboard increase, you’ll know the seasonal release has started.

Lake Conroe Association Still Fighting

In the past, releases have been hotly debated. The Lake Conroe Association has sued the City and SJRA in Montgomery County District Court. The litigants have filed 80 documents totaling more than 2800 pages in the last 121 days. That’s more than 23 pages per day! Some of the plaintiff’s arguments border on ridiculous in my opinion.

  • LCA claimed the tax base and property values in Montgomery County would collapse because of the lake lowering. But they’ve gone up.
  • LCA also claimed that Lake Conroe could not refill itself in the summer months. But it has.
  • Finally, LCA alleges fraud when the City calls for the release of its own property.

Isn’t that kind of like a neighbor of a bank alleging fraud when a depositor makes a withdrawal?

To read all the documents yourself, go to the Montgomery County District Clerk’s website.

Judge Mike Mays set a hearing date for Tuesday, August 24, 2021 at 2PM.

Approaching Peak of Hurricane Season

So how is this hurricane season going so far?

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) predicts no tropical activity anywhere in the Atlantic basin for the next five days. That includes the Gulf of Mexico.

However, we’ve already had five named storms this year. And NHC observes…

“In terms of Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE), which measures the strength and duration of tropical storms and hurricanes, activity in the basin so far in 2021 is well above average at more than twice the climatological value.”

National Hurricane Center

If history is a guide, the four charts below from the NHC Climatology Page hint at what we can likely expect in the coming months.

We’re about to enter the month where the number of named storms starts to climb most rapidly. Remember, Harvey was an August storm. Source: NHC.

The fact that we only had one named storm in July (Elsa) is not unusual; it’s average. But keep in mind that Elsa was the earliest named “E” storm on record.

This chart shows the distribution of storms throughout the season. The peak happens from mid-August to late October.
Galveston, Harris, Brazoria, and Chambers Counties get the most hurricane strikes in Texas.
Hurricane Strikes in Continental US by State and By Year since 1950

All in all, the Atlantic this time of year is like a casino. You have to play the odds. And that’s what the temporary seasonal lake lowering policy is designed to do – reduce the risk of huge property losses by creating extra capacity in Lake Conroe to help offset heavy rainfall and the need for large releases.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/30/21

1431 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.

A Breather: Rain Mainly South of I-10 For Most of Day

Today, the Lake Houston Area may finally get a breather from non-stop storms that blanketed the area for the previous three days. That doesn’t mean that we won’t get more rain. And it doesn’t mean flooding is not possible. It just means streams and bayous may get a chance to drain.

According to Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist, “Light rainfall continues mainly south of I-10 across the area.”

RadarScope Pro as of 10:54AM Houston time shows a large complex of storms to Houston’s south and west. They are moving north but have been dissipating as they move past the I-10 corridor for most of the morning.

Says Lindner, “A complex of thunderstorms is moving well into the NW Gulf. Another moving offshore of south Texas will likely keep southeast Texas stable today with only passing light or moderate rain showers and those will mainly focus south of I-10. Additional showers and thunderstorms will be possible on Thursday and Friday with continued high moisture levels over the area. However, the activity looks more scattered in nature and not as organized or intense as the last 48 hours.”

Additional rainfall amounts of 1-3 inches can be expected over the next 48 hours with the higher totals likely focused south of I-10.

Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist

Rainfall In This Event Almost Half of Year’s Total So Far

My digital rain gage indicates that we’ve received almost as much rain in the last three and a half days as we have year to date. That’s 138 days.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • Year to date: 23.64 inches
  • March: 1.95 inches
  • April: 4.01 inches
  • May to date: 11.38 inches
  • May 16: 1.22
  • May 17: 5.57
  • May 18: 1.64
  • May 19 so far: 1.22

According to the National Weather Service, the normal cumulative precipitation for May (up to the 19th) is 3.12 inches. And the normal yearly precipitation through today is 16.42 inches. Before this is all over, we could skew those averages a bit. We’ve exceeded the monthly average to date by a factor of two in the last two days!

Two-day rainfall totals for most Harris County gages as of 5/19/2021 at 10AM.

Run-off

Run-off continues from the rainfall over the last 48 hours with widespread totals of 3-5 inches over much of the area and an isolated amount of 8.56 inches in the Huffman area. Here’s how that is affecting local rivers and streams.

Rivers and Stream

Creeks in the northwestern portion of Harris County remain elevated and in some cases near bankfull. So do the middle and upper portions of Cedar Bayou and the West and East Forks of the San Jacinto River. Creeks in the northwestern portion of Harris County will crest and slowly fall this afternoon while rises will continue along the West and East Forks of the San Jacinto River. Peach Creek at 2090 is flooding.

East Fork at New Caney should experience minor to moderate flooding in next five days.
West Fork at 59 should experience minor flooding in low lying areas by Saturday.
Peach Creek at FM290 is already out of its banks according to the Harris County Flood Warning System. As of 11 am, elevation was 99.1. A ten-year flood at this gage is 99.3.

Lake Report

Lake Conroe is at 201.64 feet (normal is 201) at this writing and and releasing 2,665 cubic feet per second. Notice that they no longer have a box for seasonal lowering. They now call that COH (City of Houston) Diversion. It’s not that they have discontinued the seasonal lowering; they’ve just changed the way they account for it, according to Jace Houston, SJRA’s general manager. When the Lake is above 201 and water is inbound as it is now, SJRA is allowed to release water without it coming from the City of Houston’s portion.

When the flood threat has passed, if and when the City calls to resume seasonal lowering, the rate will show up in the COH diversion box. SJRA seems to be trying to lay responsibility for any inconvenience to Lake Conroe boaters at the feet of the City of Houston, which has already been dismissed from the Lake Conroe Association lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Lake Houston is up about a quarter foot so far this morning, despite the flood gates being wide open.

As of noon on 5/19/21
How Lake Houston Levels have varied during the last 7 days. Graph shows up to noon on 5/19.

If rain during the rest of today remains light, SJRA may be able to avoid flooding people upstream and downstream, just as they did on May 1st, when the areas upstream from Lake Conroe received 8-10 inches of rain.

Flash Flood Watch Remains in Effect Through Thursday Morning

In the meantime, a flash flood watch remains in effect for the Houston region through tomorrow morning. Chance of precipitation is 60% this afternoon, going up to 90% this evening. NWS predicts up to 1.25 inches of rain today and up to .75 tomorrow for the Kingwood area.

As of this morning, here’s how White Oak Creek looks from the back yard of Woodstream Forest resident.

Photo from a video courtesy of Donald and Kristi Brown. Taken on 5/19/2021.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/19/2021 at Noon based on information from the NWS, HCFCD, Coastal Water Authority and SJRA

1359 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.

Remember Uncertainty With Marco, Laura; It’s Why We Need More, Bigger Gates on Lake Houston

Many anxious flood victims worry openly on social media about about the possibility of flooding by back-to-back tropical events. Should we lower Lake Conroe? Is it too late? Will we flood again? Why aren’t they releasing water?

The novelty of having two tropical storms in the Gulf simultaneously has added a high degree of uncertainty to weather forecasting at the moment. The forecast tracks, intensities and dangers of Marco and Laura seem to change every few hours.

This is precisely why we need more and bigger flood gates on Lake Houston.

By the time we are certain what will happen with these storms, it will likely be too late to release water if we need to.

The bewildering multitude of competing weather forecast models complicates matters. They show landfall anywhere from Corpus Christi to the Mississippi just two days before the storms’ arrival. It reminds me of a fortune cookie I once got. It said, “A man with two clocks never knows what time it is.”

Marco Weakening Before Making Landfall

Since this morning, the cone of uncertainty for Marco has shifted inland again and the storm has been downgraded to a tropical depression. The only coastal watches or warnings remaining in effect have to do with Laura which will follow Marco later this week. (See more below.)

As of 4pm CDT on Monday 8/24/2020. Source for all graphics: National Hurricane Center.

The National Hurricane Center shows only a slight chance of flash flooding for the areas hit directly by Marco and those are far east of us. Rainfall potential from Marco through Wednesday evening for the Houston Area is less than an inch, according to the latest NHC predictions.

At 1 p.m. Monday, the NHC issued an advisory stating that, “It is reasonable to assume that sustained tropical storm force winds will no longer reach the northern Gulf coast. Therefore, all wind and surge warnings for the Gulf coast associated with Marco have been discontinued.”

Laura Remains Potent Threat

Even though Laura’s cone of uncertainty has shifted slightly east today, the Houston Area remains on the western edge of the cone.

At the moment, NHC predicts Laura will bring Houston 2-4 inches of rain, and the Lake Conroe area less than 2.

That’s enough to raise the chance of flash flooding to 5-10%.

Laura’s maximum sustained winds are near 60 mph with higher gusts. NHC predicts little change in Laura’s strength today, but predicts the storm will strengthen when it moves into the Gulf of Mexico. They foreast Laura will become a hurricane on Tuesday, with additional strengthening on Wednesday. Tropical-storm-force winds currently extend outward up to 175 miles, primarily to the northeast and east of the center. As Laura approaches the Gulf Coast, swells will cause life-threatening surf and rip-current conditions.

Tropical storm force winds should reach the Texas coast between 8 a.m. and p.m. on Wednesday. Most of the Houston Area will have a 40-50% chance of experiencing winds greater than 39 mph.

Alert Houston has just issued the following notice:

“The National Weather Service has issued a Tropical Storm Watch for Houston. Coastal portions of the city are also under a Storm Surge Watch. Although the exact track and intensity of Laura is still unknown, Houston residents should pay close attention and begin taking steps in the event an emergency situation develops.”

Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist, put a finer point on it. “Tropical storm force winds are likely along and east of I-45 with sustained winds of 35-45mph across portions of Galveston, Harris, Montgomery and Walker Counties. Strong winds of 45-55mph will be possible across Chambers, Liberty, San Jacinto, Polk, and Trinity Counties. It is possible that near hurricane conditions could scrape close to eastern Chambers and eastern Liberty counties.”

To Lower or Not to Lower, That is the Question

So with:

  • People panicking
  • Forecasts changing hourly
  • Lake Conroe Association restocking its war chest
  • Wildfires burning up the west
  • Drought spreading into parts of Texas
  • The Nation’s foremost hurricane experts predicting only 1-2 inches of rain for Lake Conroe and 2-4 for Lake Houston…

…what do you do? Order the lakes lowered or keep them where they are?

Source: https://www.drought.gov/drought/states/texas

The answer is obvious. You enlarge the discharge capacity of Lake Houston by adding more and bigger gates to the spillway.

Gates on Lake Houston have one-fifteenth the discharge capacity of those on Lake Conroe.

Lake Conroe can release water 15 times faster than Lake Houston. 150,000 cubic feet per second vs. 10,000. With that in mind, the likelihood, at this hour (5pm Monday), is that water released from Lake Conroe could not get into the Gulf before Wednesday when the storms arrive.

And that, in a sentence, is why we need more and bigger flood gates on the Lake Houston Dam. Remember Marco and Laura, and that knot in the pit of your stomach, the next time the subject of gates comes up.

By the way, neither Lake Conroe, nor Lake Houston, is releasing water at this time. Lake Conroe is at 199.76 feet above sea level and Lake Houston is at 41.6 feet. Both are already below their normal levels, though not as low as many would prefer. At 4:24 this afternoon, the SJRA issued a press release saying that, “We continue to watch Laura closely. Right now the projected totals of rainfall in the Lake Conroe watershed are very low.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/24/2020 at 5 pm

1091 Days after 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