Tag Archive for: lake lowering

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

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 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

SJRA Report on Spring Lowering of Lake Conroe

After three months of histrionic, apocalyptic debate about SJRA’s policy of seasonally lowering Lake Conroe, the lowering turned out to be neither the end of the world, nor the salvation of the Lake Houston Area. Simply put, no megastorms tested the policy. So there was no proof that it succeeded or failed.

Instead, regular smaller rains kept the lake close to its monthly averages. Neither drought nor excessive heat caused lake levels, property values, business or tax revenues to plummet. Everything functioned much as it normally has since Lake Conroe was built in 1973.

Lake Stayed Near Monthly Averages

In the two months between April 1 and May 31, the lake only dropped below 200 feet by an inch or two for three or four days and then promptly refilled. In fact, at the end of May, 2.5 inches of rain caused the lake to rise above its seasonal norm, prompting a second release.

Two releases and smaller, spread-out rains kept the Lake Houston Area safe and Lake Conroe close to its monthly averages (200.32 for April and 200.44 for May; see below). Source: SJRA Board Presentation 7/23/20.
Lake Conroe seasonal levels by month for 46 years. In April and May, Lake Conroe averages 200.32 and 200.44 respectively. Source SJRA Board Presentation.

During that time, the Lake Houston Area never flooded. Yet Lake Conroe was above its monthly average for the first three weeks of April. And it was only down about three inches for about three weeks in May.

The assertion that Lake Conroe is “normally” at 201 is a myth. That is the level at which the SJRA normally starts releases. Due to evaporation, which can take an inch a day, the lake is almost always well below that. A more accurate term for 201 would be “full pool.”

River Levels Up Slightly, but No Flooding

West Fork river levels rarely rose more than 2 or 3 feet even when rainfall was added to the release rate from Lake Conroe.

Release rates averaged about 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) and rarely exceeded 1000 cfs.

If the exercise proved anything, it was that releasing at those rates didn’t flood anyone.

River levels vs. rainfall for the last two weeks of the spring lowering. Source: SJRA Board Presentation 7/23/20.

Fall Lowering Starts This Saturday

The Houston Area lucked out with Hanna. Had the storm veered towards us, we would have received the torrential rains that swamped the Valley.

This fall, the lowering will be split into two phases: to 200 feet in August and 199.5 in September. The City of Houston has the right to call for an additional half foot in the event of a named storm.

Restatement of SJRA lake lowering policy for this year. Source: SJRA Board Presentation 7/23/20.

Even though Hanna missed us and Gonzalo fizzled, the next storm may not.

Near-Term Tropical Outlook

The NHC gives this disturbance an 80% chance of formation in the next five days. It’s moving west northwest at 15 to 20 mph and should impact the leeward islands late Wednesday.

The fact that Lake Conroe rebounded so quickly will likely calm debate in the future.

The Lake Conroe level at this instant stands at 200.22 feet. That’s less than half an inch below the July average for the last 46 years. Note that that’s also 3.5 inches above the August average.

Finally, note that the target level for August (200 feet) is about an inch ABOVE the normal monthly average. So if evaporation does its job, the SJRA will not have to lower the lake.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/27/2020

1063 Days after Hurricane Harvey

SJRA Starts Seasonal Release to Lower Lake Conroe

After the Easter weekend, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) started its seasonal-release plan. The river authority is currently releasing at a rate of 529 cubic feet per second (CFS) from Lake Conroe. At that rate, the lake should reach its target level of 200 feet above sea level by the end of April, according to Jace Houston, general manager of the SJRA.

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. Image courtesy of SJRA.

The slow rate of release avoids flooding downstream property and the lower lake level provides additional capacity in the lake. That additional capacity provides a buffer against flooding for downstream residents.

About Seasonal Lake Lowering Policy

Houston said the River Authority will hold the lake at 200 feet through the end of May, then allow it to reach its normal level for most of the summer.

Lake Conroe actually reached 200.75 feet before SJRA began its seasonal lowering this week. A reduction of .14 feet equates to about one and two-thirds inches of lowering so far.

At 200.75 feet, Lake Conroe was actually above its highest average monthly level for the year, which is 200.44 feet in May. The normal level for April is 200.32 feet.

Lake Conroe seasonal levels by month. From SJRA board presentation by Chuck Gilman in January.

Earlier this year, a bitter fight broke out between upstream and downstream property owners over the seasonal lake lowering policy. The SJRA board decided to extend the lake lowering plan, but modify it. In the fall, they will let the City of Houston, which owns two-thirds of the water in the lake, decide whether to take the lake down below 199.5 feet.

The extra lowering in the fall helps protect against hurricanes and tropical storms, such as Harvey and Imelda. The SJRA begins slowly lowering the lake in August for the peak of hurricane season in September and then letting it resume its normal level again in October. For the exact details of the policy adopted by the board in its February meeting, click here.

Lake Houston Level Declining

Despite the start of the seasonal release and last week’s rains, the level of Lake Houston has declined this week. And rivers are far from flooding.

Normal level for Lake Houston is 42.5 feet, but City is still lowering lake for spillway maintenance.

Uncertain Weather for This Weekend

Jeff Lindner, Harris County meteorologist, predicts that storms this weekend could bring several inches of rain. “With the Gulf of Mexico water temperatures running several degrees above average for this time of year, winds blowing off the Gulf will need little time to supply a rich moisture-laden air mass.” 

The NWS predicts a 30-40% chance of showers and thunderstorms for this weekend as a front passes. However, Lindner notes, models diverge widely in their predictions. The Global Forecast System (GFS model) predicts that most rain will happen over the Gulf with little impact to land.

However, the European Medium Range Forecast Model (ECMWF) predicts a very wet weekend with several rounds of storms and several inches of rainfall for much of southeast Texas.

Which Model is Better?

ECMWF is considered one of the premiere global forecasting models for the mid-latitudes. Statistically, it has been more accurate than the GFS model.

NOAA has tripled spending on supercomputing capacity to make GFS the best model in the world again.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/15/2020

960 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Lake Conroe Level Now Exceeds Average for April a Week Early

The rain earlier this week continues to filter into Lake
Conroe and raise the lake level. As of today at 3 p.m. today, the level reached 200.35 msl (mean feet above sea level).

Lake Conroe level as of 3pm on 3/24/2020

That means the lake level now exceeds the average for April – and there’s still a week left in March. With additional rain or inflow, the lake could soon reach its highest point in an average year.

Monthly variation in average levels of Lake Conroe dating back to 1973 when the dam was built.

The highest monthly average happens in May when the lake reaches 200.44 feet. That means the lake is now 0.09 feet (1.08 inches) from its average annual peak in May.

That also means that the SJRA will begin releasing water on April 1 as part of its seasonal lowering plan to reduce flood risk to downstream communities.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/24/2020

938 Days since Hurricane Harvey