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.
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.
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