Tag Archive for: restraining order

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

They’re baaaa-aaaack. Yesterday, less than a day before the SJRA spring seasonal lowering program was set to kick in, the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) applied for a temporary restraining order to prohibit it. The LCA also seeks a permanent ban on the entire program. For the complete text of their 30-page lawsuit, click here. For a summary, see below.

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

History of Lake Lowering Policy

After disastrous flooding during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Governor Abbott instructed the SJRA to get into the flood mitigation business and identify strategies to reduce the risk of downstream flooding. The simplest, fastest, most effective strategy that required no grants, funding, design or construction was to lower Lake Conroe during the peaks of spring and fall flood seasons. This created an extra buffer against downstream flooding by creating extra capacity in the upstream lake.

The seasonal-lowering policy started in 2018 and continued in 2019. By late 2019 when the SJRA was getting ready to review the policy for another year, the Lake Conroe Association mobilized opposition in a major-league way. People came to SJRA Board meetings in busloads. There were so many that they couldn’t all get in the SJRA boardroom to be heard. So the next meeting was held in the Conroe Convention Center. Close to a thousand “Stop the Drop” protesters showed up. They argued that lowering the lake a foot was destroying businesses around the lake, undermining property values, destroying the local school system, and threatening the entire tax base of Montgomery County.

They also argued that Lake Conroe was never intended to be a flood control reservoir, and that the policy wasted water, produced no benefit, and had minimal effect. The current lawsuit makes many of these same hyperbolic arguments.

Allegations in Lawsuit

Below, see the major allegations in the seasonal-lowering lawsuit (italics) and my responses (normal text).

The SJRA and City of Houston are unlawfully discharging billions of gallons of water from Lake Conroe which causes it to remain below full capacity. However, a quick check tonight showed that the lake was actually above its normal capacity.

The Lake Conroe Dam is being operated contrary to state law. The operation was initiated at the request of the governor and approved by the TCEQ as an emergency measure while permanent downstream flood mitigation efforts could be put in place.

Lake Conroe Dam operation is contrary to the interests of the parties “for whom the lake is maintained, regulated and conserved.” The City of Houston paid for the construction of the dam and owns two thirds of the water in the lake. The operation benefits Houston residents and was requested by the Mayor of Houston. So I ask, “For whom is the lake maintained, regulated and conserved?”

The State is entitled to regulate water to protect its citizens’ health and safety. Isn’t that what the lake-lowering policy ensures?

Lake Conroe is not a flood control reservoir. Right! We’re trying to do the best with what we have.

The policy doesn’t conserve water. Right again! But it does conserve downstream property and lives. Somehow those got lost in the LCA arguments. For a list of Lake Houston Area damages during Harvey, click here.

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

There’s no evidence that the policy works. Tell that to the people who didn’t flood in this storm.

The policy is not really temporary. Why was the policy enacted for three years then? It’s intended to allow safe completion of additional gates on the Lake Houston Dam.

The seasonal releases happen far in advance of a storm. Lake Conroe’s gates can release water 15 times faster. If a major storm approaches and a large release becomes necessary, it could overwhelm the gates on Lake Houston. The slow seasonal release safely reduces that risk.

Harris County Flood Control’s Harvey Report found the benefits of lowering Lake Conroe to be “negligible.” That’s a lie. The word negligible never appears in the report. And the lawsuit distorts the figures. It claims the Lake Conroe release accounted for at most 16% of the water going over the Lake Houston Dam. But it was one third of all the water coming down the West Fork where the vast majority of the damage occurred. The lawsuit allegation includes East Fork water to exaggerate its claim. The Lake Conroe Dam has no effect on East Fork flow. Also consider this. All by itself the Lake Conroe release during Harvey would have ranked as the ninth largest flood in West Fork history. Hardly negligible!

Petitioners continue to be affected in their rights to their use and enjoyment of Lake Conroe. Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. But these photos show little impact on recreation even when the lake was lowered two feet.

Water released as part of a seasonal lowering will never be available for use. Rain replenishes the lake at no cost.

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

Without the TRO, Lake Conroe residents will have no adequate remedy to protect the “public’s interest.” Which public? The owners of the water? Or residents of Lake Conroe?

Lake Conroe Residents Don’t All Agree with LCA

Not all Lake Conroe residents agree with this petition. Though the petition gives no hint of that. Many who flooded during Harvey have previously testified that they want the lake lowered – permanently!

Exaggeration Upon Exaggeration

This lawsuit exaggerates. And that’s its biggest flaw. It sounds like the kid who tells the teacher “My dog ate my homework, right before a bus ran him over, and a 747 crashed into the bus. I tried to retrieve my homework, but the fire department washed it down the sewer. And now it’s floating in Lake Conroe where water skiers are tripping on it. That’s going to destroy home values on Lake Conroe and undermine the tax base of the school district. So you see, Teach, we have much bigger things to worry about. Like your salary and job security.”

For more about the seasonal lake lowering policy, click on this page.

Hearing Scheduled

It’s not clear yet how this lawsuit will affect the spring lowering of Lake Conroe scheduled to start Thursday. The lawsuit is scheduled for a hearing on 4/19/2021 in Montgomery County.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/1/2021

1311 Days after Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Sand Mine Continues to Push Its Luck by Mining Over and Between Pipelines

Last year, the flood during Tropical Storm Imelda washed out the sand supporting a natural gas pipeline running across an easement through the Triple PG Sand Mine in Porter. Luckily, Kinder Morgan (KM) shut the line down before anyone was hurt. KM then drilled 75 feet under the mine and spliced in a new section. But now Triple PG is mining over the new section, once again eroding the the public’s margin of safety.

Of course, it’s possible that the miners won’t get down to 75 feet. But TACA and some West Fork sand mines say they routinely mine 100 feet down.

Eroding Margin of Safety

Just as bad, they’re mining toward five pipelines carrying highly volatile liquids (HVL), potentially exposing them in the next flood, just like they were on the West Fork at the LMI River Road Mine.

The Kinder Morgan natural gas line runs diagonally between the trees in the foreground, parallel to helicopter skid in the lower left. Five HVL pipelines run in the utility corridor in the background.
Here’s how that same area looked after Imelda on 9/27/2019, when Caney Creek (right) had flowed through the mine.

Shortly before Harvey, the sand mine started mining next to the road cutting diagonally from top left to bottom right. Then, Harvey flowed through the mine, creating much of the erosion you see here.

Two years later, Imelda cut through the mine again, extending the erosion headward to the point where it could threaten the HVL pipelines in the utility corridor near the top of the frame above during the next flood.

In two years, the headward erosion cut toward the pipelines by 2000 feet.

Triple PG Already Operating Under Injunction

The sand mine sits at the confluence of two floodways and floods repeatedly.

On October 11, 2019, the State Attorney General at the request of the TCEQ, filed a temporary restraining order and temporary injunction against the sand mine. Repeated breaches of its dikes which had gone unrepaired allowed process wastewater to escape directly into the headwaters of Lake Houston. The issue even became part of the last Mayoral campaign when Tony Buzbee picked it up.

A Travis County Court set a trial date for 6/22/2020, but the trail has been delayed by COVID. Shortly after the Attorney General filed his suit, the owner of the mine, a cardiologist from Nacogdoches, tried to transfer ownership within his family’s companies and trusts.

The attorney general wound up suing all of them and the cardiologist’s attorney petitioned to withdraw from the case as counsel – a highly unusual move.

The case is still pending trial. Until then, the mine continues to operate under an injunction which prohibits it from dredging, but not dry mining.

Source: Travis County Clerk
Source: Travis County Clerk as of 9/30/2020

2020 will certainly go down in history as the year of living dangerously. A miner trying to push his luck is just one more thing we shouldn’t have to worry about…especially when he’s sitting on top of a huge stockpile of sand that he has barely touched in months.

No one has died yet. Hopefully they won’t. But if they do, it won’t take long for a lawyer to argue negligence and triple damages for the Triple PG owners. Of course, they will then likely declare bankruptcy and tuck tail back to Nacogdoches.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/30/2020

1128 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 377 since Imelda

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.

Triple PG Sand Mine Agrees to Terms of Restraining Order

The Triple PG Sand Mine in Porter has agreed to the terms of a restraining order. The order will force the mine owner to build dikes that can withstand the force of future rains and that can prevent future discharges of process wastewater into the City of Houston’s drinking water.

Repeated breach in dike of Triple PG Sand Mine that allowed process water to mingle with water in Caney Creek (lower left).

Certification by Licensed Professional Engineer Required

Furthermore, according to the agreement, a licensed, professional engineer must certify that the dikes can withstand the force of future rains. No more building dikes out of sand. Given where the mine is located – at the confluence of two floodways – it’s not clear whether future breaches are 100% avoidable. It’s also unclear whether a professional engineer would put his or her reputation on the line with such a promise given this particular mine’s history and location.

Southern Perimeter Lacks Effective Dikes

The entire southern perimeter of the mine is flush with the land south of the mine. There appear to be no dikes. So this could be a massive construction job. Dozens of homes south of the mine flooded during Imelda. Debris and damage patterns suggest that floodwaters entered their homes directly from the mine, not from White Oak or Caney Creeks.

The back of Tom Gill’s garage above faces the Triple PG mine. Scouring from the direction of the mine indicates which direction floodwaters came from.
Debris washed away from mine in Walden Woods subdivision south of it.

Background of Case

In May and again in September, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) reported that multiple breaches in dikes at the Triple PG Sand Mine on Caney Creek led to the escape of process water and sediment into the City of Houston’s drinking water supply. The TCEQ had previously cited the mine for similar environmental violations in 2015.

As a result of leaving the breaches open for prolonged periods, the Texas Attorney General sued the mine earlier this month. If the suit is successful, Triple PG could be liable for penalties exceeding $1 million.

Goals of Attorney General

Two weeks ago, I described what the original petition involved. The AG wants to force the mine to stop alleged pollution of the drinking water of the nation’s fourth largest city.

Both the injunction and restraining orders seek the same things: to get the mine to fix breaches so it stops allegedly emitting process water. The initial focus: sealing the mine off so that process water stops intermingling with drinking water. In the long term, however, the state wants to force the mine to build dikes sufficient to withstand the force of future floodwaters.

Requirements of Restraining Order

The agreed temporary restraining order requires the defendant to:

  • Not engage in any operations at its dredge facility that discharge process wastewater from the defendant’s property
  • Not PRODUCE any process wastewater that must be discharged
  • Immediately begin repairing damaged or breached berms
  • Hydraulically isolate any industrial waste within the mine
  • Halt the influx of water from creeks
  • Halt the outflow of waste from pits
  • Construct the repairs to prevent discharges from pits during future rain events
  • Cease and prevent all discharges of any industrial waste and or process wastewater from the mine into waters of the state
  • Within 14 days, hire a professional engineer to assess whether the berms can permanently prevent future discharges
  • Not destroy records
  • Certify all efforts at compliance, also within 14 days

The amended restraining order reset the date for the hearing on a temporary injunction from October 24 to 28th. The last order again resets the hearing date to November 12th.

So why the restraining orders when the original suit asked for an injunction? Generally, restraining orders are sought as a form of immediate relief while a plaintiff pursues a more permanent injunction, although injunctions can also be temporary.

Full Text of Legal Filings to Date

Below are links to the full text of documents filed to date in the case. I obtained them from the Travis County District Clerk in Austin.

For one PDF that contains all the docs above, click here.

Explanation of “Agreed Order”

Notice the word “agreed” in many of the document titles above. An Agreed Order refers to a written agreement submitted by both parties to a case resolving issues between them.

After rendering decisions, courts will often command counsel for both parties to see if they can come up with wording of an order satisfactory to both. If they can, it becomes an “agreed order,” which the court will then enter. (If not, the judge will formulate his/her own order.

Turning the Tide on the East Fork?

If this sticks, it could change the way Triple PG does business forever. It could also improve life on the East Fork of the San Jacinto for residents who have complained about sediment buildups, flooding, polluted water, loss of riparian vegetation, destruction of wetlands, fish kills, and more.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/31/2019

793 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 42 since Imelda