Tag Archive for: San Jacinto River Authority

Sunset Commission Recommends SJRA Improvements, But Tiptoes Around Key Issues

On January 21, 2021, the Texas Sunset Commission released its “Staff Report with Commission Decisions” on the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA). The 53-page report generally gave the SJRA a good review, but recommended that it:

  • Improve trust through better communications, public outreach, openness and transparency
  • Receive better value by improving contracting processes

The Commission also recommends that the Texas Legislative Council update and consolidate the SJRA’s governing law and processes.

The Sunset Act never subjected the SJRA to abolishment. However, it put its governance, management, operating structure, and compliance with legislative requirements under a microscope.

This post was based on public information taken from the Sunset Commission website.

Litigation Issues Deliberately Not Addressed

The report alluded to issues surrounding flooding and groundwater. However, Sunset Commission does not comment on issues in litigation as a matter of policy, so as not to influence the outcome. And although the Commission received extensive public input, it did not address comments directly for the same reason.

Those who take the time to read the entire report will be rewarded with a thorough, yet concise and illuminating summary of the SJRA’s business and the challenges it faces. The SJRA has adopted most, if not all, of the recommendations made by the Commission to some degree. Adopting the recommendations should not have any adverse fiscal impact on the SJRA or cause it financial strain.

Need for Better Communication and Engagement to Improve Trust

The Commission found that SJRA needs an effective communications strategy to advance projects. Especially if the projects could result in increased costs to the general public years before the public sees benefits.

Criticism: SJRA has not developed a formal strategy for engaging the general public in its activities, struggles to provide clear explanations of its wholesale water rates, and does not maintain important information on its website.

The Commission recommended a more proactive and strategic approach to communicating with and engaging the public. That, it felt, would help SJRA earn the trust of and get buy-in from the communities it ultimately serves.

Key recommendations included:

  • Require SJRA to adopt a public engagement policy that guides and encourages public involvement on key decisions.
  • Direct SJRA to develop a strategic communications plan.
  • Direct SJRA to provide clear, understandable information on its rates and fees prominently on its website.

Improve Contracting Function to Receive Best Value

The Commission also found that the SJRA guidance to staff fell short in important areas. Those areas included justifying the need to outsource services and maximizing open competition for contracts. In addition, the commission also felt SJRA lacks consistent documentation for monitoring the performance of its vendors.

Key recommendations included directing the SJRA to:

  • Establish additional guidance for contracting needs and procurement methods, and use open solicitations except in documented exceptions.
  • Consistently monitor, document, and evaluate vendor performance.
  • Improve the transparency, fairness, and effectiveness of its contracting process.

Update Governing Law and Processes

Over the years, Sunset reviews have included a number of standard elements designed to ensure open, responsive, and effective government. SJRA’s governing law does not contain several standard provisions, including those related to the governor’s appointment of the board president, grounds for removal of a board member, board member training, separation of duties of board members from those of staff, public testimony at board meetings, and maintaining a system for receiving and acting on complaints.

SJRA’s governing law is also uncodified and difficult for the public to find and understand. Finally, SJRA lacks goals and a plan to increase its workforce diversity.

Key recommendations:

  • Apply the standard across-the-board requirements regarding governor appointment of the board’s presiding officer, grounds for removal of a board member, board member training, separation of duties of board members from those of staff, public testimony at board meetings, and maintaining a system for receiving and acting on complaints.
  • Direct the Texas Legislative Council to update SJRA’s governing law.
  • Direct SJRA to plan and monitor its efforts to increase workforce diversity.

Other Findings

Strained Relationships with Stakeholders

Sunset Commission staff observed how protracted legal disputes and other controversies have strained SJRA’s relationship with some stakeholders and communities. That eroded trust in its decision making and jeopardized its ability to conduct the long-term planning and construction for which the Legislature created it.

The general public was highly critical of SJRA’s efforts, in contrast to SJRA’s direct customers who were generally satisfied with the authority’s performance.

No Formal Strategy for Public Engagement

SJRA’s own recent public opinion poll revealed most respondents had a negative opinion of the authority, no opinion of it, or had not heard of it, highlighting the need for direct outreach to the public rather than relying on others to speak on its behalf.

Lack of Clear Communication about Rates and Fees

A frequent complaint during the Sunset review was that consumers often see an “SJRA fee” or “surface water conversion fee” listed on their monthly bill with little to no explanation. SJRA’s public opinion poll confirms many consumers do not know what the fee is for. Only about half of respondents correctly identified the fee is used for maintaining a water treatment plant and pipeline.

Several other wholesale water providers in the region explain their rates and fees, which are higher than SJRA’s, on the front page of their website and clearly describe how some retail utility providers modify the fees when passing them on to consumers to cover other costs.

Governing Law Outdated, Difficult for Public to Find and Understand

While some water districts and river authorities are governed by laws that are fully compiled in a specific Texas code or statute, SJRA’s governing law exists solely in “session law.” That means changes are scattered in various statutes and amendments dating back to 1937. In the absence of ONE codified statute, members of the public and even the river authority itself struggle to correctly compile all of the changes to its laws and understand their cumulative impact.

For example, SJRA’s governing law stipulates the board has six members, even though the Texas Constitution now requires all boards and commissions to have an odd number of members. Even Rep. Will Metcalf’s recently introduced bill, HB3116 – recommending changes in how the governor makes SJRA board appointments – still refers to six positions.

Although general law adds a seventh member to preserve the board’s constitutionality, this outdated provision in SJRA’s governing law misrepresents the board’s actual makeup.

SJRA’s governing law contains many more out-of-date references to defunct state agencies and code sections that have been amended, renamed, or no longer exist, further complicating full understanding of the authority’s powers and duties.

Revenues and Expenses

The SJRA had approximately $112 million in revenues in Fiscal Year 2019 with $115 in expenses. The difference had to do with some reserve-fund expenditures for specific projects.

Litigation Summary

For an excellent summary of SJRA litigation over groundwater issues and Harvey flooding, see Appendix B on Page 37. Even as someone who follows these cases closely, there were several aspects that I simply did not know about.

For More Information

Read the entire Sunset Commission report and visit their website. One thing I discovered: the SJRA was apparently the only agency/authority reviewed last year for which the Sunset Commission did not request legislative changes.

For the Sunset Commission Report to the Legislature on all agencies, click here.

For the State Auditors Report on recommendations that were self-implemented, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/21/2021

1300 Days since Hurricane Harvey

SJRA Considering Input on Lake Conroe Reservoir Forecasting Tool Thursday, 6PM

San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) will hold public meeting on Thursday, September 10, 2020, at 6:00 p.m., via webinar and telephone conference, to discuss its ongoing Lake Conroe Reservoir Forecasting Tool Project.

Accurately determining inflow during a flood theoretically lets dam operators determine how much water to release and when. That, in turn, helps protect properties both upstream and downstream to the extent possible.

During Harvey, many felt that the SJRA released too much water too quickly – 79,000 cubic feet per second at one point. That, they say, flooded homes downstream unnecessarily when capacity still existed in the reservoir. Lawsuits are still working their way through the courts.

Many also complained about the lack of warning for the massive release which inundated homes as people slept.

Residents trying to escape as Harvey's floodwaters rose
Senior residents of Kingwood Village Estates trying to escape as Harvey’s floodwaters rose.

Additional Information

The Lake Conroe Reservoir Forecasting Tool Project addresses flood protection in the San Jacinto River Watershed.

One goal: to anticipate peak water level in Lake Conroe during rainfall events based on:

  • Weather forecasts
  • Observed rainfall
  • Lake levels
  • Other data. 

A second goal: to predict peak release rates of stormwater from Lake Conroe.

The SJRA says this will help improve communication with Offices of Emergency Management and the general public during rainfall events. 

SJRA expects completion of the project by early spring 2021. The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) and SJRA have funded the project.

Ask Questions, Express Views

You can view and participate in the meeting remotely via the webinar link below to express your views of the Project.

Questions or requests for additional information about the SJRA Reservoir Forecasting Tool may be directed to Mr. Matt Barrett, P.E., Division Engineer, SJRA, 1577 Dam Site Road, Conroe, Montgomery County, Texas 77304, Tel. (936) 588-3111. 

SJRA requests those who intend to express their views to contact Mr. Barrett either in writing or by telephone in advance of the meeting. 

To Participate Via Webinar and/or Comment

Only those participating via Webinar using the GoToWebinar App will be able to provide comments during the meeting.

Webinar Link: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5029250157384078351
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Please use Webinar ID: 372-655-099

To Participate Via Phone and Listen

If you choose to participate via conference call using the number below, you will NOT have the opportunity to provide comments during the designated portion of the meeting. The conference call phone number is provided for LISTENING PURPOSES ONLY.  

Telephone conference call phone number: (562) 247-8321 and the audio access code is 150-445-802

Editorial Comment

I, for one, hope they use their new Reservoir Forecasting Tool to release floodwater at safe rates, although that was not explicitly stated in the SJRA press release on the meeting. Releasing at safer rates may mean releasing water earlier or holding it longer to flatten peaks. In my opinion, SJRA should hold floodwater as high as they safely can…as long as they safely can. I hope this new tool helps SJRA do that.

I’d rather see floodwater in Lake Conroe than in Kingwood’s Town Center.

Kingwood Town Center Apartments after Lake Conroe Release. Yes, that’s the top of an SUV that failed to evacuate in time.

Posted by Bob Rehak on September 9th, 2020

1107 Days since Hurricane Harvey

SJRA to Offer First Peak at Master Drainage Study Results Thursday Morning

Due to Covid, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) Board of Directors will hold its regular board meeting via webinar Thursday morning.  Start time is 8 a.m. One of the more interesting things on the agenda is a first peak at the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Plan. Chuck Gilman, SJRA Director of Water Resources and Flood Management, says that Halff & Associates will provide a high level summary of the results and recommendations. 

Master Drainage Plan Goals

The San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan goals include:

  • Identifying the region’s vulnerabilities to flood hazards using Atlas 14 rainfall totals
  • Developing approaches to enhance public information and flood-level assessment capabilities during a flood
  • Evaluating flood mitigation strategies to improve community resilience
  • Providing a comprehensive Flood Mitigation Plan that supports the needs and objectives of each regional partner.

The study covers more than 3000 square miles!

Scope of Master Drainage Plan Study

The four partners in the project include Harris County Flood Control, SJRA, Montgomery County and City of Houston.

This web site explains the study in more detail, but not the results. At least not yet. The final report should be published in a month or two.

How to Attend the Virtual Meeting

You have to options to “attend” the meeting: webinar or telephone conference call.

For the webinar option, register to participate via this link: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/487269876799947791. Please use Webinar ID: 375-802-867.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. 

If you choose to participate via the GoToWebinar App, you WILL have the opportunity to provide comments during the designated portion of the meeting.  

You can also LISTEN to the meeting via a telephone conference call, but you will NOT have the opportunity to provide comments if you choose this option. Only webinar participants may comment.

Telephone conference call phone number: 415-655-0052 and the audio access code is 882-885-021.


These meetings can run several hours. For folks who may not be able to see the whole meeting, but want to see the drainage plan presentation, here’s the full agenda. SJRA can not predict when the master drainage plan presentation will start.


2. PUBLIC COMMENTS (3 minutes per speaker)

3. DIVISION UPDATES – Receive updates from Operational Divisions and General & Administration Division related to ongoing projects, staff reports, or items on the consent agenda.

  • G & A: Jace Houston, General Manager
  • G & A: Heather Ramsey Cook, Director of Communications and Public Affairs
  • G & A:  Tom Michel, Director of Finance and Administration
  • Woodlands: Chris Meeks, Utility Enterprise O&M Manager
  • GRP: Chris Meeks, Utility Enterprise O&M Manager
  • Lake Conroe: Bret Raley, Lake Conroe Division Manager
  • Highlands: Jay Smith, Highlands Division Manager
  • Flood Management: Chuck Gilman, Director of Water Resources and Flood Management

4. CONSENT AGENDA – This agenda consists of ministerial or “housekeeping” items required by law, such as routine bids, contracts, purchases, resolutions, and orders; items previously approved by Board action, such as adoption of items that are part of an approved budget or capital improvement projects, interlocal agreements, or action which is required by law or delegated to the General Manager; and items of a non-controversial nature. These items will be considered by a single motion unless removed and placed on the Regular Agenda for individual consideration at the request of any Director.

  • G&A


Items requiring individual consideration by the Board of Directors.


  • Resolution Adopting Policies and Procedures Related to Contracting with Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUBs)


  • Amended and Restated Water Conveyance Contract with Coastal Water Authority
  • Ratify Contract for Time and Materials Services with Masters Advanced Remediation Service, Inc.


  • Presentation regarding the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan Project.
  • Presentation regarding the Fiscal Year 2021 Operating Budgets.
  • Presentation regarding the proposed Rate Order for Raw Water Customers.
  • Presentation regarding the proposed Rate Order for Woodlands Division Customers.

7. EXECUTIVE SESSION (Not open to public)

Consultations with attorney regarding:

  • Litigation related to Hurricane Harvey, including additional legal services to be provided by Hunton Andrews Kurth, LLP;
  • Litigation related to GRP water line breaks (Line Segments W2A and W2B); and
  • Expedited Declaratory Judgement Act litigation and other litigation related to GRP.

8. RECONVENE in Open Session

9.  SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT for Lawsuit with Various Parties Associated with GRP Transmission Line Segments W2A and W2B



Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/22/2020

1058 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Details of SJRA Grant Application for Flood Early Warning System in San Jacinto county

The San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) has applied for a Flood Infrastructure Fund Grant from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to extend its Flood Early Warning System in San Jacinto county. The abridged grant application covers the cost of three new gages that would measure rainfall and flood height (but not flow rates). SJRA would install the gages on:

  • Winters Bayou at SH150
  • San Jacinto East Fork at FM945
  • Peach Creek at FM3081

Complement to Potential HCFCD

These gages would complement four others that Harris County Flood Control District is considering for San Jacinto county.

  • Winters Bayou at FM2693
  • East Fork at SH150
  • Winters Bayou at Tony Tap Road
  • East Fork at SH105
Locations of potential SJRA and HCFCD gages in San Jacinto county

HCFCD could display the information from both its own gages and SJRA gages on its Flood Warning System (FWS) website. The FWS site lets residents view data from all gages throughout the region in one location.

Gage Components and Communications Infrastructure

Equipment installed at each location would include break-away mounting pole, box enclosure with antenna mast, rain gage, river/stream stage sensor, and alert transmitter/sensors.

Components of the system susceptible to water damage would be installed above at least the 0.2% annual chance inundation level, based on Atlas 14 data.

SJRA would transmit data obtained from the gages to its ALERT2 network and display it on its Contrail system. This would let San Jacinto County staff and residents easily access and view the data at any time. These gages would become part of a growing regional network of gages.

Extent of Application

The grant application includes:

  • Verifying that signals can reach SJRA’s repeater tower in Montgomery County.
  • Site survey work at the proposed gage locations
  • Installation of the gages

San Jacinto county would provide ongoing maintenance after training by SJRA staff. That would include including twice-per-year inspection, periodic cleaning, and any required repairs or corrective maintenance.

Project Benefits

The intent of the Flood Early Warning System: to provide early warning to downstream residents, businesses, and property owners. The gages will also help county emergency personnel and responders protect life and personal property which can be moved to a safe location with adequate warning (vehicles, valuables, etc.).

The grant, says the SJRA, would benefit the entire population of San Jacinto County (27,819 in 2018). San Jacinto county lies between Cleveland and Lake Livingston.

Properties downstream of the gages would directly benefit by the proposed flood early warning system (FEWS). But other benefits would extend to the rest of the county. For example:

  • More time to evacuate in advance of a storm could reduce the burden on county-wide emergency services.
  • It could also give the county more time to close roads and tend to other needs during the event.

The gages could also benefit areas downstream of San Jacinto County. For instance, they could provide advance streamflow data to HCFCD.

Gages Located Near Habitual Road Closures

San Jacinto County says multiple major storms have impacted the areas downstream of the proposed gages, including Hurricanes Harvey, Rita, and Ike, as well as storms in 1994, 1998, 2015, and 2016. All caused road closures, high water rescues, etc. These have historically been low population areas, but are growing rapidly.

Additionally, the proposed gage at Peach Creek and FM 3081 could provide some benefits to a small area of Montgomery County, as Peach Creek runs along the county line between San Jacinto and Montgomery Counties. It is possible that some or all of the gaging equipment may be installed on the Montgomery County side of the county line, depending on site conditions.

Cost and Timing

SJRA anticipates the extension of its Flood Early Warning System can be completed in 18 months.

San Jacinto County participated in the process of developing this project. SJRA anticipates the total project will cost $65,000.

All applications for the TWDB Flood Infrastructure Fund Grants go through a two stage process. This abridged application is step one. If TDWB deems the project valuable enough, and if it has enough money, TDWB would invite SJRA to submit a more detailed application for step two.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/8/2020

1044 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Kingwood Residents Go One on One with Flood Experts; Huffman Up Next

Yesterday’s open house at the Kingwood Community Center seemed to be a hit. The SJRA, City of Houston, Harris County Flood Control and Montgomery County – all partners conducting the San Jacinto watershed study – had the subject-matter experts actually conducting the study there. The open house format gave residents a chance to interact with them one on one, tell their flood stories, and discuss possible mitigation scenarios.

Difference Between Listening and Learning

As one resident said, “I got more from 45 minutes here than a dozen town hall meetings.” I appreciate the town hall meetings, but he was right.

Quality one-on-one interaction made the difference between listening and learning.

I suspect the professionals there felt the same way. They came seeking input and they got it.

It felt like a collaboration, not a presentation.

For example, I got to quiz Adam Eaton, one of the engineers working to add more gates to the Lake Houston Dam. Finding hard information about this project has been difficult. But Mr. Eaton provided it. See budget, timeline and project milestones below.

Budget, timeline and project milestones for Lake Houston Dam Spillway Improvement Project.

Engineers hope to finish design and receive environmental approval by mid-2020. From there, TDEM and FEMA will review the plans and then hopefully release funds for construction. I asked Mr. Eaton whether there was a chance construction could NOT be approved. Answer: It’s possible, but very unlikely.

Details in Big Picture Context

I also talked at length with Matt Zeve, deputy executive director of Harris County Flood Control. Zeve, who has studied channel hydrology all his life, helped me understand why upstream communities don’t automatically benefit from projects that decrease downstream flood levels. He also helped me understand big picture issues, some of which weren’t even on my radar yet. For instance, how the extension of Highway 99 could affect flooding in Liberty County and on the East Fork twenty years from now.

David Parkhill, an author of the Brown & Root report published in 2000 was there, too. They called it a Regional Flood Protection Study back then. But it had the same objectives as the SJR Master Drainage Plan: to identify flood mitigation projects that will make a difference. Mr. Parkhill helped put the current effort in historical context. He was both fascinating and helpful!

Huffman Meeting on Thursday, 3-7:30 at May Community Center

If you missed the Kingwood meeting on Tuesday, I urge you to attend the Huffman meeting tomorrow. It will have all the same information and experts that the Kingwood meeting had. And it will be your last chance to visit an open house in this area until the next round of public comments next Spring.

The quality of input you give in this process will determine the quality of output you get.

  • Thursday, December 19, 2019
  • 3:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • May Community Center
  • 2100 Wolf Road
  • Huffman, Texas 77336

The open house will include information about the following projects, studies, and efforts:

  • San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan
  • Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis
  • Huffman Area Drainage Analysis
  • Spring Creek Watershed Planning Study
  • Luce Bayou Watershed Planning Study
  • Willow Creek Watershed Planning Study
  • Jackson Bayou Watershed Planning Study
  • Cedar Bayou Tributary Analysis
  • SJRA-led Projects 
  • City of Houston-led Projects
  • Harris County Permit Office
  • Harris County Engineering Department – Recovery and Resiliency Division
  • Hurricane Harvey Repair Efforts
  • Information about services provided by Harris County Flood Control District, Harris County and Montgomery County

The open house will last from 3:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The format lets attendees arrive and participate at their convenience. No formal presentation will be made

Provide Input on Master Drainage Plan

You can comment on the plans at the meeting in Huffman and throughout the duration of the study. 

If you can’t attend in person, mail comments to:

  • Harris County Flood Control District
  • 9900 Northwest Freeway
  • Houston, Texas 77092
  • Attn: San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan

Alternatively, you may submit comments online.

For more information about the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan, visit www.sanjacstudy.org.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/18/2019

841 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 90 since Imelda

SJRA Update, Upcoming Sunset Review and Enabling Legislation

Since Harvey, the Lake Houston Area has seen some huge changes for the better in the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA). When the Governor visited Kingwood and took a helicopter tour of the San Jacinto River basin after Harvey, he directed the SJRA to establish a flood mitigation division. He also appointed two directors from the Lake Houston area to ensure downstream representation on the SJRA board.

Many Improvements Since March 2018

Since then, Kaaren Cambio and Mark Micheletti, the two new directors from the Lake Houston area, have led the charge to lower Lake Conroe seasonally. This ensures a greater buffer against floods.

The effort paid off this year when heavy back-to-back-to-back rains in early May would have forced a large release from Lake Conroe had it not already been lowered. That release, added to already swollen tributaries, would almost certainly have threatened low lying homes and businesses.

The SJRA will again lower Lake Conroe during the peak of Hurricane season. Starting August 1, it will take Lake Conroe down one foot. Beginning August 15, they will take it down another foot until October 1.

The SJRA is also working with Harris County Flood Control to install more upstream gages and turn the Harris County Flood Warning System into a Regional Flood Warning System with customizable alerts. The goals: create more awareness of upstream dangers to give people more time to evacuate and save valuables in the event of a flood. Said another way, avoid middle-of-the-night surprises like we had during Harvey.

Finally, the SJRA is leading a joint river basin study that hopefully will lay the groundwork for additional upstream detention, more flood gates for Lake Houston, and an ongoing maintenance dredging program. So, many good things are happening.

Cambio’s Term Expiring

However, Cambio’s term on the board expires this year. She wants to stay in the position and I hope she does. Cambio has worked tirelessly to mitigate flooding on so many levels. Her position as a key staffer for Congressman Dan Crenshaw also makes her uniquely qualified to help coordinate efforts from Federal, State and local agencies. She deserves reappointment.

A reader asked whether there’s an opportunity to increase downstream representation on the SJRA board with more representatives like Cambio and Micheletti.

The answer is, “In the short term, no.” Cambio’s seat on the board is the only one up for renewal this year.

SJRA Sunset Review Coming Up

However, in two years, the entire SJRA will come under close scrutiny as part of a sunset review. A sunset review is an evaluation of the need for the continued existence of a program or an agency. It assesses their effectiveness and performance, and recommends either retaining, modifying, or terminating them.

The SJRA comes up for sunset review in the 2020-2021 cycle. Section 325.025 of the Texas Sunset Act mandates a review by September 1, 2021, and every twelfth year thereafter. See page 34 of the this PDF.

No one expects the SJRA to be terminated. But many other river authorities that have gone through the sunset review process, have had a complete overhaul, said one source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Sunset Commission has been brutal at times. For instance, between 2016 and 2017, the Commission reviewed four river authorities and noted:

  • “Sulpher River Basin Authority Board has not built the trust needed to effectively carry out its mission.”
  • “Central Colorado River Authority no longer serves a necessary public purpose.”
  • “Upper Colorado River Authority has not set priorities to ensure its operations meet changing local watershed needs.”
  • “Palo Duro River Authority of Texas lacks flexibility to adapt to changed local circumstances.”

Their report makes fascinating reading. One thing that became clear in scanning it is that, like most good performance reviews, the Commission judges performance against objectives. In the case of these Authorities, enabling legislation spells out the objectives.

Enabling Legislation Established SJRA Goals

That prompted me to review the enabling legislation for the SJRA. The sections discussing goals begin on page 2 of this PDF. I have summarized them below.

The state created the SJRA (originally called the San Jacinto River Conservation and Reclamation District) to “conserve, control, and utilize to beneficial service the storm and flood waters of the rivers and streams of the State.” Section 2 of the enabling legislation mentions floodwaters three times.

Section 3 starting on page 3 of the same PDF lays out additional goals. For instance, to:

  • Prevent the devastation of land from recurrent overflows.
  • Protect life and property.
  • Regulate the waters of the San Jacinto River and its tributaries.
  • Build dams and distribution networks that provide waters for cities, towns, irrigation, agriculture, commercial, industrial, mining and other beneficial uses.
  • Develop drainage systems that enable profitable agricultural production.
  • Conserve “soils against destructive erosion and thereby preventing the increased flood menace incident thereto.”
  • Forest and reforest the watershed to aid in the prevention of soil erosion and floods.
  • Encourage, aid, and protect navigation and harbor improvements.
  • Acquire land for parks and recreation, and to build park and recreational facilities thereon.
  • Dispose of sewage and industrial waste.
  • Construct, improve, maintain, operate and repair water and sewage plants and distribution networks.

How Would You Rate Performance against These Goals?

It seems to me that the SJRA does a great job at its basic mission. And they’re improving at flood mitigation. However, for decades, the SJRA ignored other crucial parts of its job description, including flood and erosion prevention; reforestation; parks and recreation; and navigation protection. In fairness, the Legislature never funded those mandates. The SJRA’s only income comes from the sale of water which it impounds.

Still, you would think somebody could pick up a phone and call the TCEQ for help with some of these things. For instance, sand mines along the banks of the river dump effluent and sediment directly into the drinking water supply for millions of people. It will be interesting to see what kind of changes the Texas Sunset Commission recommends when the SJRA comes up for review.

For an interesting history of the SJRA, see Chapter 4 of this doctoral dissertation by Andrew C. Baker at Rice University. It paints a fascinating picture of the problems the SJRA had in originally fulfilling its basic mission and how the SJRA overcame them with help from the City of Houston.

Note: For future reference, the SJRA enabling legislation has been added to the Reports page under the SJRA tab.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/23/2019

663 Days after Hurricane Harvey

SJRA Responds to Post about SB 2126 Opening Door to River Mining

Letter to the Editor

RE: “Caution: SB 2126 Opens Door to Sand Mining in Rivers”


Thank you for your work with Reduce Flooding to raise awareness about flooding and flood-related issues since Hurricane Harvey.  You have done a tremendous job of helping to educate the public on the causes of flooding and providing status updates on current and future flood-related projects and initiatives. Regarding your April 25 post titled ““Caution: SB 2126 Opens Door to Sand Mining in Rivers,” I want to clarify what SB 2126 is and what it is not.  

Chuck Gilman, the author of this post, is
Director of Water Resources and Flood Management for the
San Jacinto River Authority

The concept behind SB 2126 is to create a proactive approach toward removing sediment from the river before it is deposited in Lake Houston.  If you’ll recall the KBR report from 2000 noted “For long-term sediment management consideration, sedimentation basins, either on-channel or off-channel, are the most effective approach to minimizing sediment buildups and maintain the life of the channel conveyance.”  That is what we are attempting to accomplish with this program. 

The strategies and programs that could be implemented if SB 2126 is approved would not be river mining or dredging.  Any kind of dredging (either hydraulic or mechanic) would be very limited in scope, allowing conservation and reclamation districts to restore conveyance in the rivers in a strategic location through small-scale, periodic, targeted removal of sediment in the river.  This could be as large-scale as the current dredging project currently in progress, or as simple as the construction of sand traps that are dredged annually.  Regardless, your point about oversight and management is well noted, and is a requirement for this program to be a success.  

The San Jacinto River Authority has secured the support from the sand mining industry through the Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association to explore options to remove sand, gravel, shell, and other aggregates from the river—all without a cost to taxpayers.  Ideally, the SJRA would be the public agency overseeing and managing the program, conducting the necessary studies, and coordinating with the appropriate state and federal agencies to determine where and how much material should be removed. Partners from the private sector could then remove the material as directed by SJRA.  

After Hurricane Harvey, Governor Abbott tasked all of us with flood control and flood management. SB 2126 creates opportunities for public-private partnerships to help preserve the channel conveyance capacity of the San Jacinto River.  As we know in the Lake Houston area, this sediment impedes the flow of storm water where the West Fork converges with Lake Houston.  

Senator Creighton has led the effort to develop a flood resiliency funding bill in the Senate this legislative session (SB 7), and continues to seek other options to help create a regional flood management effort in the San Jacinto Basin.  This bill would simply create another tool in our toolbox to help reduce potential flooding in the future.  

As stewards of the San Jacinto River and its water supply, the SJRA supports Senator Creighton’s proactive approach to managing sediment in the river. We are trusted partners with the State of Texas, Harris County Flood Control District, and FEMA to execute $2.5B in flood control bond projects like the comprehensive San Jacinto Watershed Master Drainage Plan.  We value our role as a community partner and appreciate the opportunity to further reduce the risk of flooding by providing oversight and management of this plan.

Chuck Gilman
Director of Water Resources and Flood Management
San Jacinto River Authority

For additional information on SJRA visit our website at www.sjra.netor like SJRA on Facebook 

Posted verbatim from SJRA letter by Chuck Gilman on 4/23/2019

602 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Log Jam Finally Broken on Long-Awaited Regional San Jacinto River Basin Study

In March last year, the San Jacinto River Authority, City of Houston, Montgomery County and Harris County proposed a river basin study of the San Jacinto.

Scope of River Basin Study

The scope includes evaluating the cost effectiveness and feasibility of a variety of flood mitigation projects. They include additional gates for the Lake Houston Dam, additional dredging and additional upstream detention – all important for the Lake Houston Area.

West Fork Sand Mine Complex inundated by Harvey.

But the scope also includes many other potential projects. The $2+ million grant request to FEMA covered the entire San Jacinto River basin including the East and West Forks.

10 Months of Delays

Then the grant request fell into a great black hole. Nine months went by while FEMA pondered and tweaked the 15-page grant application. Finally, FEMA was ready to write the check in December…when the government shut down.

Finally, a Green Light

Today, however, I got news that FEMA finally green-lighted the project through TDEM, the Texas Division of Emergency Management. TDEM coordinates all FEMA requests for the State of Texas.

This will benefit multiple counties throughout entire basin. It’s not often this many governmental entities come together to impact an area this large.

Residents trying to escape as Harvey's floodwaters rose
Residents of Kingwood Village Estates trying to escape as Harvey’s floodwaters rose. 12 residents died as a result of injuries sustained during evacuation or the stress from losing their homes.

All parties have reportedly signed inter-local agreements (ILAs) already. An ILA is like a contract between governmental entities.

Next Steps Before Kickoff

Next steps: Harris County Flood Control will present details of the grant package to Harris County Commissioners Court at the Court’s Feb 12th meeting.

Following court acceptance of the grant, HCFCD hopes to obtain Commissioner’s Court approval of the agreement with the consulting firms that will execute the river basin study. 

All those involved hope for an official study kickoff in late February/early March.

Among many other things, study will examine sedimentation and its role in flooding.

For More Information

Harris County Flood Control is currently working to update its website. When additional information becomes available later this week, you will be able to view it at: https://www.hcfcd.org/hurricane-harvey/hurricane-harvey-kingwood-information/upper-san-jacinto-river-regional-watershed-flood-mitigation-plan/

Study to Take 18 Months

Originally, the study was to have taken approximately a year. However, additional FEMA requirements mean it will now take 18 months. That means we should be looking at recommendations 3 years after Harvey. Then the partners will submit additional grants to FEMA for projects that result from the study.

See my previous editorial comments about the state of disaster mitigation. “Time is the enemy of disaster mitigation”. You can quote me on that.

Posted by Bob Rehak on January 29, 2019

518 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Seasonal Lowering of Lake Conroe Begins August 1

On August 1, the City of Houston Public Works Department, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) and the Coastal Water Authority (CWA) plan to begin lowering the level of Lake Conroe as part of a joint operations plan to mitigate flooding threats during the peak of hurricane season. The plan calls for lowering Lake Conroe gradually through small releases – about an inch a day – until the lake level reaches 199 msl (mean feet above sea level).

Intent of gradual lowering of Lake Conroe is to avoid another 79,000 cubic-feet-per-second release rate as we experienced during Harvey. Until normal flow is restored to the West Fork, Lake Conroe will be lowered temporarily and seasonally to mitigate flood risk.

Lake Conroe to Be Lowered 2 Feet Through September

This initial lowering will last through the end of September to create additional storage in Lake Conroe which could delay releases and minimize release rates during a storm, thereby providing a buffer against flooding for residents who live downstream of the dam.

The next lowering would occur during the peak of the spring rainy season – from April 1 – May 31, 2019. However, that lowering would only be by a foot – to 200 msl, because the rain threat is usually lower in spring.

Only Until Dredging Restores River’s Flow

The joint operations plan calls for continuing to lower Lake Conroe seasonally in this manner while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredges the West Fork of the San Jacinto to restore flow.

Hurricane Harvey deposited tremendous amounts of silt in the West Fork which  physically changed the river’s ability to safely pass water during storms. Hence, the dredging.

Phase-One Dredging Has Already Started

Phase one will go from River Grove Park to the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge. Great Lakes, the contractor hired by the Corps, has 269 more days to complete the initial phase.

Phase-Two Still Needs Funding

The total project could take longer. Community leaders are now working furiously to arrange funding to dredge the remainder of the west fork, including the mouth bar.

Mobilization and demobilization comprise 25 percent of the total phase one project costs (approximately $18 million out of almost $70 million). Having phase two ready to start before phase one ends could save that money, creating extra value for taxpayers and enabling even more dredging, say for instance, on the East Fork.

Temporary Lake Conroe Lowering Could Last Up to 3 Years

The City, SJRA, and CWA will continue the seasonal lowerings for up to three three years. They will monitor progress of the dredging and annually re-evaluate the need to lower Lake Conroe. If the river’s flow is restored before three years, the temporary lowering would cease.

Lakes will Operate under Two Different Strategies

Lake Conroe is located upstream from Lake Houston. Large pre-releases immediately before a storm run the risk of pushing water into Lake Houston at a rate that could flood residents. Therefore, the SJRA will release at a much more gradual, controlled rate and maintain the lower level until the largest flood threat passes.

Lake Houston, as the lowest lake on the river system, can pre-release more safely. Therefore CWA will pre-release from Lake Houston if the National Weather Service predicts more than 3 inches of rain within the San Jacinto River basin in a 48-hour period. Coastal Water Authority will lower Lake Houston to 41.5 feet from its normal elevation of 42.5 feet.

To track lake levels visit:

  • Lake Conroe – www.sjra.net
  • Lake Houston – www.coastalwaterauthority.org

4 Million People Depend on City for Water

Lake Conroe and Lake Houston comprise two of the largest parts of the City’s drinking water system. More than 4 million Houstonians and residents of the greater Houston region rely on water provided by the City.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 30, 2018

335 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Need for Sediment Management Planning

Sand and sediment clog our rivers and lake. “Dredge!” you say.

“Not that simple,” say the experts. “Who will pay for it? How much should we dredge? Where will the sediment go?”

That’s why we need planning for sediment management. We need to dredge the worst parts of the river now; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has already started that as an emergency project. But we also need to dredge other parts of the river that are not quite critical yet. And we need to figure out how to do all this on a regular basis so that it never gets this bad again.

A giant sand dune has formed at the mouth of the west fork of the San Jacinto. It is not being addressed by the Army Corps dredging project but should be. Thousands of homes upstream from this massive blockage flooded during Harvey.

Sediment Management Challenges That Lie Ahead

I have talked about these issues with experts from Harris County Flood Control and USACE. Both say planning is crucial to a successful maintenance dredging/sediment management program. One provided this document: Galveston-Bay-Programmatic-RSM-Plan-Rev-1, as an example of what we need for the San Jacinto. It’s a long document – 112 pages. But it is worth reading the executive summary, introduction and table of contents at the very least. Parts of it discuss the upper reaches of the San Jacinto. But the main value it provides is that it outlines the challenges ahead.

  •  Who will lead the effort? Who will support it?
  • How much money is needed per year? How can we budget for it? Who will share in the costs?
  • Where will the dredged materials go? How can we identify opportunities to reuse and sell them? Who will market them and how? To what extent can sales defray dredging costs?
  • What are the true life-cycle costs of the sand and sediment that miners send downstream to us?
  • How can we reduce their contribution to the problem? Is there a way to make them part of the solution?
  • How can we coordinate upstream and downstream efforts so that the entire river system flows freely?
  • How can we remove channel blockages more quickly after floods to help prevent additional flooding?

All of these are difficult questions. Starting such an extensive program is like starting a new business.

Budgeting Comes First

A business plan and budgeting are the first issues we need to address. Where will the money for all this come from? Without answering that first, everything else is moot.

So who are the stakeholders?

  • City of Houston – Ensuring the future of Lake Houston is essential to ensuring the future of the City. It’s the City’s main source of water.
  • Harris County Flood Control – Half of the people that live in the county, live in the City.
  • San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) – The State created the Authority back in the 1930s to impound water and protect people from flooding. Those missions were recently reconfirmed by the Governor.
  • Coastal Water Authority – CWA is the contract operator for Lake Houston Dam and Reservoir. They sell water just like SJRA and can raise money thru water rates to fund flood mitigation. Their enabling legislation mentions drainage and flood responsibilities – same as SJRA.
  • State of Texas – This region has a quarter of all the people who live in the state. Nuff said.

Expecting all costs to be covered by the Harris County Flood Bond in perpetuity is just wishful and foolish thinking. The bond is for capital projects, not ongoing maintenance. You might be able to justify the first dredging as “channel improvements.” But after that, for the sake of the community, we need to find a way to make this program sustainable. Paying interest for ongoing operations is unwise.

Cost Sharing and 5-Year Intervals Can Make It More Doable than Avoidable

In 2000 Brown & Root, recommended dredging every 5 years – a perfect match for a venture with five partners. If each budgeted one fifth of the cost annually, and you did only one fifth of the job each year, this just might be more doable than avoidable. (Avoidance seems to have been the preferred approach in the past.)

We can’t budget sediment management forever on an emergency basis. That’s like using an emergency room for basic medical care. It’s probably not the best idea, nor the most cost effective. So let’s begin the dialog with stakeholders. As Grandma used to say, “An ounce of prevention…”

Posted on July 13, 2018 by Bob Rehak

318 Days since Hurricane Harvey