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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.

SJRA Resumes Seasonal Release 3 Days Before Scheduled End

For the record, this morning, the SJRA resumed lowering Lake Conroe just three days before the scheduled end of its Spring seasonal release. As of 1PM, the SJRA is releasing 1581 cubic feet per second. Recent rains raised the lake level more than a half foot from the target of 200 feet to 200.53 feet.

Source SJRA.net as of approximately 11 a.m. on May 29, 2020.

SJRA Coordinated with CoH

The lake had risen to approximately 200.4 feet for the last two weeks of May. And, when heavy rains entered the forecast, readers began to ask whether SJRA would lower it to 200 again. However, SJRA did not resume lowering at that time.

Reportedly, the City of Houston was worried about overloading Lake Houston at a time when:

  • Dam repairs were in progress
  • Heavy rainfall was in the forecast

So the SJRA held water back.

What 500 CFS looks like. Photographed 7/31/2018, during a tour of the Lake Conroe Dam. The current release is three times this rate.

According to sources, the Coastal Water Authority has opened its gates on Lake Houston and is coordinating release rates with the SJRA so as not to flood downstream residents.

Exact Text of Spring Lake Lowering Policy

For the record, here is the official SJRA lake lowering policy renewed with some modifications after months of divisive debate. Lake Houston residents wanted the extra buffer against flooding. Lake Conroe residents claimed there was no proof it worked. They also claimed that it was lowering their property values and destroying their tax base.

In the Spring, the policy calls for:

“Beginning April 1, release only an amount of water from Lake Conroe to create a one foot capacity to catch rainfall and storm runoff (from 201’ mean sea level to 200’ msl). Recapture of lake level beginning June 1.”

Average Lake Level By Month for 46 Years

Also note that the lake level rarely reaches 201. The average varies each month depending on rainfall and evaporation. So when Lake Conroe reached 200.53, it exceeded the norm.

Lake Conroe seasonal levels by month. Source: SJRA

We need to watch this closely. In 2.5 days, this release should stop until the SJRA resumes seasonal releases on August 1. Please report any flooding through the contact page on this web site.

Text of Fall Policy

The fall seasonal lowering coincides with the peak of hurricane season. The SJRA Fall seasonal 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.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/29/2020

1004 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Flooded 15-Year-Old With Autism Fights for Lowering Lake Conroe

Tuesday, the SJRA Board met to reconsider lowering Lake Conroe seasonally. Many Lake Houston Area residents there to testify felt bullied by the large and boisterous crowd of Lake Conroe residents. This is another story of bullying. It’s about how a young man with autism who was traumatized by flooding during Hurricane Harvey fought his way back. He’s now taking up the fight to continue lowering Lake Conroe seasonally. Below: the text of a letter he wrote to the SJRA Board. It took courage for Ryan to share this letter with the world. Spoiler alert: Keep a Kleenex handy as you read this. It’s inspirational.

Ryan Long’s Letter to the SJRA Board

From: Ryan Long, Kingwood, TX 77345

To: SJRA Board, P. O. Box 329, Conroe, Texas 77305

Dear SJRA,

My name is Ryan Long and I am a 15-year-old from Kingwood. In August of 2017, when I was 12, my home flooded after the release of water from Lake Conroe.  We do NOT live on a flood plain, and we NEVER had flooding in our neighborhood until the middle of the night of August 27th during Harvey.  

Foster’s Mill, where I live, had no warning to evacuate. When flood water came, the current was so great that regular boats could not get down my street to rescue people. Helicopters flew in all day and rescued people from roofs.

Rescued by USAF Special Forces

We were finally rescued in the evening on a boat by a Special Forces team from the U.S. Air Force, hours after flood waters came into our home. I, my family, and my community will feel the impact for years to come.

Harvey photo courtesy of Ryan Long

I have autism and am classified as “high-functioning.” Before Harvey, I loved school. But due to the Lake Conroe release during Harvey, I lost years of therapy and a year of schooling.

As I woke up on the third day of the storm, power had gone out. When I opened my curtain, I saw a river rushing right outside my home; the water so deep it was about to seep into my downstairs. I panicked and ran to my parents! As the day wore on, I watched as water crept in our home like a slowly rising tide until the Special Forces evacuated us. 

Harvey photo courtesy of Ryan Long

Descent into Darkness

Our journey out was rough. The destruction I saw traumatized me. I felt broken. Every day, I felt anxious. The first time it rained, I hid under a desk, certain it would happen all over again. I slept with the lights on at night. Darkness felt like a Halloween horror movie. School became traumatic. Walking down a crowded hall felt as if I were caught in a cage. Kids began to pick on me about my panic attacks. I isolated myself, even from friends. 

I could not figure out how to ask for help. I felt frantic when taking tests. I could not concentrate. My grades, a source of pride, began to suffer. Even with the help of teachers who recognized the problem, I still failed

The Long Road Back

My parents found a counselor who helped me find a way back. She talked to me about things I loved. Eventually, I started listening to her. Slowly, she taught me strategies to cope. She helped me overcome fears and taught me how not to feel so lost. My grades improved, and I learned to sleep in the dark again. 

Harvey photo courtesy of Ryan Long

However, I was still struggling with kids who frequently bullied me. After a particularly brutal, physical incident, I found the courage to stand up for myself and reported the incident – despite fear of retribution. 

At first, I wondered what changed that day. I finally found the courage to believe in myself. I started doing things with my friends again. And I finished the year with straight A’s.

It took more than a year before I learned to believe in myself again. Today, I am still anxious at times. I still do not like thunderstorms. And I still struggle occasionally on tests. But I no longer think I am too stupid to do the work. But I believe in myself. Harvey did not break me. I came out better in the end. But that doesn’t mean I want to go through it again.

Still Dealing with Anxiety

People not living with the repercussions of Harvey tend to forget what happened. They expect the trauma and damage to go away as soon as homes are repaired. However, two and a half years later I still have anxiety. 

My home is fixed but others on my street and many in my community are not. People still live on second floors with their downstairs in disarray. Other homes are abandoned. Many people are frightened when it rains. My mom has panic attacks when she hears helicopters. Damage – both physical and emotional – lingers on.

Harvey photo courtesy of Ryan Long

So, what does this have to do with the SJRA and the people of Lake Conroe? I beg you to remember that there are people and lives that have been devastated by flooding downstream. We ask that you continue the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe until the flood mitigation can be completed on Lake Houston. 

Thank you for listening.


Ryan Long

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/23/2020 with grateful thanks and best wishes to Ryan Long

877 Days after Hurricane Harvey

SJRA Board Meeting Packed by “Stop the Drop” Protesters

More than 150 red-shirted “Stop the Drop” protesters packed the SJRA board meeting at the Lake Conroe Dam this morning. Lake Conroe lakefront homeowners came to protest the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe. According to SJRA Board Member Mark Micheletti, two and a half busloads of additional angry protesters had to be turned away because they exceeded the building’s capacity.

Five Lake Houston area residents came to speak. However, they were outnumbered by more than 30 to 1. The Lake Houston Area residents made good presentations, but on the basis of numbers alone, the well organized sea of protesters overwhelmed them. The disparity in numbers between the two sides sent a not-so-subtle message to SJRA board members.

People protesting the Lake Conroe seasonal lowering policy packed the SJRA board meeting on 12/12/2019. Photo taken before meeting shows only half the room.

Goal of Policy

The SJRA designed the temporary lowering program to provide downstream residents with an extra cushion against flooding until flood mitigation measures in the Lake Houston Area are completed. The measures include dredging and the installation of additional gates on the Lake Houston Dam. This year, the SJRA lowered the Lake Conroe one foot during the rainiest part of Spring and two feet during the peak of Hurricane Season.

Since the policy started in the second half of 2018, no downstream or Lake Conroe residents have flooded because of releases from Lake Conroe.

Misperceptions Abound

Organizers had fed protesters false information. For instance, many protesters claimed:

  • Dredging in the West Fork is done. It isn’t. State Representative Dan Huberty is organizing a follow-on program to supplement the Army Corps program which finished around Labor Day.
  • Because some Kingwood East Fork residents flooded during Imelda, it proves that Lake Conroe has nothing to do with Kingwood flooding. The East and West Forks (which includes Lake Conroe) are in different watersheds. During Imelda, the East Fork received 20 inches of rain while Lake Conroe received only 2.
  • Lake Conroe releases during Harvey comprised just 15% of the water flowing into Lake Houston and that was not a large enough percentage to affect flooding. The statistic may be literally true. But it’s misleading. It has nothing to do with the flooding on the West Fork. And that’s where the vast majority of all damage occurred. Lake Conroe releases comprised ONE THIRD of the water coming down the West Fork. Furthermore, they came at the peak of the flood.

Two More Board Meetings Before Vote

The SJRA board meets again in January and February before voting on whether to extend the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe another year. The next meeting will be at the The Lonestar Convention & Expo Center so more people can attend.

The board was afraid that if it chose a Lake Houston venue for the meeting, it would look as if they were trying to stifle dissent.

Watch for more details in January about the next board meeting.

Another meeting like this could mean the end of Lake Houston’s only flood protection measure at the moment.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/12/2019

835 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 82 since Imelda

FAQs About Lowering Lake Conroe to Reduce Downstream Flood Risk

At its February 2020 board meeting, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) Board of Directors will consider NOT lowering Lake Conroe during the spring and fall rainy seasons. Lake Conroe residents have mobilized to protest the lowering which they see as a costly inconvenience. They have started spreading disinformation about the policy. The SJRA Board has reportedly already received more than a hundred letters protesting the policy.

Reason for Lowering and Current Status

The strategy of lowering Lake Conroe on a seasonal basis reduces the risk of flooding downstream residents by increasing the capacity of Lake Conroe to store water. The SJRA Board of Directors and City of Houston review the strategy annually. Both entities own water rights in Lake Conroe.

The gates at Lake Conroe can release water at up too 150,000 CFS but are currently releasing 0 CFS. Lake lowering ended October 1st.

This year’s seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe ended October 1st. However, as of this morning, the lake level is down to 198.77′ MSL (mean feet above sea level). That’s 2-3 inches below the target level for the fall lowering. The lower level is due to evaporation and low rainfall; the SJRA stopped releasing water on October 1.

After Hurricane Harvey, the State of Texas called on the SJRA Board of Directors and the City of Houston to participate in regional strategies to reduce flooding. The temporary lowering of Lake Conroe has reduced  releases from Lake Conroe during storms. SJRA and downstream communities realize and understand the inconvenience that the strategy can create around Lake Conroe. We ask for understanding for the duration of this temporary mitigation strategy.

Seasonal Lake-Lowering FAQs

Who Decides?

The City of Houston and the SJRA collaborate on the decision to temporarily lower Lake Conroe for flood mitigation because it effects the water supply of both entities.

How Long Will It Continue?

Seasonal lake lowering is a temporary flood mitigation initiative to increase the capacity of Lake Conroe to catch rainfall and runoff while long-term and short-term flood mitigation strategies are implemented downstream.

The motion made by the SJRA Board states that the intent of the proposal is to provide “a near-term, temporary flood mitigation benefit while more permanent mitigation strategies, such as dredging of the lower West Fork, are completed.” 

When Does It Happen?

Seasonal lake lowering occurs twice annually – first in April/May and second in August/September.

How Much is It Lowered and for How Long?

In the spring, releases begin on April 1st. SJRA gradually reduces the level of Lake Conroe to 200’ mean feet above sea level (msl)—one foot below the normal Lake Conroe pool level of 201’ msl. Starting on June 1st, SJRA recaptures flows to restore normal lake elevation to 201’ msl. 

In the fall, releases begin on August 1st. SJRA gradually reduces the level of Lake Conroe with a goal of reaching 200’ msl by August 15th. After August 15th, gradual lowering continues with a goal of reaching (and maintaining) 199’ msl—two feet below normal pool—by August 31st. Starting October 1st, SJRA begins to capture flows to restore normal lake elevation to 201’ msl.

What If The Lake Is Already Down?

If the lake level has already dropped to the target elevation due to evaporation, no releases are made.

What if It Rains While the Lake is Already Lowered?

If a storm enters the forecast while seasonal releases are being made to lower the lake level, releases are stopped and the river is allowed to drain out until rainfall is out of the forecast.

Is There Science Behind This Policy?

Two engineering reports by Frees & Nichols from early 2018 show the benefits in terms of flood mitigation and the potential negative impacts to water supply. These reports as well as additional information about seasonal lowering can be found at: https://www.sjra.net/floodmanagement/.

Has it worked? Is there real value in terms of flood mitigation?

Yes. Looking at recent rainfall events, seasonal lowering resulted in both lower peak lake levels during storms and lower release rates from the dam.

For example, the spring 2019 seasonal lowering created an additional one foot of storage space to capture rainfall in early May 2019 when storms hit the Conroe and Lake Houston areas. Lake Conroe caught significant rainfall and runoff during the storms causing the lake to rise more than a foot. If Lake Conroe had entered this event at or near full, the peak release rate would have been higher thereby increasing the peak flow in the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. 

Is There a Benefit to Lake Conroe?

Seasonal lowering also reduces the peak Lake Conroe level during storms, which reduces negative impacts around the lake such as damage to docks and other personal property. During Harvey, several hundred homes around Lake Conroe flooded.

Data for the May event, and for all releases from the dam, including those during seasonal lowering periods, can be monitored by visiting SJRA’s home page at www.sjra.net. Click on the “Lake Operations and Rainfall Dashboard.”

What is the cost of the release?

Lake Conroe was built as a water supply reservoir in the 1970s through a partnership between SJRA and the City of Houston. Two thirds of the water in Lake Conroe belongs to the City of Houston and one third to SJRA. The City of Houston can call for the release of its water at any time, and water supply reservoirs are built to fluctuate as demands or operational needs dictate. 

Releases such as those made for dam repairs and seasonal lowering are not charged to any particular customer, therefore it is not possible to assign a value to the water released. In addition, temporary, non-customer releases do not reduce long-term water supplies, therefore they are not considered lost revenue. 

To be considered as lost revenue, releases would have to happen at a time when the SJRA could not meet demand with water from Lake Conroe. But that has not happened.

And most important, if the water supply in Lake Conroe were ever threatened, say from drought, the SJRA would not be releasing water anyway. The lake level would already be far below the target level, making a release unnecessary.

Is This a Permanent Program?

No. Seasonal lowering is a temporary flood mitigation strategy that must be reconsidered each year by the City of Houston and the SJRA Board of Directors while more permanent mitigation strategies, such as dredging of the lower West Fork, are completed. 

How Do I Make my Opinion Known to the Board?

The SJRA Board of Directors welcomes input regarding the seasonal lake lowering strategy. If you would like to contact the Board please visit: https://www.sjra.net/about/board/ or email floodmanagementdivision@sjra.net

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/23/2019

816 Days since Hurricane Harvey