Petition to Greg Abbott, Governor of the State of Texas, regarding the San Jacinto River Authority Board Review of the Lake Conroe Seasonal Lowering Program
Prior to the time of enactment, it was recommended by the SJRA Management to the SJRA Board to reduce lake levels 0.5 ft (6 inches) in May and 1.0 ft (12 inches) in August and September on an annually reviewed basis. The SJRA Board, without public notice or analysis of their counter recommendation, changed the recommended program to result in reducing the lake level by 1.0 ft (12 inches) in May and 2.0 ft (24 inches) in August and September. This new program was approved by the Board in April 2018 then published and defended via SJRA press releases as a necessary measure to reduce the risk of flooding of areas downstream of Lake Conroe. These same press releases indicated the program was temporary and would be ended when the dredging of the West Fork of the San Jacinto river was completed. This dredging work, as originally envisioned and funded, has been completed. There have been no new technical studies nor any balanced assessment of the negative impact of the program on Lake Conroe residents and lake resources to support continuing the lake level lowering program.
We believe this program should be canceled for the following reasons and to follow the rule of law in Texas regarding property rights, due process, open meetings, and damages to private property.
1. This program was publicly deemed temporary by the SJRA and linked to completing Phase I of the San Jacinto river dredging. The duration of this program is almost two years and exceeds the legal definition of temporary. Phase I dredging is complete, the program should end as originally promised.
2. The reduction levels implemented were arbitrary and not determined to be either effective or optimum by a publicly available study that weighed all factors. In regard to the lowering of the lake by 1-2 ft (12 to 24 inches) annually the studies provided by Freese and Nichols that were funded and published by the SJRA indicate in their conclusions that “The benefits to those downstream, though the water surfaces are reduced by a foot or more in places, are generally not enough to be considered wholesale improvements to the flood hazard and show minimal differences in spatial extent.” By its own admission in a letter to State Representative Lloyd Larsen the SJRA stated the program has minimal benefit to reduce flooding below Lake Conroe.
3. The releases from Lake Conroe during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey coincided with much more significant uncontrolled water flows from other sources into the San Jacinto river basin. Storms in May and September 2019 were responsible for flooding in parts of Kingwood even though no water was released from Lake Conroe. Even if the lake level had been normal no releases would have been required to handle the drainage from these storms into the lake. This shows that Lake Conroe residents and businesses are being unfairly penalized and blamed for an inordinate contribution to the flooding that occurs downstream of the Lake Conroe dam.
4. The lake level program has wasted significant volumes of water. Records provided by the SJRA indicate in 2019 over 21.6 million gallons of water were released due to the lowering program.
5. Lake levels have not recovered from the most recent lowering of 2 feet and continue to remain 2.25 feet below normal for the fifth month – three months longer than the SJRA intended duration. This artificial lowering makes the impact of below normal rainfall more severe and produces widespread sandbars that create boating safety hazards throughout Lake Conroe.
6. In the time elapsed since Hurricane Harvey, all existing studies, and the absence of any new definitive studies should remove any doubt that the Lake Conroe lowering program is ineffective. It is damaging the lake and our property and is not needed. The SJRA can manage the lake levels following any normal rainfall or a significant rain event in a manner that would preclude flooding on the lake and downstream of the Lake Conroe dam without wasting millions of gallons of water and creating significant collateral problems for area residents.
7. The citizens who have signed below understand the significant damage and toll on life wrecked by Hurricane Harvey. It is not our intent to minimize that loss or try to place our quality of life or convenience ahead of the need for effective programs to reduce future flooding in the area. In that same light we do demand our rights and property not be compromised any longer than necessary to fulfill the original promises made by the SJRA. SJRA resources and attention should be focused on new programs that will have a material impact to reduce flooding.
Drafted and circulated by the Lake Conroe Association on behalf of the following signer.