Updated: Jan 28
Save Lake Conroe: Reactionary Politics vs. Validated Science
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey came roaring through Texas causing severe damage and flooding throughout south Texas and on Lake Conroe. This required a record release of water from the dam on Lake Conroe to prevent the dam from failing. The release plus contributions from the large watersheds (five times greater than Lake Conroe) below the dam led to massive flooding in Kingwood. Undeniably, our hearts go out to the Kingwood residents and those below the dam who have suffered. Many residents lost everything and had their livelihoods severely impacted. Initial estimates in 2017 by the SJRA stated that the dam release was responsible for 14% of the water Kingwood received. Clearly, a lot of water, but not the major cause of the flooding in Kingwood during Harvey. In addition, subsequent data from an engineering study, provided by the SJRA, suggests that a future 500-year storm event would contribute much less (only 5-9%) of the total flow due to better controlled releases even if Lake Conroe lake levels started at the normal pool level without seasonal lowering. The study concluded that the Lake Conroe contribution to flooding downstream would not be material and would be less than about 6-9 inches out of a flood crest of 12 feet in the Lake Houston area.
The Reaction from the Politicians
In response, Governor Abbott appointed two Kingwood residents to the SJRA Board, and the board voted to begin a temporary seasonal lowering of lake Conroe to allow for dredging to be completed in the San Jacinto river. That dredging project is now complete, but the seasonal lowering is now being voted on to continue for a 3rd year by the SJRA board on February 20th, 2020. Engineering science that the SJRA has released concluded this seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe will have a minimal effect on downstream flooding in another a 500-year event such as Harvey, and could make downstream flooding worse. Relief efforts which are not based on scientifically sound principles and engineering will ultimately fail.
A different action is truly needed. Obviously, there are a lot of stakeholders involved, as was evidenced by over 1000 attending the last SJRA board meeting. The next meeting will be February 20th, at the Lone Star Convention center in Conroe at 6 pm.
Hurricane Harvey was an extremely bad storm, the kind that rolls around once every 500 years. Flooding during a storm of this magnitude will occur. What we need is to all work together to find solutions that engineering science can support, and not fall victim to knee-jerk political decisions.
The SJRA also places no value on the water it releases during the seasonal lowering. It rationalizes this because is says it has no client for the water. Water is a valuable resource. Think about it. If you have a gold bar in your possession, it doesn’t lose its value just because you don’t have a current buyer.
The Real Causes of Flooding
Flooding is almost always made worse by man-made issues. With development, trees (which soak up water) and land are cleared. With flooding, silt fills up the river basins, and the whole ecosystem is disrupted. In short, this causes water levels to rise and initiates flooding.
The True Effects of Draining the Lake
When the water levels of Lake Conroe are seasonally lowered, as they have been for the past few years, flooding still occurs below the dam and in Kingwood as happened with tropical storm Imelda. Additionally, lake properties and businesses are being damaged by the seasonal draining, and the lake has become dangerous for both boaters and fishermen due to high sandbars made evident by the low lake level. A scientific, rather than political, perspective is truly needed as global weather changes are real, and we have not had the rain to refill the lake in 2019.
The overall ecosystem of the lake has been significantly affected and lowering the lake has already caused negative environmental impacts that need to be addressed before this seasonal lowering is continued.
Bulkheading around the lake is also being severely damaged. When we disrupt the equilibrium of the water forces by lowering the water level, the bulkheading fails, as it was never designed to serve as a retaining wall.
Our Best Solution
What happens now? One thing is for sure: the vote in February needs to be NO. Rather than continue the seasonal draining of Lake Conroe, damaging the surrounding properties and businesses, and ruining freshwater habitats, a real solution based on proven scientific evidence needs to be found. Scientists need to study the lake, its floodplain, dam operations and develop a solution that benefits our communities. It can be done. Simply lowering the lake is causing more harm than good, and the scientific evidence supports this.
Things to Do
How can we make a difference? We can simply examine the facts and write to Governor Abbott. Contact the SJRA and urge them to do a proper scientific study rather than push through a vote that will cause additional harm. Lowering the lake levels won’t stop flood events from occurring and will continue to cause long-term damage to our communities. A more beneficial, scientific solution must be explored.
Want to learn more and join the cause to Save Lake Conroe?
Find out more at https://www.stopdraininglakeconroe.com/