Updated: Mar 5
When I grew up, one of the more enjoyable activities on a playground was playing with a friend on a teeter totter. We learned early on how to balance out the weight so that we would not end up either sitting on the ground, with our friend stranded in the air, or vice versa. We could both enjoy going up and down for hours with laughter and play. We learned to work together and in balance.
The Seasonal Lowering of Lake Conroe is much like an adult teeter totter. On one side we have our neighbors from the Lake Houston area, who are looking for anything that would help to prevent future flooding of their homes and businesses. On the other side, we have the residents of Lake Conroe who want there to be a reason, validated by science, that this plan will actually work to lessen flooding in Lake Houston and there is an endpoint to this seasonal lowering policy.
After an earlier blog, I was contacted by a group from Lake Houston about a joint meeting. That meeting happened at a Starbucks cafe on a sunny, cold afternoon in February. Lake Conroe and Lake Houston community leaders gathered, listened, and learned from each other. What came out of this meeting was that both of our communities have a deep passion to work together. Neither wishes the other be injured further. We learned that there are many more issues involved.
With the challenges we are seeing to our environment and weather patterns it makes this is an absolute necessity to work together. When you start to walk in another's shoes, you can learn so much.
We both agreed that the communication with the SJRA needs to be vastly upgraded. It must be open and transparent. A press release by the SJRA, is not an effective communication method. Neither are meetings where you have no responses and blank stares from board members. We need open presentations from the board about its plans. (The most recent SJRA board meeting had an excellent presentation). There needs to be a way to allow for a 2-way exchange of ideas and listening to each other, board members included. Emails to the SJRA board need to be answered and not filed in a computer mailbox.
The Lake Houston resident and business battles with City of Houston to get real effective flood relief, have been epic and are not over. They are seeing some movement and funding for some their project’s, but it is slow as molasses in January.
I, and my fellow attendees supported their hours of meetings, and work. We learned that the legislature has new loans and grants available to help with recovery. These require the applicant to show that they are working with the whole watershed partners. They offered that they needed Lake Conroe's help to make these options available by showing that they were working together with everyone in the entire watershed. But, the rhetoric after the February vote, from the Lake Houston blogs and the Lake Houston Chamber of Commerce, needs to change its focus and direction. The same goes for social media sites around the lake. We need to put all of our energy into solutions and not further divisions. There are many other partners involved in the Seasonal Lowering concerns on Lake Conroe, besides the LCA. Do not assume they are the only voice for this entire Lake Conroe community.
Neglecting the emotional, financial, and environmental costs that flood management can impose on each community needs to end. We both need to know what the science and data are, and then gather to discuss the options, openly. Then we can create a better solution for all communities.
If a regional watershed plan is to work for all communities, it must include the Lake Conroe community as a participant. There should be presentations in our community. As a partner we should also have representation on the committee.
The SJRA board has a big task as there are many more issues that need solutions to help with flooding below the dam and in the Lake Houston area. These would also need to be supported by science. Perhaps raising the flood gates on Lake Conroe, to create more capacity and revising the pre release policies is a start. Excellent engineers from the oil industry have suggested that a better pre-lease program would accomplish the same goals as months of lowering and damage. Sand mining needs to be regulated on the San Jacinto River. New Lidar imaging suggests that the sand mining may be blocking the San Jacinto River runoff. This could make upstream flooding worse above these blockages. Bridges that block water flow in Lake Houston and lead to further silting problems need to be studied and revised immediately. Environmental impacts that the seasonal lowering is causing, must be studied and not ignored. Cleaning the rivers below the dam of debris must be an immediate priority of the SJRA board for communities below the dam. Attention to all the issues is mandatory.
The loss and damages to people and communities from Hurricane Harvey was profound. Healing takes time, but the memories will last forever. It was a horrible storm that we all hope never comes again. I am sorry and feel for everyone's loss. My home, in Houston, also had flood damage, from Hurricane Harvey. I hope everyone has the emotional support they need to heal.
The challenge going forward is not how, but when. We can work together as fellow Texans. When all the communities located in the San Jacinto river shed and the SJRA board work together, balance is possible.
The sooner this begins the faster we all return to being in balance and enjoying playing together.
Al Heilman MD