SJRA Press Releases & Responses
FACTS DON’T SUPPORT SJRA LAKE LOWERING CHAPTER 3
In defense of their votes to lower the lake level on Lake Conroe, the San Jacinto River Authority’s (SJRA) Board touts engineering reports that support its position. And when SJRA Management issued a Press Release dated November 21, 2019, they frequently sited those engineering reports. Maybe they didn’t read the same reports that I did as these “engineering reports” do not support SJRA’s Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Program (the “Program”). Please allow me to make a few observations.
Has there been any report produced by SJRA or its engineers that quantifies how flooding of the Kingwood area during Hurricane Harvey would have been reduced had Lake Conroe’s lake level been two feet lower (as it is today under SJRA’s Program)? SJRA’s answer is “no”.
SJRA directs people to a report issued by Freece and Nichols (SJRA’s primary outside engineering firm) entitled “FNI Lake Conroe Dam Gate Operations Modification Analysis – 4/10/2018” which can be found on SJRA’s website at www.sjra.net/floodmanagement. It attempts to quantify the “benefits” of starting with a lower lake level during a 100-year storm event (1% probability to occur in a given year) and a 500-year storm event (0.02% probability to occur in a given year and similar to a Hurricane Harvey-type event). The report estimates the impact on several key parameters including the increase in the San Jacinto River’s level at the intersection of I-45 (it does NOT address water levels in Kingwood). It concludes “The average change in downstream water surface elevation by decreasing Lake Conroe to a 199’ elevation (2 feet below normal pool) is a reduction of approximately 1.0 feet for both the 100-year and 500-year storm events. These reductions are relative to flows that are on average 8 feet above the channel banks in the 100-year event, and more than 12 feet above the channel banks in the 500-year event. 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.” In other words, an 8 foot flood at I-45 might be reduced to 7 feet, and a 12 foot flood (like Hurricane Harvey) at I45 might be reduced to 11 feet. And as that water spreads out across the land past I-45, the flood benefit becomes even less than 1 foot.
Carrying this a step further, the report goes on to state that “For storm events larger than a 500-year event, it is anticipated that reducing Lake Conroe by 2 feet before a storm event could potentially increase the flood hazard downstream of the dam if the peak release is delayed such that it occurs at the same time as other tributaries to the West Fork of the San Jacinto River.” reference
A second Freece and Nichols report entitled “Proposed Lowering of Lake Conroe Conservation Pool: Potential Impacts on San Jacinto Basin Water Supplies” and listed on SJRA’s website is argued to be support for the Program. This 31-page report does little to address Hurricane Harvey or flooding in the Kingwood area. Stating the obvious, the report says if the lake level on Lake Conroe is reduced, there will be less water available to sell and less available for drought contingency. It goes on to say “Reduction in pool elevation could result in larger and more prolonged reductions in storage during dry conditions…..and could potentially reduce recovery to the 201’ normal pool elevation”. And finally, “Replacement of water diversion reducing pool elevation could require the development of major project infrastructure with associated costs”.
Summarized information from the two (2) Freece and Nichols reports described above was used to develop a response from SJRA to Lyle Larson, Chairman, House Committee on Natural Resources in a letter dated April 16, 2018. You may review the redundant information on SJRA’s website as it is listed as further support used by the SJRA Board in making its decision to lower Lake Conroe’s lake level.
Lake Conroe was reduced by 1 foot under SJRA’s Program between March 1 and April 30, 2018, by 2 feet between August 1 and September 30, 2018, and by 2 feet between August 1 and September 30, 2019. We had no storm events, and Kingwood experienced no benefit from SJRA’s Program.
Lake Conroe was reduced by 1 foot under SJRA’s Program between March 1 and April 30, 2019. SJRA’s November 21, 2019 Press Release suggests their Program is a success because it rained in early May, 2019 and the Program “resulted in both lower peak Lake Conroe lake levels during the storm and lower release rates from the Lake Conroe dam”. I won’t refute the words in between the “quotes”, but I certainly wouldn’t therefore deem the Program a success. During this rain event, Lake Conroe rose by 2 feet. Homes on Lake Conroe would not have flooded with the addition of 2 feet of water and water released from the dam could have been done so at a slow and consistent rate so as not to unnecessarily flood those downstream including Kingwood.
During September, 2019, Hurricane Imelda hit the Houston area and caused flooding in Kingwood again (with some Kingwood areas flooding worse than the floods caused by Hurricane Harvey). The Conroe area saw minimal rainfall and had no necessity to release any water (with or without SJRA’s Program in place). Kingwood floods – that’s all there is to it. Since its creation in 1973, Lake Conroe and SJRA have been blamed for Kingwood flooding. Even when SJRA doesn’t release water from its dam, it gets blamed for Kingwood flooding. Due to its geographic location where many tributaries converge, poor civil engineering design and improper maintenance of Lake Houston and the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, Kingwood floods. The SJRA Program will not change that.
And what of the “value” of the water released under SJRA’s Program? Water is always touted as a valuable commodity not to be wasted. SJRA has released 21.5 BILLION gallons of water in 2019 under its Program. Applying SJRA’s raw water rate of $0.48 per 1,000 gallons or the City of Houston’s raw water rate of $0.7209 per 1,000 gallons, that comes to $10.3 MILLION or $15.4 MILLION, respectively. Both argue that without a customer to buy the water, the water maintains no value and they are wasting nothing. Yet both SJRA and the City of Houston are selling raw water to themselves daily, treating that water for purification, and selling the treated water to the public. If the raw water has no value, maybe they should just charge customers a “processing fee” for water purification and eliminate the charge for the raw water itself.
Let it not be forgotten that Lake Conroe’s lake level has been down greater than 2 feet for four consecutive months now – not just the two months of August and September, 2019. Without any valid technical support upon which to base its decision, I do not agree with any vote by the SJRA Board in favor of continuing SJRA’s Program. Nor do I see how the elected officials in support of SJRA’s Program can continue to sit in the background and do nothing to eliminate it.
Press release from SJRA
"This is a temporary initiative intended to provide flood mitigation while long- and short-term strategies, such as the US Army Corp of Engineers’ emergency dredging project, are implemented. "
This is no longer a temporary Plan.
"The dredging is in a battle and completely out of funding. But while local officials urge FEMA to act, the crews that did the dredging — and had left their massive rigs in the river for weeks, in case an agreement could be reached — are pulling up and moving on. reference from the Houston Chronicle oct 2019
"• The USACE’s dredging contractor began mobilizing in July 2018 and completed their work on the West Fork this fall."
Accordingly, the $70 million initial dredging project was completed this fall. reference Houston Chronicle
"• The City of Houston, Harris County Flood Control District, and Harris County Engineering Department are developing additional long-term strategies and implementing additional short-term strategies to reduce the risk of flooding in Harris County. "
SJRA please share these plans/ strategies which support continuing this support the continuation of the " Seasonal drainage of the Lake Conroe" plan.
"• SJRA and downstream communities realize and understand the negative impact that this creates around Lake Conroe, but they are asking for patience while this temporary mitigation strategy is utilized".
We have had patience for 2 years and the effects are severely damaging our community. We need a different scientific supported plan moving forward. Continuing this for the 3rd without any science is not an option.
This is the science the SJRA references to Support its plan:
To date, there have been no new studies to evaluate the impact of the original action by the board for the Temporary Lowing of Lake Conroe.
These are the Conclusions from the engineering paper. reference
1. "This analysis shows the reduction in normal pool elevation does provide some benefit to areas upstream of Lake Conroe for flood events, and there is also a limited benefit for those downstream as the peak outflow is slightly reduced relative to the base condition. "
2. "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."
3. "For storm events larger than a 500-year event, it is anticipated that the addition of the flood pool will likely yield no additional benefit to the upstream and could potentially increase the flood hazard downstream of the dam if the peak release is delayed such that it occurs at the same time as other tributaries to the West Fork San Jacinto River. "
The engineering firm also recommend further studies before any action is taken. They said they were necessary and as far as we can tell they have not been done. We have asked the board for a confirmation and they have not returned our emails.
We need to Stop the Seasonal draining of Lake Conroe. The science does not support this plan being renewed. If the community has new science that supports this please share it with us.
We need an Environmental Impact Assessment looking at this proposed continuation of draining the lake. This type of study/ information is standard before any governmental or private action is taken on a public resource or lake.
Answers to the SJRA press release reference
1. "The plan "is" working as it has lessened flooding on Lake Conroe".
This was never was the reason for the plan in the first place, nor is this a problem below the 205 level.
2. "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. " click here for reference
SJRA needs to stop pouring valuable water resources down the drain, and then decide to place no value on them. Worse yet, assume they will always be present.
This seasonal lowering was not a dam repair, and the lake water released is a very valuable resource with a monetary value. The draining the of the lake does reduce water supplies and it effects the communities around the lake in substantial ways the SJRA board is failing to appreciate.
Water is a valuable resource and the River Authority places no monetary value on the water it drains from the Lake. We all know that by how much we pay for in water and MUD taxes. The City of Houston was given access to 2 more feet of water when the lake is seasonally lowered. The City of Houston owns a two-thirds call on water from Lake Conroe. SJRA owns one-third. When the 2-foot seasonal lowering was granted an exemption was given by the Texas Water Commission to Houston so that this loss of water would not count toward Houston's 2/3rd's water rights. This in effect allows millions of gallons of water from Lake Conroe to be given to the City of Houston without cost or consequence.
The data from the SJRA show that 10.5 million dollars to 15 million dollars of water revenue have been in lost by draining the lake in 2019. Click here for reference
This plan has been in effect for 2 years. To date 21 million dollars to 30 million dollars of water revenue have been lost forever.
Under the seasonal lowering plan, the SJRA reduced the lake 12 inches between March and April, and then reduced the lake 24 inches between August and September.