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Campaign launched to protect Lake Conroe water levels as downstream communities fight to lower it

Chron logo Chron 1/31/2018 By Jennifer Summer, jennifer.summer@hcnonline.com

Months after record rainfall during Hurricane Harvey caused some communities to experience historic flooding, the Lake Conroe Association's response to calls for a permanent 3-foot reduction in the lake's level was a resounding "no."

Floodwaters from the San Jacinto River in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey surround condominiums on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Kingwood. ( Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle ) © Brett Coomer, Staff Floodwaters from the San Jacinto River in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey surround condominiums on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Kingwood. ( Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle )

"As residents and businesses in the Lake Conroe area, we support a comprehensive, independent flood control study covering the area from northern Montgomery County to Galveston Bay," Lake Conroe Association President Mike Bleier said. "We have the utmost sympathy for those affected by the flooding. We want to work cooperatively with representatives from the Lake Houston community that have called for action such as lowering the water levels of Lake Conroe. We want to assist through studies to determine what we can do in the future to help with flooding issues."

Water is released from the Lake Conroe Dam into the San Jacinto River, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. in Conroe, Texas. Record rainfall and recent flooding throughout Montgomery County forced the San Jacinto River Authority to increase the water it's releasing to 8,660 cubic feet per second, the highest rate in eight years. (Jason Fochtman/Conroe Courier via AP) © Jason Fochtman, MBR Water is released from the Lake Conroe Dam into the San Jacinto River, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. in Conroe, Texas. Record rainfall and recent flooding throughout Montgomery County forced the San Jacinto River Authority to increase the water it's releasing to 8,660 cubic feet per second, the highest rate in eight years. (Jason Fochtman/Conroe Courier via AP)

The Lake Conroe Association started a letter-writing campaign last week to send elected officials such as Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick that express their concerns for resolutions proposed by the Lake Houston and Kingwood communities to potentially prevent future flooding.

"The Lake Houston community began their letter-writing campaign around November and we've heard they have received thousands of letters expressing the need to lower the levels of Lake Conroe by three feet," Bleier said. "We decided to launch our letter writing campaign because we need to have our voices heard. As a consensus, the Lake Conroe Association finds that lowering the lake by three feet is not in our best interest and there are no studies that demonstrate lowering the level of the lake or a 'pre-release' of what would be beneficial; we need to look into these options more before proceeding."

Normal pool for Lake Conroe is 201 feet above mean sea level.

According to information from the San Jacinto River Authority, water flowing into Lake Conroe during the storm reached a peak rate of 130,000 cubic feet per second, well above the record release rate of 79,000 cubic feet per second, which occurred a few days into the storm. Rainfall totals reported in the region varied from around 30 inches to up to 50 inches.

"Water released from Lake Conroe by SJRA during Hurricane Harvey is estimated at only 10-15 percent of the inflows into Lake Houston; so based on the information from SJRA, a 'pre-release' on the levels of the lake would not have made a difference," Bleier said.

In response to the flooding at the end of August 2017, the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce launched the Lake Houston Area Long Term Recovery Task Force in November 2017 to form a plan to help rebuild the community and prevent future catastrophic flooding.

An airboat moves through 6-7 feet of floodwater in the Kingwood Greens Subdivision from the San Jacinto River due to Tropical Storm Harvey, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Kingwood. ( Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle ) © Karen Warren, Staff Photographer An airboat moves through 6-7 feet of floodwater in the Kingwood Greens Subdivision from the San Jacinto River due to Tropical Storm Harvey, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, in Kingwood. ( Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle )

"We formed the task force to find out what happened with the flooding and find ways for us to rebuild since there was damage to approximately 16,000 homes and 3,300 businesses," Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce President Jenna Armstrong said. "A majority of the flooding in the city of Humble and Kingwood was because of the West Fork of the San Jacinto so that is our main point of focus when it comes to remediation."

To aid these efforts, they launched the "Plea for 3" calling for remediation, which includes dredging the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston and stricter regulation enforcement of legal and illegal sand mining operations along the river; reduction of the pooling level of Lake Conroe from 201 feet above sea level to 198; and representation on the San Jacinto River Authority Board - three governor-appointed interim board members representing downstream communities to serve until legislation is passed to address the issue.

Armstrong and Bleier talk frequently to find a middle ground in regard to both the Lake Conroe and Lake Houston communities.

"We both understand that we are trying to protect the interests of our respective communities," Armstrong said. "There are a few who feel as if our initiative is retribution when it is not. We understand economic development and we want to help everyone in that regard. We just want to discover what happened with the flooding and what we can do to prevent this from happening again."

Bleier echoed Armstrong's sentiments by adding, "They are learning about Lake Conroe as we are learning about Lake Houston. It is important for us to talk because we are neighbors and need to look at alternatives to prevent flooding. We have a lack of information on the effectiveness of lowering the lake levels and a 'pre-release.'"

The San Jacinto River rises up under the Bevil Jarrel Memorial Bridge in Kingwood due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey. © Courtesy Of HPD-Kingwood Division The San Jacinto River rises up under the Bevil Jarrel Memorial Bridge in Kingwood due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey.

The Lake Conroe Association fully supports the Lake Houston and Kingwood communities' call for remediation of the San Jacinto River, but not the main body of Lake Houston unless it is coupled with a reduction of water. According to information from the Lake Conroe Association, increasing the capacity by dredging would not impact flood control if the lake level is unchanged after remediation.

The association also supports the Lake Houston Area Long Term Recovery Task Force's request for representation on the SJRA board with one member who would be able to provide their community with information on specific operations of the SJRA and have a voice in the decision-making process.

However, the Lake Conroe Assocation does not support any kind of reduction of the water levels on Lake Conroe - whether it is permanent or temporary.

"Structures have been built and local economies developed based on the state-mandated level on Lake Conroe of 201 feet," the Lake Conroe Association stated. "Several Lake Houston residents have also called for the reduction of water levels before a storm to which the association did not agree with as well unless a study proves otherwise.

"Consideration could be given to supporting a 'pre-release strategy' if a study is completed by an independent third party that evaluates the effectiveness and risks of 'pre-release' to those on Lake Conroe and downstream," the association stated in their letters. "Specific protocols would need to be developed and adhered to which direct SJRA in a decision to 'pre-release.'"

The Lake Conroe Association continues to stress the need for studies to determine what would be the best plan for all parties involved.

"There are a few possible options such as a joint program between the Harris County Flood Control District and the Montgomery County Flood Control District for flood control and other programs that include retention ponds; it will just take time to find a viable option for flooding issues," Bleier said.

For more information or to mail a letter to an elected official on behalf of the Lake Conroe Association, visit www.lakeconroeassociation.com.

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