Lake Conroe lake level policy resolution reveals fissure between Montgomery County Commissioners Court members

Lake Conroe lake level policy resolution reveals fissure between Montgomery County Commissioners Court members

Image: Precinct 1 Montgomery County Commissioner Mike Meador successfully argued, on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, for the Commissioner Court to urge the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) to stop lowering the level of Lake Conroe 1 foot in April and May and 2 feet in August and September of each year. SJRA has taken those actions to prevent flooding such as that which occurred during Tropical Storm Harvey in 2017.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Conroe, January 15 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court passed a resolution calling upon the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) to halt the river authority’s seasonal lowering of lake levels by a 3 to 2 vote. The brief discussion and the vote on the Court revealed a fissure among the Commissioners with respect to the manner in which SJRA should act to prevent flooding.

The vote on the resolution, which Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador authored, included Meador, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack, and Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough in favor, but Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and Precinct 4 County Commissioner James Metts dissented. A copy of the resolution appears at the end of this article.

SJRA began seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe after the wayward river authority, a subdivision of the State of Texas, suffered criticism for its failure to release water early before Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast area. But rather than managing releases of water based upon specific credible weather threats, SJRA decided to release water by rote.

The out-of-touch SJRA Board of Directors set a policy, upon the recommendation of SJRA’s staff, to lower Lake Conroe during hurricane season to an elevation of 199 feet above sea level, or 2 feet below normal pool levels. SJRA lowers the lake 1 foot below its normal pool level during April and May each year right before the official beginning of the hurricane season and 2 feet below its normal pool level during August and September.

No one would seem to criticize SJRA for lowering Lake Conroe levels in the event of a likely weather emergency, such as Tropical Storm Harvey, but, at the same time, no one seems to have called upon SJRA blindly to follow a policy of lowering lake levels which requires no careful management of Lake Conroe by the SJRA’s highly-paid engineering staff.

In November, 2019, the Lake Conroe Association (LCA) met with the SJRA Board to discuss the Board’s policy. Board members and SJRA staff told LCA’s Board that SJRA began the periodic lake lowering program, regardless of weather threats or the lack thereof, after Kingwood residents complained that the decision not to release water early during Harvey, in addition to record rainfall totals, helped fuel record releases from the dam and increased flooding downstream.

Meador’s resolution, as well as a political campaign, including signs, emails, text messages, and direct mail, presage a January 23, 2020, presentation by LCA to the SJRA Board on the negative impacts of Lake Conroe lowering. SJRA’s Board will likely vote whether or not to continue the Seasonal Lake Level Adjustment Program at SJRA’s February 27, 2020, Board of Directors meeting.

Darrell Palmer, a resident of Precinct 4 (East Montgomery County) spoke to the Commissioners Court before the formal discussion began on Tuesday: “Lake Conroe is at 198.197 which is no lower than anything we’re talking about. We’re asking maintenance in April and May and 2 feet in August and September…There is no reason to lower the lake unless it’s at the peak pool level of 201…With a quick glance of Zillow, home values haven’t changed in the last 2 years and some of them have gone up…The dredging is not complete…The dam project which is supposed to add 10 gates to the Lake Houston Dam is slated to begin in mid-summer 2022…All we’re asking is a couple of more temporary years…”

Meador proceeded to explain his resolution: “I realize this is a hot button topic. Lake Conroe was never intended or built to be a flood control reservoir. It’s for water…If the lake becomes a mud flat, that would certainly damage our tax levy…I make a motion on this resolution opposing the lowering of Lake Conroe.”

Noack quickly seconded Meador’s resolution.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Riley, however, opposed Meador’s resolution and said, “With folks living in RP and downstream from the dam, this is a resolution I can’t support.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Metts agreed with Riley and said, “Peace of mind means a lot. And we’ve suffered quite a bit in Precinct 4 this past year…I don’t think it’s unreasonable if we could have a bit more time to put those measures in place down there,” referring to dredging and the construction of ten additional gates at the Lake Houston Dam.”

Clearly, on flooding issues, there is a major divide among the “establishment” members of the Commissioners Court. Usually, Meador, Riley, and Metts vote in lockstep. On this serious issue, however, Meador seems to represent Lake Conroe interests within his Commissioners Precinct, while Riley and Metts are sympathetic to the downstream property owners within their respective Precincts who suffer from actions which SJRA takes when it releases water from the Lake Conroe Dam in large quantities, as during the Harvey storm, since SJRA had not engaged in any preliminary releases before the storm hit Montgomery County.

Commissioner Meador’s resolution follows:

The resolution the Montgomery County Commissioners Court passed on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, calling upon the San Jacinto River Authority to stop seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe.

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