Image: Map showing the flood protection study, phases I and II. The map shows that SJRA did not intend to include the East Fork of the San Jacinto River in the Phase 1 study originally, although Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and Emergency Management Director Darren Hess claimed on October 24 that it does. (Map courtesy of Sam Hinojosa, Halff Associates, Inc.)
Conroe, October 25 – With his cohorts from Halff Associates, Inc., closely looking on in the Commissioners Courtroom, Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal sought to recharacterize the purpose of the San Jacinto River Authority’s (“SJRA”) Phase 1 water flow study to improve SJRA’s public image and to shift the financial burden of the Phase 2 flood mitigation study to the County government rather than SJRA, which has the statutory duty “to provide flood control” under its Enabling Act. Residents are rapidly coming to the conclusion that Doyal, Halff, and SJRA are a triumvirate of water policy abuse that has harmed Montgomery County residents for several years.
There was a marked distinction between Doyal’s characterization of the SJRA’s study yesterday, October 24, 2017, and SJRA’s presentation of its study on June 12, 2017.
The June 12 presentation
On June 12, 2017, at a meeting which Doyal, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, and other County government representatives attended, SJRA made a presentation about a two-phase project to update flood plain information. The proposed Phase 1 study only included the West Fork of the San Jacinto River downstream to Lake Creek. The purpose of the June 12 meeting, which the SJRA’s Director of Raw Water Enterprise David L. Parkhill, P.E., led, was to permit consultants from Halff Associates, Inc., engineers, to present the plans for the two-phase study. The project would update flood plain information on the studied streams within Montgomery County in order to improve the existing hydrologic monitoring network in the community and to enhance flood early warning capabilities in the region.
Halff’s Sam Hinojosa explained that the study would occur in two phases. Phase I would study the Lake Conroe watershed southward to its confluence with Lake Creek. The second phase of the study would include areas south and southeast of the Phase I study area but didn’t include most of East Montgomery County, the area which the Tropical Storm Harvey/San Jacinto River Authority flooding impacted the hardest between August 28 and the first week of September.
The Texas Water Development Board granted $460,000 for the work, while the SJRA contributed $230,000, Montgomery County $90,000, and the City of Conroe $140,000 for the Phase I study. There are not yet formal estimates for the Phase II study or a grant to pay for all or part of it, but Hinojosa estimated the cost would be approximately the same amount as the Phase I study.
The studies would include field surveys, hydrologic studies (to generate and understand flow rates of streams), hydraulic analyses (to develop models for how deep the water gets and how far it extends when flooding occurs), and an environmental analysis. The study begin on February 17, 2017. The SJRA planned to present the final report for the Phase I study in August, 2018, with at least two more public meetings for presentations and comments before then. The two public meetings likely occur in February, 2018, and June, 2018.
Parkhill explained on June 12 that two Montgomery County representatives closely involved with the Phase I work would be Darren Hess of Montgomery County’s Department of Emergency Management, and Mark Mooney, the Montgomery County Engineer.
Parkhill, Hinojosa, and Doyal all expressed their goal to improve the early warning system for flooding from the data and analysis garnered from both studies.
October 24 Commissioners Court
Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Darren Hess, in response to questioning from Doyal, explained that the SJRA’s Phase 1 study would look at how the “watershed affects the West and East Forks of the San Jacinto River and how rainfall hits the lake and affects the flow downstream.” Hess’ characterization of the study is substantially different from the SJRA presentation in June.
Now, according to Hess, the Phase 1 study includes an analysis of the East Fork of the San Jacinto River as well as the West Fork which is the portion in which the Lake Conroe Dam was erected to form Lake Conroe. Hess explained, “the next phase is all bodies of water in Montgomery County in a phase 2 and 3 and a study of how to do notifications along those water ways.”
Doyal added, “I would encourage us to look at all other creeks, not just the San Jacinto River, which is the area of SJRA’s interest.” What Doyal doesn’t understand is that SJRA has the duty “to provide flood control
” for the entire watershed of the San Jacinto River, which includes all of Montgomery County as well as other areas to the west, north, and east of the County’s boundaries. Harris County is specifically excluded from SJRA’s jurisdiction in its Enabling Act.
Where citizens should fear Doyal when it comes to SJRA and flood mitigation studies: $$$$$$$
Doyal is always looking for ways for the County government to spend tax dollars on the engineering firms who contribute massive amounts of funds to his political campaign. During the Commissioners Court meeting, and contrary to his comments and those of Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack during the October 10, 2017, meeting where they suggested looking to the federal government for flood mitigation study funding, Doyal suggested on October 24 that “Congressman Brady encouraged us to look at all sources of funding…Even if SJRA doesn’t ‘sponsor’ the phase 2 study, we should consider that.”
It’s important to note that Doyal has every incentive to take the funding pressure off of his cohorts at SJRA, who are receiving substantial criticism for their poor planning prior to the Harvey storm and their poor operations during the storm. SJRA has the legal duty “to provide flood control.” The County government does not have that duty.
But for the County government to come forward and spend millions of dollars on engineering studies for flood mitigation would kill two birds with one stone for Doyal. First, he’d control shoveling millions of dollars to his choice engineering political contributors. Second, Doyal would take some of the pressure off of SJRA.
It’s important to remember Doyal’s close relationship with SJRA. First, Doyal’s best friend and business partner is civil engineering Bobby Adams, the regional vice president of Halff Associates. Halff receives millions of dollars in contracts from SJRA, so SJRA is near and dear to Halff’s whole heart. Furthermore, Adams’ father, the late Jim Adams, was the long time general manager of SJRA before Jace Houston.
Doyal is the one local official whose silence in criticizing the SJRA has been most obvious. Rather, he continues to work to shift responsibility away from SJRA for the terrible flooding which they caused when they opened the gates of the Lake Conroe Dam around 2 a.m. on Monday, August 28, 2017, after failing to reduce the necessary flooding by pre-releasing water and after failing to provide early warning to the neighborhoods downstream of the coming torrent of floodwaters.