Image: Entering the San Jacinto River Authority’s palatial headquarters building (or living downstream from SJRA’s business operations) floods a person with more terror than crossing a crevasse by ladder wearing crampons. In reality, there’s a gaping chasm between the Authority’s operations which they run more like a for-profit water seller than a governmental agency whose statutory duty is “to provide flood control.”
Conroe and Houston, February 10 – In court filings in a Houston District Court lawsuit arising from the San Jacinto River Authority’s (SJRA) decision to open the floodgates of the Lake Conroe Dam during Tropical Storm Harvey in August, 2017, SJRA made the frightening cold-hearted admission that the “public purpose” of SJRA’s operations has nothing whatsoever to do with flooding. Instead, SJRA has taken the position that
“Neither Lake Conroe nor its Dam was designed to function as a flood control facility, but simply exists to maintain a level of water so as to supply its customers with a previously contracted amount of water.”
SJRA’s Amended Motion to Dismiss and Plea to the Jurisdiction, filed in the 152nd District Court of Harris County in Thomas E. and Beth F. Ross versus San Jacinto River Authority.
Since its creation in 1937, the SJRA has had a statutory duty “to provide flood control” in the entire watershed of the San Jacinto River, which includes all of Montgomery County. Nevertheless, SJRA General Manager Jace Houston and “establishment” Board members, such as Marisa Rummel, Lloyd Tisdale, Gary Montgomery, Joseph V. Turner, Joseph L. Stunja, Fred Koetting, and others, have loved the profits from SJRA’s water sales but abjectly failed to fulfill their statutory duty “to provide flood control.”
Other than the heroic David Kleimann, who resigned in disgust from SJRA’s Board of Directors in 2010 after he recognized the chasm between SJRA’s statutory duty and its actions, SJRA’s employees and board members have focused entirely on water sales and maintaining “a level of water so as to supply its customers” rather than “to provide flood control.
Board members have just accepted SJRA staff recommendations to ignore the primary legal duty the SJRA has had for 81 years. Rummel and other Board members just slept through meetings and voted to approve every staff recommendation.
On October 16, 2017, State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) engaged in a tense exchange with Houston towards the end of a hearing before the Senator Agriculture Committee in New Caney, when Creighton asked whether SJRA has the duty “to provide flood control” since that’s in the SJRA original enabling statute which the Texas Legislature enacted in 1937. “We don’t have any taxing authority but flooding control is in our enabling legislation…We haven’t asked for that charge to be removed from the law,” said Houston. “But I would interpret ‘flood control’ as an authority we have but not a duty.”
Creighton responded, “The fact that you don’t feel you have a duty to do it is very troubling. That was written in the 1930s. When there’s danger, we run towards it as a steward of the public. But it sounds like you’re running away from the danger…We can’t wait until there’s thousands of people displaced to make those requests.”
Houston admitted that SJRA has the authority to provide flood control and admitted “one option to provide flood control [in Montgomery County] is for the River Authority to do it. We don’t provide flood control now, because we have the power but not the duty to do that.”
Creighton responded, “I’m embarrassed that the public has to hear that answer.”
“We don’t provide flood control now, because we have the power but not the duty to do that.” – – SJRA General Manager Jace Houston testifying before the Texas Senate Agriculture Committee, October 16, 2017.
“I’m embarrassed that the public has to hear that answer.” – State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), October 16, 2017, in response to Houston’s testimony.
SJRA’s Houston tried to argue that no governmental entity has the power to do debris cleaning and desnagging from rivers and tributaries, although he eventually conceded those powers are within SJRA’s enabling mandate which the Legislature passed in 1937.
Houston also tried to deflect the responsibility for flood control to a regional authority rather than to SJRA. “Regional is better,” Houston told the Committee.
In 2018, SJRA hired a Director of Flood Management, Chuck Gilman, at the startling salary of $180,000 per year. Sadly, the “Flood Management Division” of SJRA is little more than a press release, Gilman’s high salary, and the high salary of his secretary.
The Flood Management Division doesn’t do anything. The SJRA’s description of the Flood Management Division follows:
“Located at the Lake Conroe Dam, the Flood Management Division’s primary functions include: developing short-term and long-term regional flood management strategies within the Authority’s portion of the San Jacinto River Basin; building partnerships with federal, state, and local government entities; identifying funding sources and opportunities; and coordinating, collaborating, and potentially partnering with other flood management entities throughout the entire San Jacinto River basin. The Flood Management Division oversees the partnership and implementation of planned and funded projects, including the transfer of operations and maintenance of completed projects to partnering entities.”
In other words, despite its statutory duty “to provide flood control,” SJRA does absolutely nothing by itself to fulfill that responsibility. SJRA obtained a Texas Water Development Board grant and a huge investment from each of the City of Conroe and the Montgomery County government to prepare a flood warning study. SJRA still has not implemented any flood warning plan or operations.
SJRA is one of four government entities putting money into another regional flood control study. The Montgomery County government is putting more money into the study than is the SJRA, which has approximately $42 million of unencumbered funds available to it. SJRA still has not implemented any flood controls or operations.
Many citizens have called for a “flood control district” in Montgomery County. In truth, Montgomery County doesn’t need such a district, because the community already has one, albeit one which is out of touch with the citizens. That flood control district is the SJRA. SJRA has enormous financial resources to do its job “to provide flood control.”