Image: The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, pressed the scofflaw San Jacinto River Authority for all of its “flood control” plans, and, after four (4) years of litigation, finally obtained them after a mire of lawsuits and appeals.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Conroe, June 9 – The San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) finally had no choice but to turn over its “Emergency Action Plan” (EAP) to The Golden Hammer after four years of legal wrangling in the 284th District Court in Conroe and the Ninth Court of Appeals at Beaumont came to a victorious conclusion for the public against the scofflaw river authority. The 264 page report, dated 2010, which this newspaper is making available to the public by a link at the end of this article and the 86 page Lake Conroe Dam Gate Update, dated 2017, glaringly reveal why SJRA fought vociferously against The Golden Hammer‘s and Editor-in-Chief Eric Yollick’s attempts to obtain those documents.
SJRA admitted in writing that it had engaged in no “flood control” whatsoever other than what those two reports contain, when the river authority admitted there were no other documents responsive to the request for all “flood control” documents as well as the “carefully prepared engineering plan” to which SJRA referred in a September 8, 2017, press release. In actuality, over its 84 year existence, SJRA has never engaged in any “flood control” whatsoever, even though the Texas Legislature defined that duty as its core statutory function.
The three primary takeaways from a review of the released documents are:
#1. SJRA’s September 8, 2017, press release was a lie to the public. SJRA had no carefully prepared engineering plan to reduce downstream peak flow as water passed through Lake Conroe into the San Jacinto River.
#2 SJRA has never planned for or cared about the impact of water discharges downstream from the Lake Conroe Dam. The EAP only examined catastrophic discharges, such as a total dam failure or breach and as a breach of Lake Conroe’s embankments resulting in catastrophic water discharges. SJRA had no idea what would actually happen downstream in the San Jacinto River, over which SJRA has authority, when SJRA released a huge amount of water from the Lake Conroe Dam in the middle of the night on August 28, 2017, during Tropical Storm Harvey.
#3 SJRA had no engineering or planning for notifications in the event of a water discharge outside of a total breach of the Lake Conroe Dam. While SJRA knew that people would suffer and even die, the river authority had no idea what would actually happen downstream, because SJRA failed to conduct any downstream engineering planning.
The last point is precisely why SJRA fought so hard to keep the EAP out of the hands of The Golden Hammer newspaper, State Senator Brandon Creighton (Republican of Conroe), State Representative Steve Toth (Republican of Conroe), State Representative Will Metcalf (Republican of Conroe), State Representative Dan Huberty (Republican of Kingwood), and the Texas Senate Agriculture Committee.
Takeaway #1: SJRA’s September 8, 2017, press release was a lie
SJRA’s September 8, 2017, press release was a total falsehood and lie. In order to try to head off a citizen revolt after its terrible management of Lake Conroe and the Lake Conroe Dam during Tropical Storm Harvey in August, 2021, SJRA issued a press release on September 8, 2017, entitled “SJRA responds to lawsuit regarding Hurricane Harvey flooding.” In SJRA’s press release, its central argument was:
“While we understand the frustration and confusion many people are experiencing as a result of this natural disaster, we also know that allegations in lawsuits are not facts but simply what a lawyer chooses to claim. Despite the misinformation and speculation that has been circulated in the media, in the pending lawsuit, and elsewhere, the actual facts are that the Authority’s operation of the Lake Conroe dam was in accordance with both the law and a carefully prepared engineering plan that, among other things actually has the effecting of reducing downstream peak flow as water passes through the lake from the San Jacinto River.” (Emphasis added.)
The emphasized portion of the quote from the press release was a complete fabrication. The EAP only concerns water flooding after two types of events: (1) a total breach of the Lake Conroe Dam by terrorism or other structural failure, or (2) a breach of Lake Conroe’s embankment on a “sunny day.”
SJRA never planned or engineered scenarios where a major rainstorm, such as Tropical Storm Harvey, might result in the need to reduce the water levels of Lake Conroe. SJRA began releasing 79,141 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water during the middle of the night on August 28, 2017, with no idea whatsoever what would happen downstream, other than, as SJRA General Manager Jace Houston acknowledged on September 1, “there would be catastrophic flooding.”
SJRA’s duty under Texas law, which created the scofflaw agency, specifically would require it plan carefully what would happen in the San Jacinto River over which SJRA has authority in the event of massive swelling waters. On August 28, 2017, SJRA itself caused that release of water, not Mother Nature, because SJRA had failed to plan for the need to release water from Lake Conroe, despite two weeks of weather warnings about the impending storm.
Takeaway #2: SJRA has never planned for or cared about the impact of water discharges downstream from the Lake Conroe Dam
Over 264 pages in the 2010 report and 86 pages in the 2017 Dam Gate update, SJRA wholly failed to plan for or even show concern about the impact of water discharges from the Lake Conroe Dam on properties and families downstream. The EAP has no planning for what would happen if Lake Conroe got too full due to rains or related conditions. There is no downstream engineering or planning.
SJRA wholly failed to plan or provide engineering for the channels of the San Jacinto River.
In fact, one of the most eery aspects of SJRA’s EAP is that it provides no management of water whatsoever. Rather, it merely provides observations and predictions about what will happen in the event of a catastrophic dam failure.
SJRA’s EAP reads more like a script to a 1970s disaster movie than an engineering study making empirical observations or calculated predictions.
Takeaway #3: SJRA had no engineering or planning for notifications of the public in the event of a water discharge outside of a total breach of the Lake Conroe Dam.
SJRA’s EAP only plans for emergencies in the form of total catastrophes, such as a total Dam failure or a total failure of the embankments of Lake Conroe.
There is no engineering or planning about when notifications should occur in the event of a discharge other than in those two very unusual or isolated events. SJRA acknowledged on page 1 of the EAP that it was well aware people would suffer, lose lives, and lose their homes in the event of large downstream flows, but SJRA provided no training or planning to notify the public whatsoever for a large water discharge, such as what occurred during Harvey, other than in the event of a catastrophic Dam failure.
On page 19 of the EAP, SJRA concluded, “If imminent failure of the dam with uncontrolled downstream flooding is anticipated, downstream notification for evacuation should be accomplished in the most expedient manner possible. Organizations and personnel on the Notification Flowchart should be contacted immediately.” On August 28, 2017, SJRA issued notifications in the middle of the night, but those notifications were way too late to provide any meaningful warning to the public that SJRA would release a torrent of water at the rate of 79,141 cfs, thereby destroying homes, families, human lives, and animals.
SJRA has focused on selling water, forming a monopoly over the sale of water to jack up its prices, and scaring the public about “subsidence” allegedly from too much groundwater production in competition with SJRA’s surface water sales.
Over the 84 years of its existence, SJRA has abjectly failed to provide “flood control,” its core statutory function. To the contrary, SJRA has become the primary cause of dangerous flooding in Montgomery County and to communities farther downstream along or near the San Jacinto River.
The full SJRA Emergency Action Plan is in the following link:
The 2017 update to the Dam Gate Policy follows. It’s boring but you’re welcome to review it too:
Please address inquiries about the above-referenced documents to: Yollick Law Firm, P.C., 104 West Davis Street, Conroe, Texas 77301. Telephone 281.363.3591. The custodian of records is Eric Yollick.