Image: This graph from San Jacinto River Authority General Manager’s presentation during the Board of Directors meeting on September 28, 2017, reveals the failure of the SJRA to utilize all of Lake Conroe’s full water storage capacity.
Conroe, October 4 – Longtime local engineer Ron Saikowski, P.E., harshly criticized the San Jacinto River Authority and Montgomery County’s government for the management of Tropical Storm Harvey and Lake Conroe. The Republican activist, former Chairman of the GOP Candidates Committee for more than two decades, and renowned engineer explained that the desire of the County government and other local taxing authorities to increase property tax appraisals has apparently overtaken flood control and public safety as priorities in the management of development around Lake Conroe.
On Monday, October 2, 2017, Saikowski, who has acted as the Acting Chief City Engineer for the City of Conroe during two periods during the past ten years and has also served as the Chief Building Official for the City of Tomball, released a statement regarding SJRA’s terrible handling of the Harvey storm:
“The SJRA was negligent in its operations over many years. It has not enforced its flowage easements and allowed developers to increase storm flows into Lake Conroe with no provisions to accommodate such increases. In addition, the SJRA has accepted the FEMA studies as accurate while those studies ASSUME the lake surface is flat for miles while it is definitely not during a 100-year event. Furthermore, the SJRA failed to use its flowage easement fully to curtail flooding downstream. The Board was negligent in not setting up a policy for staff to operate on after the results of the October, 1994 flood. Furthermore, why did the SJRA allow a concrete plant to be constructed on a filled floodway at I-45 and at a mulch yard on SH 242.”
The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, conducted an exclusive interview of Saikowski to probe into his full explanation of his controversial statement.
Saikowski’s Statement: “The SJRA was negligent in its operations over many years. It has not enforced its flowage easements and allowed developers to increase storm flows into Lake Conroe with no provisions to accommodate such increases.”
The engineer explained that under SJRA’s flowage easement around Lake Conroe, they may increase the elevation of the lake to 207 feet above sea level, although they usually maintain the lake level around 201 feet above sea level. SJRA’s chart (shown above) is consistent with Saikowski’s observation.
“What’s wrong with that,” Saikowski explained, “People have to protect themselves. Developers and homebuilders don’t always realize the lake will go that high, so if they build within the flowage easement, as is pretty common around Lake Conroe, these homes are susceptible to flooding.” Saikowski noted that the 100-year flood plain goes to the 203 foot elevation at the actual Lake Conroe Dam point.
“They allow these poor people to build those houses. Many homes on Lake Conroe were flooded during Harvey. Part of the problem is that when you take pervious soils and replace them with impervious surfaces, such as concrete or swimming pool decks, you’ve got to alleviate the reduction in the soils accepting water by increasing runoff away from the lake towards streets in front of the homes,” Saikowski explained.
The poor flood control management connection to high property taxes
Saikowski’s Statement: “In addition, the SJRA has accepted the FEMA studies as accurate while those studies ASSUME the lake surface is flat for miles while it is definitely not during a 100-year event.”
“The flood plain maps show that the elevation of the Lake Conroe Dam’s flood plain is 203 feet above sea level. 4 or 5 miles upstream the maps show the same elevations,” the engineer noted.
What that means is that upstream from the Lake Conroe Dam, homes are built at elevations higher than 203 feet that are not actually designated as “flood plains” on the FEMA flood plain maps when they, in fact, are in the 100 year flood plain.
Why does FEMA not show the flood plain at a higher elevation than 203 feet above sea level around Lake Conroe? “It’s because the Montgomery County government and the SJRA failed to comment to FEMA during the formal comment and review process for flood plain maps that the flood plain elevation should have been higher upstream of the Lake Conroe Dam than at the actual point of the Dam spillway,” Saikowski said.
Why does Saikowski believe the County government and SJRA failed to comment on the major error in the location of the flood plains on the maps of Lake Conroe? “If they had commented and caused those flood plain levels to be lower, the County government and other beneficiaries of the high property tax appraisals of the Montgomery Central Appraisal District would not have had nearly as much very valuable lakefront property to appraise and tax outside of the flood plain,” Saikowski explained to The Golden Hammer.
Saikowski’s Statement: “Furthermore, the SJRA failed to use its flowage easement fully to curtail flooding downstream.”
Saikowski, who is currently the President of Quest Engineering, a firm with its headquarters office on the Courthouse Square in downtown Conroe, explained that SJRA failed to allow Lake Conroe to fill higher than 205.75 feet above sea level during the Harvey Storm, as the chart above also reveals. “They failed to use the full storage area they were allowed to utilize on the lake before they chose to release massive quantities of water downstream.”
Saikowkis’s Statement: “The Board was negligent in not setting up a policy for staff to operate on after the results of the October, 1994 flood.”
“Since the October, 1994, flood in this community, the Board of Directors of SJRA should have told the staff, ‘we’re going to expert rain, so, staff, you will start pre-releasing water to have more storage volume.’ Instead, the SJRA Board of Directors has continued blindly relying on the staff, when the board should’ve given the staff the policy direction, ” Saikowski explained.
Saikowski’s Statement: “Furthermore, why did the SJRA allow a concrete plant to be constructed on a filled floodway at I-45 and at a mulch yard on SH 242.”
Saikowski, who was named “Most Outstanding Engineering Student” when he graduated from Texas Tech University with a B.S.C.E. Degree in 1973, told this newspaper, “With the concerns SJRA should have had since 1994 about hurricanes, other storms, and flooding, they should never have allowed the erecttion of a concrete plant on Interstate 45 and a mulch yard on State Highway 242. They’ve been in place for a long time since the beginning of this millennium. With those impervious features there and with the small amount of monitoring gauges SJRA has placed downstream from the Lake Conroe Dam, it’s no surprise that areas like Woodloch, River Plantation, and McDade Estates became direct targets of the water release from the lake.
Saikowski has been a registered Professional Engineer in Texas since 1977. He’s been married to his wife Martha whom he met during a college history class. Saikowski grew up in Wichita Falls. He claims to have suffered an assault when an attorney repeatedly struck him with case files during a deposition in Amarillo many years ago.