Conroe, November 8 – On Monday, November 6, 2017, State Senator Brandon Creighton, Republican of Conroe, speaking to a capacity crowd at the Montgomery County Tea Party meeting about the San Jacinto River Authority-induced flooding during Tropical Storm Harvey, said, “I’m going to stay on top of that and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Three weeks ago, on Monday, October 16, 2017, Creighton cross-examined and politely ripped apart San Jacinto River Authority (“SJRA”) General Manager Jace Houston during a high-profile investigative hearing before the Senate Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs Committee at the East Montgomery County Improvement District in New Caney. “I’m embarrassed the public has to hear that answer,” said Creighton after Houston tried to justify the SJRA’s failure to fulfill its statutory mandate “to provide flood control” by arguing “we have the power but not the duty to do flood control.”
The Senate Committee, which Senator Charles Perry, Republican of Lubbock, chaired, was fascinating and provided citizens with a glimpse into the completely reckless disregard SJRA has exhibited towards its responsibilities to provide flood control and prevent soil erosion as its two primary statutory purposes since the Texas Legislature created the state agency in 1937.
In response to polite, yet firm, questioning from Senator Creighton, SJRA’s General Manager Houston withered. He admitted SJRA’s “Board of Directors didn’t meet before the [Harvey] storm to consider whether or not to pre-release [water from Lake Conroe in order to mitigate downstream flooding when the storm becamore more intense]. We didn’t meet, because it’s not an option.”
Creighton continued, “Are you prohibited from pre-releasing? Didn’t the Sabine River Authority pre-release water prior to the Harvey storm?”
Houston tried to sidestep the question, “Every basin is different…From our flooding standpoint, a pre-release would make the situation worse.”
Creighton asked, “Do you have the math for the Committee to show how many days early you could have pre-released without doing any property damage?”
Houston admitted that neither he nor any of the other of SJRA’s engineers had ever done such calculations because, he claimed, “you couldn’t reduce the amount of water moving down the water way.”
Houston repeatedly emphasized that the water from the Lake Conroe Dam is only 10 to 20 percent of the water that reaches Lake Houston. Creighton asked, “You keep saying that the Lake Conroe Dam water only contributes ten to twenty percent of the water in Lake Houston, doesn’t that mean you could’ve pre-released without doing any property damage?”
The most tense exchange between Creighton and Houston during the Senate Committee hearing in New Caney occurred towards the end of the hearing 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.”
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 on October 16.
Enabling legislation giving SJRA responsibility for flood control in the entire San Jacinto River Basin. The San Jacinto River Basin encompasses all of Montgomery County plus additional areas. Source: San Jacinto River Authority.
In a desperate effort to try to justify its abject failure ever to provide any flood control, Houston and SJRA repeatedly argue, “Lake Conroe reduces downstream flooding by reducing the peak flow that would’ve gone down the West Fork and the San Jacinto River.”
Sadly, that statement doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. If Lake Conroe didn’t exist, then rain would simply fall on the 21,000 acres where it sits, seep into the ground and move downstream as a broad sheet flow. With the Lake Conroe Dam, SJRA channels the water into a pinpoint flow with a much higher velocity – and force – than it would otherwise have had.
That’s one of the reasons that SJRA’s massive release of water on August 28, 2017, at around 2 a.m. didn’t just flood. The water actually swept many homes right off of their foundations.
Creighton explained to the Tea Party meeting that he had requested that the first hearing occur in New Caney, because it’s close to the worst hit areas of the flooding after the SJRA Dam release on August 28, 2017. “Those hearings will continue,” Creighton assured the crowd.
“We’re looking into the policies that affect all of us. We are not going to let this happen again,” Creighton concluded.