At the Nov. 9 directors meeting of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority and Tax Increment Zone No. 10 (TIRZ), Houston City Councilman Dave Martin provided an update about what he has learned about the causes behind the San Jacinto River flooding following Hurricane Harvey. Martin pointed out that his observations were the result of many recent hearings and meetings by various agencies and particularly as a result of what he saw on a recent comprehensive tour of the area.

He said, “On Tuesday I had the opportunity to go up and take an aerial view in a HPD [Houston Police Department] helicopter with myself, Senator Brandon Creighton, Niel Golightly [acting as the City of Houston’s Chief Recovery Officer] and Stephen Costello who is our city’s Flood Czar. We went all the way up to Conroe, went around Lake Conroe, saw the dam structure from the air and followed the path, repeatedly, of the San Jacinto River all the way down through the end of the river into Lake Houston, down to the spillway and a little bit further.”

After the helicopter tour Martin saw the same thing on a boat tour of the river area in a HPD boat and went as far as U.S. Highway 59/69.

“From the aerial view it’s pretty clear that the siltation that is in the San Jacinto River is being caused by the number of sand mining operations along the river, so it was good to have a state senator with us. It was unbelievable to see how much siltation is formed in the middle of the river. It became loud and clear to me, seeing it from the air and then getting in the boat and seeing it again, exactly why so many places flooded for the first time,” he said.

Martin explained that the cause is because the sand siltation in the middle of the river has significantly changed the pattern of the San Jacinto River. It is no longer the same as it was. The change has forced the river to flow in such a way that it now floods into areas that had never flooded before. He pointed out it will flood again in those areas unless action is taken. Martin discussed what this all means and what can be done from this point going forward.

“I have been adamant in that all these authorities are controlled by the State of Texas. The governor actually controls the San Jacinto River Authority, etc. so my thinking is there are two issues. There is a governance issue and there is an operational one,” he said.

Martin explained that on the governance side there is no one making ongoing river management decisions representing those living downstream.  All the decisions are being made by people that have upstream property concerns.

On the operational side, Martin pointed out that the river authority maintains the water at the Lake Conroe Dam at 201 feet above sea level. He said, “They start releasing water from the dam when it rises to 202 feet, 6 inches and when it gets to 206 feet that’s when we get flushed.”

Martin contrasted it to a situation near Austin where the lake has 33 feet of rising capacity before it is released. He noted that because of all of these factors, dredging Lake Houston is not the answer as much as dredging the San Jacinto River itself is.

“From a general standpoint, this [the dredging] is a long-term project,” Martin said and added from a long-term standpoint the restructuring of the various agencies involved would help to better represent the people living downstream from the dam and the sand mining operations. However, from an immediate governance standpoint, Martin said there is a way to take an action that could happen tomorrow and not cost a penny while greatly improving the situation. “Lower the ponding level by 3 feet or 2 feet.  Pick a number, Mr. Engineer.”

Martin noted that in almost an instant, this could add 3 feet of capacity before water must be released downstream due to heavy rains. He pointed out that in most years the heavy rains that result in flooding come in March, April and May. If now in November, one began to take the level of the lake down by slowly trickling the water downstream in a manner that would not cause problems, it would add a tremendous amount to the capacity for the lake to handle the heavy rain periods. Martin pointed out some would say the lower level of the lake would be an inconvenience to a lot of lake property owners and boaters, but Martin pointed out that thousands of those now living downstream have already been inconvenienced and inconvenienced a lot. “It’s called shared sacrifice,” he said.

“So that’s our message to the governor. For Kingwood, we need people to show up for hearings to promote these proposals,” Martin said. He pointed out that he recently had a hearing about the subject in Houston where two buses were committed to take people from Kingwood to the hearing but only seven people showed up to go.  He also pointed out that State Representative Dan Huberty had a similar hearing and only 15 showed up.

Martin said loudly, “Kingwood … Show up! This is the future of our neighborhood. I am serious. People need to show up and they need to let their voices be heard by the governor of the State of Texas. Without our voices being heard we will sit back and do nothing and we will get flushed again! Trust me, I was on that river. It is not going to take much to flush us next time.”

Martin closed his presentation by explaining TIRZ directors could also play a part in the process. He pointed out that the TIRZ has some money it can lend to move the process forward. He added that the shopping centers in the center of Kingwood can’t be rebuilt with the expectation that this will never happen again. It can happen tomorrow, especially if no action is taken, he said.

The next Lake Houston TIRZ Directors Meeting will be on Dec.14 at 8 a.m. at the Kingwood Community Center, 4102 Rustic Woods Dr.

Bruce Olson
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I have been married since 1970 to Kerry, my best friend and a great Australian woman. I served and survived Vietnam in the U.S. Air Force. I fought forest fires in the summer while in college, where I earned a B.A. in economics from Oklahoma State University and an M.B.A. from the University of Texas. I retired from Continental Airlines. I have a son and two granddaughters in Kingwood, and a daughter and two grandsons on a farm near Mazabuka, Zambia. I am now enjoying life as a grandfather, Tribune correspondent and Humble ISD guest teacher when not traveling to Zambia or Australia.