Hurricane Harvey deposited tremendous amounts of silt in the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. The silt physically changed the river’s ability to safely pass water flows during storms and created need for a significant dredging project to restore the river’s capacity.

As a temporary flood mitigation solution, Houston Public Works and the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) proposed a temporary, joint reservoir operations strategy, for Lake Houston and Lake Conroe. The temporary flood mitigation would be in place for up to three years or until the dredging project is completed.

The proposed strategy involves the pre-release of water from Lake Houston immediately prior to certain storms and the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe’s water level during the Spring and Fall.  

A significant hurdle to final consideration of the proposed temporary strategy was a decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on how releases of water from the two reservoirs would be “accounted for” by the state. TCEQ issues permits that limit how much water can be diverted each year from water supply reservoirs like Lake Houston and Lake Conroe.

The proposal from Houston Public Works and SJRA highlights the challenge of balancing the state’s long-term need for reliable water supplies with the short-term goal of protecting public health and safety while emergency measures are implemented to reduce flood risks.

In a letter to the City and SJRA on Friday, June 15, 2018, the TCEQ proposes to use enforcement discretion to support the two agencies to move forward with finalizing their temporary flood mitigation strategy.

The letter states “if flood mitigation releases...result in an exceedance of the annual permitted amounts authorized for diversion or release by SJRA or the City of Houston, the TCEQ Executive Director will exercise enforcement discretion with respect to such exceedance.”

The TCEQ’s decision acknowledges the importance of accounting for all diversions from the state’s water supply reservoirs, but also recognizes the emergency nature of flood mitigation work being conducted in the San Jacinto River.  

Houston Public Works and SJRA express their sincere appreciation to the leadership and staff at the TCEQ for their thoughtful consideration of the unique flood challenges that our region is facing, especially as we move into the 2018 Hurricane Season. Both agencies look forward to finalizing the details of the proposed joint reservoir operations strategy. Additional details on the project including a timeline will be provided as it becomes available.

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