After five hours of public comments and discussion, the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) approved by a 5-1 vote on Feb. 20 to continue temporarily lowering Lake Conroe until at least December 2022.
In doing so, the SJRA voted down a proposed compromise proposal from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, while at the same time giving a 6-inch “benefit” to Lake Conroe-area residents who have been both loud and vociferous in their demands to end seasonal lake lowering. As a result, the final vote was met largely with silence by those still in the meeting room, especially by those wearing the red “Stop the Drop” T-shirts.
- SJRA gives Lake Conroe 6 inches in fall, only until storms are named -
The decision was a clear victory for those demanding lake-lowering policies remain in effect. Hundreds of people were present wearing white “Lives Over Levels” T-shirts. They were there on behalf of all those threatened by flooding in the San Jacinto downstream watershed, including Humble, Kingwood, Atascocita, River Plantation, Porter, Summerwood, Huffman and surrounding areas.
The vote was not a formal SJRA policy as much as it is a formal recommendation for the City of Houston to apply the approved principles when it directs the SJRA to take action regarding the water level in Lake Conroe. Houston, by law, controls the disposition of two-thirds of the water in Lake Conroe and it is the city that makes the final decision in these matters. The approved principles are:
1. Spring seasonal lowering will continue as it has in the past two years to 200 feet mean sea level from April 1-May 31 and recapture will begin June 1.
2. Fall seasonal lowering will begin Aug. 1, lowered to 200 feet. Beginning Sept. 1, Lake Conroe will be lowered to 199.5 feet. The City of Houston may initiate an additional pre-release to 199 feet if a named storm enters the Gulf Coast or overall region by notifying the SJRA in writing of their call for pre-release.
In total, around 1,500 concerned residents and business leaders from both the Lake Conroe area and the downriver areas turned out for the Feb. 20 meeting. Compared to the Jan. 22 public meeting, also held at the Lone Star Convention Center, there were significantly more people wearing the distinctive white “Lives Over Levels” T-shirts. While the majority of attendees still appeared to be Lake Conroe “Stop the Drop” supporters wearing red T-shirts, the mix was much more evenly divided. It was the last meeting on the issue and ended around five hours after it started at 6 p.m. Many of the Kingwood-area attendees had taken advantage of complimentary bus transportation in the form of two commercial buses provided by an anonymous donor. The buses departed back to Kingwood at 8:30 p.m., so many of those residents were unable to stay for the final outcome of the meeting. However, their presence was felt and many of their comments were heard before they left.
As in the January meeting, SJRA Director of Flood Management Chuck Gilman gave an analytical presentation of the history and positive effectiveness of the current policy along with the SJRC staff recommendation. He added a brief summary of Turner’s Houston compromise recommendation, which was nearly the same as the staff recommendation. Both proposals called for continued seasonal lake lowering. He was followed by community leaders who wished to speak.
Texas State Rep. Dan Huberty, who has been deeply involved in the flood recovery effort and was nearly booed off the speakers’ stand in January, was the first to speak on behalf of the supporters of continued lake lowering.
“I come before you today not as your adversary but as your partner. This is a regional issue. Thousands of homes were flooded during Harvey; most of which do not reside in the flood plain and many were in the City of Houston. We are asking for a practical and reasonable solution to the situation,” he said.
Huberty explained in detail how recent statements by many that the work had been finished were not true. More importantly they didn’t reflect the reality and spirit of the original decisions along with detail on where the overall effort actually stood and would be completed in 2022.
“I want to be clear, we are not finished. All we are asking for is time. I want to thank you for taking action in the past and hope you will do what is the right thing tonight,” he said.
District E City Councilman and City of Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin followed Huberty and while gracious and thankful, was blunt: “We come here tonight in the spirit of compromise, in the spirit of working together with our partners, the San Jacinto River Authority, because that is what we do. We don’t mandate anything and yes, we could lower our lake
[Conroe]. We could lower it to 180 feet if we wanted to, but we’re not going to do that. We want to work with you, not against you. Please strongly consider the recommendation from the owners of two-thirds of the water in Lake Conroe: the City of Houston. God bless.”
City Manager Jason Stuebe captured the meeting’s attention with his comments representing the concerns of the people and City of Humble. “I want to give you some perspective of what it’s like to be in Humble. We are kind of stuck in the middle here because I can’t control the level of Conroe. I can’t open the gates. I don’t have the authority to call the water down and I can’t control the water levels in Lake Houston. So what does that leave me? It leaves me powerless, which as city manager is frightening. It’s aggravating. What you are considering here tonight is going to help us not be put in that position. I can’t control the uncontrollable but you and your power here tonight can. I would urge you to do the right thing, the moral thing. All of our residents would thank you,” he said.
When the officials were finished, the general public speakers began. As in January, most echoed or added personal perspective to what had already been said. At around 8 p.m. many began to leave, even though the vote was still hours away due to the many people still wanting to speak. Just before Chris Parker left to board her bus, she was able to speak and presented the SJRA with a petition signed by 10,414 concerned residents that stated they “… Do hereby request the Governor of the Great State of Texas step in and force the San Jacinto River Authority to do its job with flood mitigation efforts and KEEP the seasonal and temporary lowering of Lake Conroe until the end of hurricane season in 2022.”
Although Parker was not there for the vote, maybe the petition she had presented helped the directors make their decision. They voted to do their job. They voted to recommend continuing the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe until the end of hurricane season 2022.