The San Jacinto River Authority is legally sanctioned to release water from Lake Conroe Dam to preserve the lake’s water level and prevent catastrophic failure of the dam system. These controlled releases, when done responsibly, keeps communities all along the river safe.
However, in light of the SJRA’s actions during Hurricane Harvey, state representatives are questioning whether they behaved responsibly with their most recent controlled release.
On August 28 at 2am, SJRA officials released water from Lake Conroe Dam at a staggering rate of 80,000 cubic feet per second (we’ll come back to that number). They did this without providing adequate warning to at-risk neighborhoods downstream (who were warned, but not early enough), and they did it without pre-releasing water from the dam—standard practice when a hurricane is on its way. Multiple state officials want to launch an investigation into the SJRA’s activities that week, asking “why did they release so much water at once when they had ample chance to prepare?” and “were they acting responsibly?”
As a result, thousands of homes downstream from Lake Conroe were flooded—some with enough force to knock them off the foundation.
Some Math for Perspective
“80,000 cubic feet per second” is a difficult figure to wrap our heads around. Thankfully, a local mathematician who handles problems of flow rates broke it down. 80,000 cfs is equivalent to around 600,000 gallons of water per second—or 6 billion gallons per hour. To give us a visual, the mathematician said that’s roughly the same as sending down enough water to fill the Astrodome every eight minutes.
The speed at which the water would be exiting the dam would be enough to “knock the skin” off of a human being who got in front of it. Previous reports have noted that a 10-year storm, combined with SJRA releases, can easily become a 100-year flood. The SJRA is essentially holding a loaded gun that shoots Biblical floods, and they knowingly fire it toward the people at the mouth of the river.
In an earlier blog, we mentioned that the SJRA has often been the subject of ire for previous flooding incidents—especially as the SJRA does not seem particularly aware of the needs of the communities only a few miles downriver. They released a video only a few days after the controlled release began saying that they knew there would be devastation downriver, but felt it was necessary to release the water anyway. It was not an apology; it was a justification. Even worse, it was a justification that has been used before for the exact same type of flooding in previous years.
There needs to be a change: the SJRA needs to be held accountable for the damage it causes, no matter how often it insists that it’s necessary. Thousands of homeowners, many of whom have lost everything, should have the chance to hear real answers.