San Jacinto River Authority creates a flood management division at April 26 meeting

Rising floodwaters along the San Jacinto River have severely affected some local residents and businesses.

Rising floodwaters along the San Jacinto River have severely affected some local residents and businesses.

The San Jacinto River Authority officially created a new flood management division April 26 to help coordinate flood management initiatives throughout the region.

Because river authorities do not have the power to levy taxes, the division is funded from raw water sale revenue, SJRA General Manager Jace Houston said. The SJRA board also approved a 1.5 cent increase of its raw water rate that will go into effect Jan. 1 to help fund the division.

“In flood management in Texas, there is no state methodology or agency that governs all flood management,” Houston said. “[Other than the Harris County Flood Control District], there isn’t a single entity looking at flood solutions. Well, now we are going to step up, hire someone full-time, and work to represent all the rest of the basin and partner with the flood control district. I truly believe that with our two entities, we can research and develop meaningful solutions.”

The authority hired Charles Gilman as director of flood management in early April. Gilman officially assumed the position April 30 and will lead the agency in developing flood management initiatives and coordinating with other stakeholders and agencies.

“The idea is that this needs to be a full-time effort for someone,” Houston said. “Someone who can devote all of their energy and expertise into keeping the progress and momentum behind this effort. It is a very broad set of expectations because we don’t know exactly what the solutions will look like.”

Gilman will assist the SJRA, HCFCD and other stakeholders as the agencies undertake several flood management initiatives.

The agencies are collaborating on a $2.5 million regional flood control study that evaluates possible flood management projects in the San Jacinto River basin. The HCFCD submitted the application for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding from the Texas Division of Emergency Management on April 16.

Two additional initiatives are picking up steam. The U.S. ARMY Corps of Engineers will be heading an initiative to dredge portions of the San Jacinto River, and work could begin as early as June, Houston said.

On April 26, the SJRA board also approved a proposal for a coordinated strategy between Lake Houston and Lake Conroe to manage the water reservoirs during periods of heavy rainfall. The strategy proposes prereleases from Lake Houston based on certain rainfall forecast metrics. It also proposes a seasonal lowering for Lake Conroe, lowering water levels by 1 foot for the months of April, May and August, and 2 feet in September.

“That is proposed for the next couple of years until we can get some dredging done,” Houston said. “The benefit of that is now we would have some room during the rainiest seasons of the year to capture some flow.”

The proposal, however, still needs to be considered and approved by Houston City Council. While the strategy could be beneficial for flooding, Houston said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will need to determine how the releases would affect local water rights. The city of Houston owns about two-thirds of the water in Lake Conroe, and if the releases are debited from its water rights, it could make the strategy unfeasible, Houston said.

“We have to be cautious because these are drinking water supply reservoirs,” Houston said. “It is benefit-risk thinking, and right now because of all the sedimentation and the problems they are having at Lake Houston for this temporary period, I think there is a feeling that this risk is worth it to help create a part of a solution.”

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