The Lake Conroe Association, which advocates for residents and businesses on the lake, and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County to stop the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe. The temporary strategy is intended to mitigate flooding in areas downstream, such as Kingwood and Humble, but Lake Conroe residents have claimed the practice causes harm to their homes, businesses and livelihood.
The lawsuit claimed the lowering is unlawful and sought an immediate temporary restraining order and a final injunction that would prohibit discharging from the lake except in certain circumstances, Community Impact Newspaper reported.
Judge Kristin Bays of the 284th district court dismissed the city of Houston from the case by granting the city’s plea for jurisdiction, which sought governmental immunity from the lawsuit, according to the amended court order.
"The Texas Legislature has held that governmental entities like the SJRA and the city of Houston generally have immunity from many of the kinds of suits that can be brought against them by other companies or individual people, unless the Texas Legislature specifically authorizes that kind of suit," said attorney James Stilwell, who is representing the SJRA.
In an email, Jessica Beemer, chief of staff for District E in Kingwood, verified that the city had been dismissed from the lawsuit.
"Any potential hearing ... will not involve the City as a defendant, because the City is no longer a party to the lawsuit," she said.
Additionally, the court’s ruling disputed the plaintiffs’ unconstitutional takings petition, which claimed that by discharging water from Lake Conroe, the city of Houston was taking a property interest from the lake’s residents. The ruling dismissed this claim, stating that the residents did not own the lake’s water, according to the order.
"The crux of Plaintiffs' takings complaint is that SJRA and the City are wasting state water by lowering the lake level in Lake Conroe. But the operative term here is 'state water.' Plaintiffs do not own the water," Bays' order stated. "Given that they do not own the thing that they complain has been taken, they have no takings claim. Their allegations, even if true, are insufficient under Texas law to create a takings claim."
Meanwhile, the SJRA also filed a plea for jurisdiction April 12, arguing the court should dismiss the claims against the authority because it was established by the state of Texas and therefore has governmental immunity from those claims. Stilwell said the judge is set to hear the SJRA's claim on May 7, and the case will be dismissed if the plea is granted. A temporary injunction hearing will be held May 28 if the plea of jurisdiction is not granted, he said.
Officials began lowering the lake's level April 1, an effort that will continue throughout the month. Lake Conroe will remain at 200 feet above mean sea level until May 31, per the approved strategy.
The temporary lake lowering measure was reapproved by the SJRA board of directors in February 2020. The board agreed to keep the strategy in place until December 2022 when the Lake Houston dam gate project was estimated to be complete—although that date that has been pushed to early 2024.
Eva Vigh contributed to this report.