Kingwood resident Melissa Balcom went to sleep May 2 thinking her family and home on River Bend Way were safe. When she woke up the following morning, she said she was afraid.

“We looked out the window and we could see that water was already touching the slab, ... and we got really scared,” Balcom said.

Balcom, whose home is adjacent to the East Fork of the San Jacinto River, said the only option for her family at that point was to pack what they could and evacuate—carrying their dog through 3 feet of water.

While water did not rise inside the home, which is built on stilts, Balcom said the property’s water tank was swept away by floodwaters. Additionally, she said everything they store beneath their home was left covered in about a foot of sand and mud.

“It takes months for that stuff to go away,” she said.

Balcom is just one of hundreds of property owners in the Lake Houston area who were affected by flooding in early May, which was caused by upstream dam releases and as much as 18 inches of rain in some areas.

What happened

Kingwood resident Bob Rehak tracks flooding in the Lake Houston area and reports information through his website He said he believes much of the flooding in the region can be attributed to near-historic releases of water at the Lake Conroe dam, which connects to Lake Houston via the West Fork of the San Jacinto River.

At its peak on May 2, releases from the Lake Conroe dam were at 71,835 cubic feet per second, which Rehak said was second only to the approximately 79,000 cubic feet per second of water released during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Rehak said he believes some of the flooding might have been mitigated by an earlier release of water from the dam.

However, Heather Ramsey, San Jacinto River Authority director of communications and public affairs, said water was already being released from the Lake Conroe dam prior to May 2 from storms that came through the area the prior weekend.

She noted SJRA officials had received forecasts of an estimated 3-5 inches of rain falling in the area, with isolated totals falling between 7-9 inches. By May 5, as much as 18 inches had fallen in areas leading into Lake Conroe, Harris County Flood Control District data shows.

“The ‘rain bomb’ happened to land north of the Lake Conroe watershed,” Heather Ramsey said. “Had the rain bomb fallen south of the lake or along the East Fork of the river, the outcome could have been very different as the river could have taken on even more water.”

She said SJRA officials operated under the entity’s usual protocol.

“We operate on the same protocols each time to protect the integrity of the dam and make sure our peak pass-through storm water releases are never more than the peak inflows the lake is receiving,” she said.

Flood control district officials noted the area is naturally flood-prone.

“The area around Lake Houston and Kingwood is low-lying and prone to flooding due to its proximity to rivers. Low-lying areas are naturally more susceptible to flooding, especially during heavy rainfall or storm events,” flood control district officials said in an emailed statement.

While dredging efforts since Harvey have removed more than 4 million cubic yards of silt and sediment from Lake Houston and its tributaries, Rehak said sand mining operations along the San Jacinto River have since contributed to sediment reaccumulating in areas where it had been removed.

River Grove Park was dredged a couple of years ago, and the depth was about 5 or 6 feet,” Rehak said. “Now, it’s 1 foot.”

The impact

The flooding resulted in 233 water rescues in Harris County, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said May 7.

“There has been a lot of destruction and very tragic stories, but there has not been a documented death or serious injury,” she said. “I think we all need to be grateful for that, and that’s on the first responders and the community.”

According to preliminary assessments, 800 homes were classified as majorly damaged, Gov. Greg Abbott said during a May 6 press conference in Conroe. However, he noted that number is expected to rise as Federal Emergency Management Agency officials began making assessments May 7.

Rehak said he believes local officials need to distribute more funding from the $2.5 billion flood bond passed by voters in 2018 to projects in the Lake Houston area. To date, Rehak said the Lake Houston area has received only $39 million out of more than $1.9 billion spent by the flood control district since Harvey on flood mitigation—roughly 2%.

In their own words

On the evening of May 3, as the rains continued, Kingwood residents Steph and Jon Paulson evacuated their house on Dunnam Road. The couple returned the next day to find their home—which they purchased in January—filled with 3 feet of water.

“I couldn’t even manage the emotions that day,” Steph Paulson said. “There was sadness. There was grief. There was regret for buying this place. There was blame on myself.”
The Cove, a craft beer and wine bar located on Hamblen Road in Kingwood, flooded under 9 feet of water during Hurricane Harvey. While the pub sustained about 2.5 feet of water in May, co-owner Johnny Gholson said the business was rebuilt post-Harvey with concrete floors and sealed walls, so this time the owners were better prepared. The business was able to reopen less than two days later.

“On [May 3], we probably had about 50 people here from the neighborhood—our customers basically—and they helped us move everything,” Gholson said. “The secret to success is having great neighbors and a great community. Without them, we would not have been able to reopen.”

Natius Nursery, a garden center that has been operating since the 1990s near Hwy. 59 and Hamblen Road in Kingwood, likewise flooded in May. Marketing Manager Denise Villalobos said the flood resulted in about $10,000 worth of damages, however the business was able to reopen in less than two days due to the employees’ experience in preparing for and recovering from adverse weather.

“The storm was ... really intense for like 48 hours. I think it was almost ... like Harvey, but it just drained faster,” Villalobos said.

What's being done

Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey called out neighboring Montgomery County officials for not preparing for the flood better during a May 7 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting.

“Every drop of water that flows from Montgomery County comes into Harris County through Precinct 3," he said during the meeting. "I’m done with it. I’m tired of excuses. There is no reason why you don’t mitigate the flow, and the same goes for Liberty County.”

Both Tom Ramsey and Fred Flickinger, who represents District E on Houston City Council, suggested Montgomery County officials consider adopting the mitigation requirements in Atlas 14, which are similar to those of Harris County. In a May 12 newsletter, Flickinger also noted the Lake Houston Dam Spillway Improvement Project as his top priority.

“The additional 11 gates the [Lake Houston] dam spillway will eventually have would have kept up with the initial round of rainfall that wasn’t forecasted and also allowed us to fully account for the SJRA’s releases at Lake Conroe," Flickinger wrote in the newsletter.

What residents need to know
  • Debris reporting: Property owners affected by the flood have been advised to report property damage to ​​to help officials map problem areas.
  • Harris County: Hidalgo said residents affected by flooding can get assistance with debris removal by calling 311 or get assistance with other services including food or water, temporary housing and rental assistance, and mental health support by calling 211.
  • New Caney: Residents living in New Caney are being advised to call the Montgomery County Disaster Recovery hotline at 936-522-2349 for assistance.
  • How you can help: Individuals interested in assisting with cleanup efforts can sign up by visiting or
Angela Bonilla, Cassie Jenkins & Jessica Shorten contributed to this report.