Heavy Rain, flooding affects homes, lives along San Jacinto River

Heavy rains over the last two weeks have left river dwellers in East Harris County along the San Jacinto River, Luce Bayou, Trinity River, in a lurch as all water bodies exceeded their bounds.

Crosby ISD had one bus that was evacuated because of rising high water levels on their route home, but students were rescued and put onto another bus, according to the district.

Torrential rains captured by Lake Houston, Lake Conroe, and Lake Livingston dams, in some places as much as a foot or more of rain forced unprecedented releases.

Last week, officials began calling for the evacuation of residents along the East Fork on Tuesday. By Wednesday, flooding began affecting numerous areas in the Huffman community throughout FM 1485 near Casey Ridge. By Tuesday night, the county judge was calling for voluntary evacuations in Idlewild, Idle Glen, and homes along the river in The Commons of Lake Houston.

Meteorologist Jeff Lindner reported, “Impressive rate of rise continues along the East Fork of the San Jacinto River at FM 1485. The river is rising at about .5 ft every 30 minutes. River will rise another 4-6 feet tonight.”

The river did rise and caused flooding for homes along the river all the way down to I-10 near the San Jacinto River Waste Pits which caused some concern for residents on the south side of the bridge. Small communities along the river near I-10 flooded, forcing residents out of their homes.

At one point, the release from the Trinity River Authority was higher than the release from Hurricane Harvey at 124,000 cubic foot per second (cfs).

“A cubic foot is 7.4 gallons, about the size of a basketball,” said ABC-13 weatherman Travis Herzog. “Imagine 124,000 basketballs per second coming through the flood gates. This will lead to potentially record high water levels downstream along the Trinity River.”

It was estimated to be approximately 818,600 gallons of water per second or roughly one Olympic swimming pool every second.

“We’ve had a lot of rain that fell north of the Lake Conroe watershed starting back a couple of Sundays ago,” said Heather Ramsey, spokesperson for the San Jacinto River Authority.

It began, Ramsey said on Sunday, then another round on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We took on a lot of water and inflow,” she said, “which forced us to begin managing the water level here at the lake with releases.”

The normal level for the lake is 201 feet mean sea level.

There are several different tributaries that contribute to flow into Lake Houston, but the San Jacinto River Authority is the only one with a control structure.

“People look to us for any help we can give them.”

The top release for them was 71,800 cfs, less than Harvey which hit 80,000.

“Our peak inflow, however, was higher than Harvey but it was not sustained. In Harvey, it was sustained for three days,” she said. Inflow during Harvey was 130,000 and this storm was closer to 150,000.

“It came in fast and furious,” she said.

Homes in both Conroe and Kingwood were affected by the flooding.

Huffman ISD, who has schools close to the rivers, experienced no flooding inside.

Some of that they give thanks to the design of the parking lot at the high school.

“We took on a lot of water in the parking lot, but it was designed to do that,” said Dr. Benny Soileau, superintendent of Huffman ISD.

The parking lot was built in a bowl-type pitch where the water would runoff to the center of the lot and drain to the detention ponds. Unfortunately, those ponds were full, flooding part of the lot and some cars took on water.

“Some students were allowed to move their cars, but when the storms began to come down harder and there was lightning, we couldn’t risk the lives of the students in the flooded lot,” Soileau said.

They could have dismissed school for the day but made the decision a lot of students would have been in a better situation, having food to eat and shelter at the school.

“No one could have predicted the rain we received,” he said.

Crosby ISD had one bus that was evacuated because of rising high water levels on their route home, but students were rescued and put onto another bus, according to the district. The 124,000 cfs at the Lake Livingston Dam is a record release.

According to Vanassa Joseph, spokesperson for the Trinity River Authority which controls the Lake Livingston Dam, the previous record was a tie between Hurricane Harvey and the Oct. 1994 flood with a release of 110,600 cfs.

“This event has primarily stemmed from localized rains,” she said. “The lake itself and the nearby basin received around 25 inches of rain between April 30 and May 5.”

Joseph said there isn’t a ‘normal’ release rate.

“The discharge at the dam is meant to match whatever inflows are entering the reservoir. The goal is to pass water through the dam as if the lake were not here. All releases are an attempt to maintain the constant lake level of 131 foot msl and simply pass flows though the reservoir,” she explained.

On social media, there were fears the integrity of the gates were in jeopardy, but Joseph confirmed there were no failures or problems.

“The dam is operating under normal operating procedures at this time. The dam is well-maintained and is designed to pass more than 300,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water,” she said.

There is some good news, despite the cloudy skies.

“There are still significant flows in the river upstream of the lake. However, as of right now lake levels are starting to fall. If there is not any additional rain, we hope to start to reduce our discharge in the next couple of days,” Joseph said.

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