San Jacinto River Authority celebrates Lake Conroe turns 50 this month

By: Conroe Today Staff
| Published 10/11/2023


CONROE, TX -- Halloween doesn’t need to be completely spooky; in fact, many historical, more ‘upbeat’ things have happened on this day throughout the years. In 1864, Nevada became the 36th state to join the union. Thousands thronged to the grand unveiling of Mount Rushmore in 1941. And the filmmaker who brought The Lord of the Rings to modern audiences, Peter Jackson, was born on this day in 1961.

Another historical Halloween event was the creation of Lake Conroe, the local landmark that has shaped the lives, history, and economy of our community. The San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) is marking the golden anniversary with a month full of memories and marked moments.

Created by the Texas Legislature in 1937, the SJRA is a government agency whose mission is to develop, conserve, and protect the water resources of the San Jacinto River basin throughout Montgomery County. The SJRA, whose offices are based at Lake Conroe, is one of the ten major river authorities in the State of Texas whose primary purpose is to implement long-term, regional projects related to water supply and wastewater treatment. The organization has five separate operating divisions: Lake Conroe Division; Woodlands Division; Highlands Division; Groundwater Reduction Plan (GRP) Division; and Flood Management Division.

All month long, the SJRa is promoting the history, purpose, and future of Lake Conroe, the man-made aquatic behemoth that holds 140 billion gallons of water throughout 21,000 acres of area. The SJRA’s original entity, the San Jacinto Conservation and Reclamation District, was created in 1937 by the Texas Legislature. Although the Legislature changed the name of the agency to the San Jacinto River Authority in 1951, the primary objectives of the agency have remained the same since its inception, namely, to develop, conserve, and protect the water resources of the San Jacinto River basin.

Bret Raley,SJRA’s Lake Conroe Division Manager, said, “It is no secret that Lake Conroe is a huge part of northern Montgomery County history. This local landmark is part of the reason for such significant residential and commercial development in this area of the county. I am honored to be a very small piece of that history at the San Jacinto River Authority.”

Lake Conroe was planned after substantial and severe water shortages that the entire state suffered through a record seven-year drought in the 1950s. A partnership agreement was struck between the SJRA, the City of Houston, and the Texas Water Development Board in 1968 to jointly construct a water supply reservoir on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. The dam constructed to impound the waters of the reservoir was completed in January of 1973, and Lake Conroe was filled by October 31 of that same year.

Ed Shackelford, Acting SJRA General Manager and Director of Operations, said, “The drought of the ’50s called attention to the need to secure long term water supplies for Montgomery and Harris County’s future. The waters in Lake Conroe secure our water supply for the next 20 to 30 years and as well as provide recreation and an economic engine to the area. The SJRA Board and Staff are extremely thankful to those individuals that were forward thinking. We are grateful for their vision.”

In September of 2009, following years of negotiations, the SJRA completed a contract to purchase the right to use the City of Houston’s two-thirds share of the water supplies in Lake Conroe. This important acquisition makes all of the water in Lake Conroe available for Montgomery County users. In September of 2015, Lake Conroe expanded beyond being the alternative water supply source to the City of Houston by supplementing groundwater sources in Montgomery County as a source of drinking water.

Michelle Simpson, SJRA’s Communications Manager, said, “I feel a sense of honor and privilege to work for the organization that is intimately connected to such a rich history in Montgomery County. Lake Conroe is a local landmark that has undoubtedly shaped the lives, history, and economy of our community. Lake Conroe has shined for 50 years, and it will continue to do so for generations to come.”

Here are some fun facts about Lake Conroe:

  • The dam is earth-filled and was completed in 1973.
  • Its outlet structures consist of two concrete outlets, one service spillway and one service outlet. The service spillway is utilized for floodwater releases; the service outlet is utilized for releasing water downstream into Lake Houston.
  • The top of the dam elevation is 212 feet above mean sea level.
  • The dam has a width of 2.2 miles (11,280 ft) and a maximum height of approximately 82 feet (top of dam structure).
  • The maximum possible release of water from the dam is approximately 150,000 cubic feet per second.
  • Lake Conroe covers 19,640 surface acres with a watershed drainage area of approximately 450 square miles.
  • The Lake’s average depth is 20 feet.
  • The Lake collects an average annual rainfall of 48 inches.
  • The Lake’s maximum evaporation rate is approximately 180 million gallons per day.

Photos courtesy of SJRA