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SRA board needs more downstream directors

August 21, 2018

With more diversity, the Sabine River Authority board of directors might be more understanding about reducing downstream flooding. We’re not talking about racial or gender diversity, but rather downstream diversity — directors who live south of the Toledo Bend Reservoir and thus would have some idea about how devastating recent floods have been.

Currently the board has one such member, Earl Williams of Orange, who fortunately is president of the board — though still just a single vote. Of the other board members, only Hemphill’s Andrew Mills has a connection to Southeast Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott should remember this when future board vacancies occur. It shouldn’t matter, but there are Republicans in Newton and Orange counties too.

We get it. The reservoir was built for electric-power generation, not flood control. Because of that, the water level at Toledo Bend is kept at 172 feet from September to April, though it is lowered to 168 feet during the summer to provide some flexibility during hurricane season.

Yet the very fact that lake levels are kept slightly lower in the summer shows that the SRA can deviate from the dam’s mission of producing electric power. That’s appropriate, of course, and all downstream residents are asking for is more consideration. When heavy rains are forecast upstream, the dam’s staff should be able to monitor the potential impact instead of being locked into a rigid set of rules.

This is the 21st century. Modern weather forecasts are usually accurate, and when heavy rains hit, that information can be transmitted rapidly. Floodgates can be opened sooner, and more people downstream can be spared the fear and ordeal of flooding. This kind of common-sense flexibility should have little or no impact on power generation.

After all, some of the electricity produced by Toledo Bend’s turbines is used in places like Deweyville and Orange. If those homes and businesses stay dry, they’ll keep buying those kilowatts. If they have several inches — or feet — of water inside, they won’t.

No one in Southeast Texas should be naïve about flooding. It is going to happen now and then, and some places are more vulnerable than most. But that doesn’t mean it has to happen as much. We can’t control how much rain comes down. But floodgates can be controlled, and on the Sabine River that can have a big impact on getting through a crisis or being knocked down again.

The SRA board can care more about reducing flood damage without undermining the purpose of the reservoir. Board members who live downstream can help achieve this overdue approach.

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