How Government Shutdown Affects All Lake Houston Area Flood Mitigation Projects

Good news: The Emergency West Fork Dredging Project is still active. The government allocated funds for the project before the shutdown. Also, because FEMA designated it an emergency, it enjoys preferred status. Dredges are still dredging.

Bad news: Every other Lake Houston area flood mitigation project that depends on federal dollars is on hold.

  • Watershed study? 10 months and still waiting for approval.
  • Additional gates for Lake Houston? Hit the pause button.
  • More upstream detention. Deep freeze.
  • Additional dredging? Why rush it?

The Really Bad News

I’d say that’s the end of the story, but it’s not. Tonight the Associated Press reports that President Trump warns the shutdown could continue for months or years. Even considering the obvious hyperbole, I shudder to think of employees’ reactions. At a certain point, people put families and futures in front of jobs that pay zero. Maybe Trump could hold out for years. But a GS-7 with a bachelor’s degree and student loans to pay off? Someone making $35K per year?

The reason most people take a pay cut to go into government service is because it’s a steady gig. But yank that paycheck out from under them. Woooooosh! That’s the sound of talent and institutional knowledge creating a vacuum as it sprints out the door.

Rebraining Projects

A prolonged government shutdown will turn the Mo down Low. Lose momentum and you have to spend more energy to regain it. You lose time. You lose money. You lose talent. And when it’s over, you have to rebrain projects. Recruitment. Training. Getting people back up to speed. Clearing out backlogs…that could really last years.

Sweating Details and Bullets

So while the mouth bar project is on hold, dredging behind the mouth bar continues. Officials hoped they could save $18 million in demobilization and remobilization fees by having the mouth bar project ready to start when the Emergency Project finished. But that window is rapidly narrowing. Back in October, when we thought we had six months to work out details, everyone felt comfy and confident. Now with three months left, officials are sweating the details while residents sweat bullets. Here’s why.

Problems Likely to Migrate Downstream

As I discussed in yesterday’s post, River Grove Park has experienced greater-than-usual flooding. Crests usually experienced every other year now happen once every other month. The river has crested over 50 feet six times in 11 months. That’s likely due to the backwater effect created by “Sand Island” (as dredgers have named it). Sand Island virtually blocks off the river creating a backwater effect. See its location relative to River Grove below.

The Army Corps has nicknamed the giant blockage immediately downstream from River Grove Park “Sand Island.”

The next picture shows how this massive dune virtually blocks the entire West Fork. I took the picture two weeks after Harvey. During floods, when water moves quickly, Sand Island has created a ten-foot difference between water upstream and downstream.

Sand Island causes higher-than-normal floods at greater -than -normal frequencies because of backwater effects.

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, the Corps’ prime contractor on this job has finished dredging through the side bar at River Grove . Now they are attacking Sand Island (see below).

The focus of dredging has moved from the side bar at River Grove to Sand Island. Once removed, the flooding problems at River Grove will likely migrate downstream.

As they remove this blockage, downstream residents in Atascocita Point have reported water rising higher in their yards during floods. Once dredgers completely remove Sand Island, flooding problems will likely migrate downstream to the next major blockage, the mouth bar.

The mouth bar virtually blocks the West Fork where it enters Lake Houston. It stretches from Kings Point to Atascocita Point, but is not within the scope of the current dredging project. Expansion of the scope has been halted by the government shutdown.

However, there’s a big difference between Sand Island and the Mouth Bar.

  • Parks, vacant land, and golf courses surround Sand Island.
  • People, kids and homes surround the Mouth Bar.

Let’s pray that the government shutdown ends quickly. In this area, government can really make a huge and important difference – immediately.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/5/2019

494 Days since Hurricane Harvey