Upstream Development Should Not Affect Kingwood Like It Affected Bellaire, But…

Two new subdivisions, Northpark Woods and Woodridge Village, made me worry about the impact of upstream development on Kingwood and the rest of the Lake Houston area. Could these developments overwhelm the capacity of our drainage ditches? Could they increase our chances of flooding? The consensus among flood professionals: It’s not likely. But they also qualify their answers. Here’s why.

Clear-cut area for new Northpark Woods development in Porter. This 90-acre area will contain hundreds of starter homes in the flood plain of the West Fork (background), ranging from 1200 to 2400SF.

Changes in Detention Requirements Over Time

In the past, upstream development definitely contributed to downstream flooding in places like Bellaire and Meyerland. But that was back before regulations in most cities and counties required detention ponds in new developments. In many cases, no detention was provided for a development because it simply wasn’t part of the requirements of the time.

It’s different now for places like Kingwood because much of the upstream development has required and continues to require detention.

I found that very comforting. However, we also have some challenges ahead to reduce flood risk.

Not All Counties Have Fill Requirements As Stringent as Harris’

As we’ve seen with the Romerica development, Harris County has stringent requirements about filling in floodplains. Not all surrounding counties have those same restrictions. Can we do anything about that?

Kingwood can certainly advocate among all areas upstream that drain to Lake Houston. For instance, take Montgomery County, Waller County, Grimes County, Walker County, San Jacinto County, and Liberty County. Those and associated incorporated areas (e.g., City of Conroe) should not only require detention for new developments, they should adopt drainage criteria and regulations similar to Harris County.  

This would mean that new developments would have to mitigate not only for the increased stormwater runoff, but for any fill they add to the floodplain. 

Problems in Harmonizing Flood Plain Regulations

This is a big ask for many areas that are looking to attract development and growth. The problem: Many places on the fringes of the City see lax regulations (or a reputation for lax enforcement) as a way to attract growth. The implied pitch to developers is, “Your costs will be lower here.”

Complicating matters, many residents of those counties moved away from the City because they like the freedom. You just have fewer people telling you what to do out in the country.

So expect political pushback.

Consider as Part of First Statewide Flood Plan?

Even right here in the Lake Houston area, we have widely varying flood plain regulations.

Fortunately, we have a forum to debate this: the new statewide flood plan authorized by SB8 this year. Harmonizing flood-plain regulations should be part of our first-ever statewide flood plan. The lack of harmony certainly contributed to many of our woes during Harvey – especially when it comes to flood plain developments like Northpark Woods.

Statewide Flood Plan Meetings Coming Up

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is inviting interested Texans to attend one of 13 flood outreach meetings during the first two weeks of August. They will solicit comments on the new state and regional flood planning process and the new flood financing program, both established during the 2019 legislative session under SB8 and SB500.

Texans are beginning the first stages in the development of a first-ever statewide flood plan.

Jeff Walker, Executive Administrator of the TWDB says the group is holding these meetings prior to the required formal rulemaking process to help ensure that the new programs meet the needs of Texas communities.

The flood planning program will result in regional flood plans in 2023 and the first state flood plan in September 2024. Intended to make drainage and flood projects more affordable for Texas communities, the flood financing program will be funded through a $793 million transfer from the Rainy Day Fund and will become available in 2020.

The 13 meetings are widely scattered throughout the state. The closest to the Houston area is in Tomball.

  • Beckendorf Conference Center at Lone Star College–Tomball
  • 30555 Tomball Pkwy. 
  • Tomball, TX 77375
  • 9:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Friday, August 9

Sign up for more information about these meetings and other flood information at the TWDB’s website.

Said Walker, “Your comments will help us craft programs that reflect the diversity and magnitude of the flood needs in Texas. We hope we will see you in August.”

Monitor Master Watershed Study

Additionally, the Kingwood area should closely monitor the San Jacinto River Watershed Master Drainage Plan currently underway.  This study will be the critical document that guides future decisions (and funding) for large flood damage reduction projects upstream of Kingwood. 

That includes more upstream detention like the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. Additional detention was one of three critical remediation measures to help improve flood safety in the Lake Houston Area (detention, dredging and gates for Lake Houston – DDG).

Already some areas have been ruled out for additional detention because of new developments going in upstream. The study began last March after Houston, Harris County, Montgomery County and the SJRA obtained FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 23, 2019

693 Days since Hurricane Harvey