The world’s largest trailer park in Liberty County, Colony Ridge, currently covers more than 10,000 acres and has only a handful of fire hydrants. This may sound unrelated to flooding, but it shows the general quality – or lack thereof – of development practices. That same lack of quality in other practices contributes to flooding, which I will discuss later in this post.
Three Hydrants Spotted in 8,400 Acre Portion of Development
In four hours of driving through Colony Ridge, I saw only three hydrants. Two were at a school under construction and behind fences. The Plum Grove Volunteer Fire Department directed me to the third. It services an 8,400 acre portion of the development.
When I got there, a pumper truck from the Cleveland Fire Department (10 miles to the north) was filling its water tank. I followed it to a fire almost two miles away.
At the fire, it joined four other pieces of equipment fighting the same fire.
Brush Fires Common Threat
The Cleveland firefighter told me that brush fires were the most common call they received from Colony Ridge. In fact, while driving around, I saw a dozen brush fires that people deliberately started to help clear their property. Most fires were contained, but on a windy day, the risk soars with the embers. The risk above got out of control.
It felt as though homes on every block had brush piles near them. Burning reduces disposal costs but also creates a high fire risk and air pollution. Therefore, most areas forbid such burning. But it is a common practice in Liberty County, especially in Colony Ridge.
What Happens When There’s No Water Near the Fire
Pumper trucks are one of the most common pieces of fire fighting equipment, especially in rural areas. They bring water to a fire when hydrants are not available. But Colony Ridge is far from rural at this point. It covers an area almost as large as Kingwood. Kingwood has four fire stations. It also has hydrants every few hundred feet.
Ten Minutes of Water Per Load
The firefighter from Cleveland told me that most of their pumper trucks hold 1,000 gallons of water. Some hold 2,000. But fighting a fire requires 100 gallons a minute, he said. That means they usually run out of water within 10 minutes. And that means they must shuttle multiple pumper trucks to a fire.
Because firefighters can’t directly hook into a hydrant for a continuous supply of water, some must fill tanks while others fight the fire. He also said, it usually takes at least 5,000 gallons of water to put out a house fire of the size they usually encounter in Colony Ridge.
“In a water-shuttling operation, you’ll have someone dumping, someone refilling and someone on the way to refill. It’s a continuous operation and very labor intensive,” said a fire expert in this Houston Chronicle article.
Fighting Other Obstacles on Way to Fires
Just getting to a fire in Colony Ridge can take valuable time. With washed out roads, limited access, heavy traffic and firefighters coming from up to 10 miles away, fires can consume homes before units even arrive.
The Challenge of Multiple Fires
I wondered, “What would happen if there were multiple fires?” When I got home, I learned that there WERE multiple fires on Sunday afternoon. While I was photographing one, a second grass fire occurred in another part of the development. Two firefighters monitored it to make sure it didn’t spread. Luckily, it was in an area where homes had not yet been built.
Such are the joys of living in a development where fire hydrants are virtually non-existent.
Colony Ridge No Longer Rural
In rural areas, pumper trucks may be the only cost-effective alternative. Stretching water lines from ranch to ranch just is not financially feasible. But in urban areas, it’s a different story. Firefighters prefer hooking up to a hydrant so they can pump water continuously. Colony Ridge turned from rural to urban overnight.
The infrastructure no longer supports the new reality of the development.
In a development designed for tens of thousands of people, you would think county authorities would require hydrants.
Cost of Adding Fire Hydrants
Ironically, the water supplier for this area, Quadvest, already runs water to all the properties.
It would be easy to add hydrants, but they cost money. How much?
A 2011 Houston Chronicle article about the cost of installing fire hydrants said it cost about $1,500 to $2,000 to purchase and install one in The Woodlands at the time. There, developers pay for the cost of the hydrant and are reimbursed by the municipal utility districts, who own the hydrants.
Recommended spacing for hydrants is every 500 feet in most urban areas. If hydrants were installed in Colony Ridge at that spacing, it would cost millions of dollars. Neither Quadvest nor the developer has yet seen fit to make that investment and Liberty County has not required it.
Same Story with Ditches
Here’s where the story comes back to flooding.
This same cut-rate approach permeates other facets of development such as drainage.
Harris County requires the banks of ditches to be planted in grass. But that requires seeding and mowing. In Colony Ridge, they avoid those costs, but pay a price in erosion.
Where roads cross the ditch in the photo above, small pipes constrict the outflow. However, the water under pressure in those pipes starts jetting. Turbulence on the downstream side further erodes the beds and banks of such ditches. Eventually, they will collapse and require extensive maintenance.
This is a common hazard of inline detention.
As one flood expert said, “These homeowners may wake up someday to find the ditch in their backyards.” Such ditches will also be in rivers and streams.
Harris County discourages inline detention, such as you see in the photos above for another reason. First, offline detention is more efficient. It can capture more water, hold it until after a flood, then release it slowly.
Developers tend to like inline detention, though, because it lets them sell more lots. Meanwhile, others downstream pay the price.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/15/2020
1021 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 270 since Imelda
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.