At the Harris County Flood Control District’s (HCFCD) Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis meeting tonight, HCFCD recommended that expansion of the Kingwood Diversion Ditch should be the community’s highest priority.
The Diversion Ditch project would help address several potential problems. Expanding it would remove 62 structures from inundation areas and another 586 structures would benefit from improved local drainage. In addition, the project:
- Can divert floodwater from Ben’s Branch, which will be a much more complicated project, taking more time.
- Has a 300-foot right-of-way, of which only half is being used
- Has bridges that already span the entire 300 feet.
- Will help carry floodwaters from rapidly growing south Montgomery County.
History of Diversion Ditch
In the early days of Kingwood, Friendswood Development Company built the Diversion Ditch to reduce water flowing into Ben’s Branch. But since then, upstream development and larger rains have stressed the capacity of both Ben’s Branch AND the Diversion Ditch. Engineers estimate that peak flows have doubled since 1985.
Most of Ben’s Branch is Natural Channel
Ben’s Branch cuts diagonally through the heart of Kingwood. See red lines below. More than half its length – between Woodland Hills and Rocky Woods Drive is natural channel. Widening it will be complicated and take much time.
Ben’s Branch Now at 2-Year Level of Service
However, areas on both sides of Ben’s Branch are threatened by flooding as you can see in the image below from FEMA’s Flood Hazard Viewer.
Ben’s Branch once had a 100-year level of service, meaning it had enough carrying capacity to prevent homes from flooding in everything but a 100-year rain. Models based on new Atlas-14 rainfall probability frequencies indicate that the channel’s capacity is now down to a 2-year level of service. That means it will flood in minor rains, exactly as St. Martha School did last year.
When flood maps are updated based on Atlas-14 statistics, those floodplains will likely expand…unless we do something to handle more floodwater before then.
However, Ben’s Branch will not move to preliminary engineering right away.
How to Protect Against Bigger Rains and More Upstream Development
The Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis sought to understand what we need to do to restore a 100-year level of service to all ditches and streams based on Atlas 14. Of the 19 ditches and streams studied, nine need improvement. The level of service for some, including Ben’s Branch, has been reduced to 2 years.
Expanding the Diversion Ditch is the fastest way to take pressure off of Ben’s Branch.
The Diversion Ditch intersects Ben’s Branch at the new St. Martha Church. It then flows south to Deer Ridge Park and then winds through River Grove Park. See the white line below.
Expansion Capacity Already Built into Diversion Ditch
Engineers foresaw the day when Kingwood would need more drainage capacity due to upstream development in Montgomery County. They built the Kingwood Diversion Ditch to handle the extra stormwater. They also made the bridges over the diversion ditch wider than they needed at the time. Finally, they dedicated a flood easement on both sides of the ditch that was wider than they needed, so they could expand the ditch later without encroaching on neighboring properties. Here’s how it looks from the air.
Both Kings Mill and Kings Manor now drain into the Diversion Ditch. But they came long AFTER Diversion Ditch construction. Other new upstream developments that drain into the Diversion Ditch and Ben’s Branch include Brooklyn Trails and Woodridge Forest, both in Montgomery County.
As a result, the Diversion Ditch itself has decreased to a 2- to a 25-year level of service in places. However, it still offers a 100-year level of service in others.
Impact on River Grove Park
Once the Diversion Ditch passes through the area shown in the photo above, it enters wetlands and winds through River Grove Park. Two questions arise. How do we protect, from additional flow:
- The park?
- People downstream on the West Fork?
The first question is simple: split the flow in two. Take part through the undeveloped area west of the park. See the green below.
The second question is more complicated. We need a retention basin to hold the extra stormwater until the peak of any flood passes on the West Fork. But where? The closer you get to the river, the lower the elevation. Because of that, the basin could fill with floodwater from the river before it fills with floodwater from upstream. Fortunately, some large tracts of land exist on higher ground that could be purchased. HCFCD estimates the need at 1248 acre-feet. Preliminary engineering should start soon to address these issues.
Upstream Development Not Addressed by Analysis
Unfortunately the Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis did not address upstream development issues in Montgomery County. That was beyond the scope of work. Regardless, such issues must be addressed somehow, someday soon. Otherwise, even the improvements we invest in today could soon be overwhelmed by additional floodwaters.
In that sense, these channel improvements represent a stopgap measure. The real solution lies in making everyone in the region realize that we are all in this together.
If you missed the presentation, you can view it on YouTube.
Here is a PDF that contains the District’s summary of the Kingwood Study. It includes a spreadsheet comparing the improvements plus data sheets on the nine recommended projects.
The ten remaining channels/streams already offer a 100-year level of service. Therefore, no improvements are needed. HCFCD felt Taylor Gully should be the next priority after the Diversion Ditch. But the possible purchase of Woodridge Village may require re-thinking project requirements. Specifically, if Woodridge turns into a giant detention basin, the channel may not need as much deepening or widening.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/20/2020
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