An angry Houstonian wrote me earlier this week about a new RV park. It lies mostly in the floodway of Luce Bayou next to Huffman/Cleveland Road – near rotting shells of abandoned homes, repeatedly flooded. This is inside the City of Houston. So the City permitted it, not Harris County.
“The Retreat” Will Debut This Year
The developer bills it as an RV and camping resort called The Retreat. Copy says, “The premier destination is planned to include RV camping sites, cabins, tiny homes, wagons, and elevated yurts. Families, couples, and groups of all ages can enjoy fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, walking trails, boating, outdoor games, lounging at the pool, and more!” Sounds idyllic until you drive around in the surrounding neighborhoods and see all the flood wreckage.
Is This Type of Development Safe for This Location?
I’m sure the developer will argue that:
- The RVs are technically vehicles that can be moved out of harm’s way when floods come up.
- Any permanent structures are built on higher ground in the 500-year floodplain.
- A retention pond will offset any increase in runoff.
But do these arguments really hold water?
- Will owners have time to evacuate everyone?
- Will the ground be high enough after floodplain maps are redrawn?
- How much water will the detention pond hold back if the river exceeds its banks?
See more below.
Enough Evacuation Time?
Imelda dumped 6.4 inches of rain in ONE HOUR. And 3.8 inches in 30 minutes. Upstream at FM1485, water came out of the East Fork by two miles. It moved so fast, it washed homes off foundations and swept cows into ditches where they died.
During Harvey, people up and down the West Fork woke up in the middle of the night with water coming into their homes.
An architect who designs RV resorts told me it can easily take a novice half an hour to lower the trailer; disconnect electricity, water and septic lines; and hitch up a truck – in ideal conditions.
Now imagine you’re doing it during an intense rainfall and moving to the exit with a hundred other campers…at night…onto a two lane blacktop road…as the bridge goes under water…and the kids are crying.
How High is High Enough?
According to the Weather Channel, just two feet of water is enough to carry away most vehicles. They also say that water levels in flash floods can rise a foot in just five minutes. Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and potential stalling. Finally, they say that water flowing at just 7 mph has as much force per unit area as wind in an EF5 tornado.
During Imelda, Archie Savage and Rosemary Fain, who live upstream, documented water bridging from the East Fork San Jacinto to Luce Bayou. If that happened again, campers could find themselves potentially cut off from escape routes.
Worse, flood maps have not yet been updated from Harvey and Imelda. The new 100-year flood is based on roughly 30-40% more rainfall. So floodways and floodplains in updated maps will soon expand beyond those shown below.
Moreover, thousands of acres upstream in Liberty County are being clearcut and developed without detention ponds. That will almost certainly increase the speed and level of floods, which can already be bad at this location. And even when flood maps ARE updated, they won’t reflect the impact of all the clearcutting at Colony Ridge.
The following images tell the story.
Photos and Maps
No Prohibition, But Plenty of Warnings
Evidently, no laws or regulations prohibit this type of development. Chapter 19 of the City Code of Ordinances contains floodplain regulations but does not address recreational vehicles. Chapter 29 addresses recreational vehicles but does not address floodplains.
However, a website called RVParkUniversity.com which advises RV Park investors says, “RVs do float – but they’re not designed to. Floodplain and RVs do not get along well. So if you’re looking at buying an RV park that has “floodplain” shown on the survey, it cannot be taken lightly. Flood plains destroy your ability to obtain a loan, find a future buyer, and create huge liability for you with your customers.”
Also, the Texas Water Development Board advises people camping near water to ask the park operator about flood warnings and evacuation plans. The State does have regs that govern RV parks in floodplains. The problem is, the rules are easily circumvented. For instance, people can not leave campers in the same location for more than 180 days. But nothing prevents owners from getting around that by moving them to the next pad. In this way, temporary recreational amenities become permanent residences.
Up and down the East Fork, developers are building more such facilities.
Yesterday, I posted about how we often sow the seeds of our own disasters. This could be one of those cases in the making. Are we putting people in harm’s way without anticipating the speed or magnitude of the next big flood?
Posted by Bob Rehak on February 26, 2021
1277 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 526 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.