Are We Winning or Losing the Battle to Reduce Flooding?

Valley Ranch, the new downtown of East Montgomery County, seems to be exploding with growth. The northwest quadrant of I-69 and the Grand Parkway developed first. Now the focus is shifting to the southwest quadrant where more than 500 acres are being cleared near the banks of White Oak Creek. People downstream from I-69 to Caney Creek have experienced flooding recently. This raises the questions, “Will the flood mitigation measures being put in place at Valley Ranch be enough?” and “In general, are we winning or losing the battle to reduce flooding?”

The Relentless Forces of Development vs. Battle to Reduce Flooding

Last week, I posted about the new Amazon distribution center, shown above at A. Today, I’d like to focus on four areas west of Amazon, shown as 1-4. All sizes below are approximate. I used the measuring tool in Google Earth.

  • 1 = 170 acres
  • 2 = 120 acres
  • 3 = 100 acres
  • 4 = 135 acres

I took all the aerial photos below on 11/6/21.

This interactive map of Valley Ranch shows what’s planned where.

Area 1: Marketplace

Most of Area 1 just south of the Grand Parkway will be future retail space dubbed “Marketplace.”

Area 1 looking SW from over the Grand Parkway will contain retail. However, apartments are now going up in the far top left corner. What’s that soupy area in the middle? See below.
US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Wetlands Mapper shows a wetland area that corresponds to the soupy area in photo above this one.
Here it is again. Looking north toward the future Marketplace and the Grand Parkway.
Closer shot of apartment construction.

Area 2: Commercial District

Looking East from over Grand Parkway toward I-69. Commercial area is the clearing in the distance. White Oak Creek is the wooded area that runs diagonally through the frame.
Closer shot of commercial area. From over White Oak Creek looking N toward Grand Parkway. I-69 on right.

Areas 3 and 4: Medical District

Medical District looking SW from over I-69.

You can tell by the amount of standing water on this property that drainage could be an issue. Note below how the standing water coincides with the former wetlands mapped by USFWS below.

Areas 3 and 4 shown in US Fish & Wildlife Service Wetlands Mapper.

Sediment control during clearing becomes a real issue for sites like this. Note the series of trenches channeling standing water toward the storm drain on the I-69 feeder road below.

Looking W from over I-69 across southern portion of Medical District. Note attempts to drain the site through the storm sewer in the foreground.

That basket of rocks is supposed to filter out sediment before it reaches the drain. But when I enlarged the image, look what I found.

Someone trenched around it!

Reverse angle of same area
looking E toward I-69 shows two large detention ponds under construction on left.

We Need Regional Flood-Mitigation Scorecard

The pace of development seems to be faster than the pace of flood mitigation.

Four and a quarter years after Harvey, we’re halfway done with dredging the sediment flushed downstream to the headwaters of Lake Houston. We have yet to build one regional detention basin upstream. And according to the Houston Chronicle, the proposed new gates for Lake Houston’s dam are being scaled back to fit the available budget.

And all of that is on the asset side of the ledger.

On the debit side, thousands of acres are being cleared with little to no detention capacity, faster than I can photograph and catalog them.

Somebody smarter than I needs to develop a formula that shows whether society is winning or losing the battle to reduce flooding. Are new developments springing up faster than we can mitigate the runoff from them?

Certainly, responsible developers exist who retain their rain. This may be one. That remains yet to be seen. But other developers exist who do not retain their rain. The question is, “Are there more irresponsible developers than the responsible kind?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/9/2021

1533 days since Hurricane Harvey