Bens Branch Tree Lane Bridge

How Insufficiently Mitigated Upstream Development Imposes Taxation without Representation on Downstream Residents

This post is a case study in how insufficiently mitigated upstream development can result in taxation without representation on downstream residents.

Last week, I photographed Ben’s Branch from the Tree Lane Bridge after a two inch rain. Last night, I saw a presentation about urban channel evolution. The photos (with some taken earlier at the same location) perfectly illustrated the points in the presentation by Carolyn White of the Harris County Infrastructure Resilience Team.

White’s presentation followed another by Maryanne Piacentini of the Katie Prairie Conservancy and Lisa Gonzalez of the Houston Audubon Society. All three talked about the importance of nature-based strategies in reducing flooding. White’s presentation and my photos show what happens when you ignore the kind of solutions Piacentini and Gonzalez discussed: riparian buffers, natural channel design, conservation easements, wetland preservation, low impact development and more. As the photos below will show, insufficiently mitigated upstream development creates taxation without representation on downstream residents.

White’s Presentation on Urban Channel Evolution

The following three slides from White’s presentation illustrate the process of stream downcutting.

downcutting step one
Upstream urban development creates faster, more frequent runoff resulting in erosion and downcutting.
As the stream deepens, banks become stressed and the bottom degrades, through a process called incision.
Eventually, the banks collapse. As slabs fall off, riparian vegetation collapses into the stream. Excessive erosion impairs water quality. The stream and surrounding infrastructure become harder or even impossible to maintain.

MoCo Developments Along Bens Branch Illustrate Principles

I’ve lived near Bens Branch for almost 40 years. For most of its length from Woodland Hills Drive to Kingwood Drive, it meanders through an 800-foot wide heavily forested greenbelt. That greenbelt provided a natural buffer from flooding. The trees also provided friction for floodwater that reduced its velocity and therefore its erosive power.

Upper Ben’s Branch watershed in 1985. Large parts of Kingwood (left and right) were still under construction. Note the large green spaces in the upper left (headwaters of Bens Branch). Ben’s Branch cuts diagonally from upper left to lower right.
Same area in December 2021. The MoCo/Harris County Line cuts diagonally through the photo above from near the upper right to the lower left.

Brooklyn Trails on Bens Branch Tributary

As the upper watershed developed, developers took less care to protect those trees. They practiced clearcutting. And each promised the MoCo county engineer that there would be “no adverse impact” – a condition for obtaining building permits.

Brooklyn Trails was one of those. You can see it in the satellite photo above at the top of the frame next to the railroad tracks a block east of US59.

Brooklyn Trails
Brooklyn Trails was all forest until recently.
Brooklyn Trails homes
High density development replaced…
Brooklyn Trails wetlands
…forested wetlands, nature’s retention ponds. From US Fish & Wildlife Service National Wetlands Database.

The developer of Brooklyn Trails understated detention pond requirements by 30%. And claimed there were no wetlands on the site. But this development is certainly not the only one affecting Bens Branch.

Preserve at Woodridge Forest: 11+ Homes to Acre

A little farther east, between Kingwood Park High School and St. Martha Catholic Church, Gueffen is building 11+ homes to an acre on a 17 acre site. Some are as large as 660 square feet and less than five feet from their neighbors.

Preserve at Woodridge
Preserve at Woodridge with rentable homes as large as 660 square feet.
preserve at Woodridge
The Preserve at Woodridge is still under construction along this ditch that feeds into Bens Branch one block south.

On the other side of St. Martha Catholic Church, Woodridge Forest continues its relentless growth west along Bens Branch. Detention ponds in that area are less than optimal. In fact, the one below is sub-functional.

Bens Branch at St. Martha Catholic Church
This detention pond was blown out during Harvey and hasn’t been fixed since. The outfall is wider than the inlet. Water flows both around and straight through the pond.

Downstream in Harris County, Your Tax Dollars at Work … Again and Again.

A little farther downstream in Harris County, Bens Branch crosses under Tree Lane near an elementary school. Due to excessive erosion, the City undertook major repairs on the bridge substructure exactly two years ago. Here’s what it looked like before the repairs.

Bens Branch at Tree Lane
Bens Branch undercutting supports for bridge at Tree Lane. Photo taken December 2019.

Just 2 years later, it’s time to start over on the repairs.

Bens Branch bridge over tree lane
Same location again. Photo taken March 23, 2022. Note collapsed wing wall and storm sewer outfall.
Close up of crushed storm sewer outfall.

In a large, intense rainfall, that crushed outfall could back water up into neighboring streets and homes.

Increasing Erosion May Soon Require More Maintenance

Next, look at these two photos of Bens Branch from 2019 and 2022.

Bens Branch in November 2019 after HCFCD had removed fallen trees that dammed up stream.
Same location today. Erosion has expanded…in foreground as well as around bend in top left corner of frame.

Within the last year, HCFCD finished a major sediment removal project on Bens Branch downstream from here. At this rate, it won’t be long before they need to redo the job.

The City also was forced to remove sediment from under the Kingwood Drive Bridge over Bens Branch just six months ago.

City excavation crews working to remove sediment on Bens Branch under Kingwood Drive
Excavation of Bens Branch under Kingwood Drive by COH, August 2021.

The Hidden Tax of Insufficiently Mitigated Development

These pictures dramatize the points made in the first three images above. Especially the one about “limited ability to maintain.” Insufficiently mitigated upstream development imposes maintenance and repair costs that increase taxes on downstream residents. This is why we need a regional approach to flood mitigation. And why we need to harmonize regulations across county lines. Until we do, insufficiently mitigated upstream development will result in taxation without representation on downstream residents.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/31/2022

1675 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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.