Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey

Effort Begins to Form Cypress Creek Drainage Improvement District

Leaders from the Cypress Creek area met on 9/6/2022 to hear a pitch about forming a Cypress Creek Drainage Improvement District. The purpose: to accelerate projects that could reduce flood damage.

A Gathering of Utility District Heads

Approximately 100 to 120 people attended the meeting. Most represented municipal utility and other special purpose districts.

Much of the area is unincorporated. And when Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey addressed the crowd, he pointed out that those districts represent the “primary form of government” in that part of Precinct 3.

Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey addressing the Cypress Creek crowd about the formation of a drainage improvement district.

What Happened

Seven speakers throughout the one hour and 40 minute meeting reprised several dominant themes.

  • The steering committee doesn’t yet know all the details of flood-mitigation recommendations or their costs. The meeting was only a first step in soliciting input, gaging interest in, and publicizing such a district.
  • Creating the drainage improvement district would enable the 450,000 people in the 267-square-mile Cypress Creek Watershed to speak with one voice and get the help they need.
  • Developing large-scale flood-risk reduction projects can take decades.
  • “Control your own destiny.” Don’t count on help from Harris County anytime soon because of the current domination of Commissioners Court by a majority with other priorities.

Individual presentations addressed various flood-mitigation options such as tunneling, dredging, and construction of floodwater-detention basins. Cost estimates ranged from $600 million (for a first step) up to as much as $1-, $2- or $3 billion (during the next 20-30 years) depending on the amount of risk reduction people desire.

Forming Drainage District and Funding Projects Could Take Years

Speakers also addressed the steps needed to form a Cypress Creek drainage improvement district. Without going into excruciating detail, it could take years to form a district, determine a project list, estimate costs, determine the best way to fund improvements (i.e., bonds vs. tax increases), and raise money to begin construction.

The earliest such a district could even go on a ballot for voter approval would be November of 2023.

The implication: start now. The longer residents wait, the greater the risk of flooding.

Issues to Overcome

Members of the steering committee fielded questions from the audience at the end of the presentations.

During Q&A, several in the audience pointed out that that flood risk is constantly increasing because of rapid upstream development. But task force members said that was beyond their purview.

It also became obvious from the questions that some people craved more certainty in plans, costs and funding than anyone at the meeting was prepared to offer last night.

I personally attributed that to frustration over three things:

Public skepticism and frustration over such issues could make the creation of a new drainage district a difficult sell.

Potential “First Step” Benefits

But if people can see past that skepticism, they may get a chance to accelerate flood risk reduction, and attract matching funds and grants from state and federal sources.

A November 2021 Cypress Creek Program Implementation Plan developed by Jones & Carter for the Harris County Flood Control District estimates that 14,000 acre-feet of floodwater storage could remove:

  • 39% of structures from the 10-year floodplain.
  • 22% from the 50-year floodplain.
  • 18% from the 100-year floodplain.

But the estimated $600 million cost would exceed the amount currently allocated to the Cypress Creek Watershed in the 2018 flood bond. So more money would have to come from somewhere to achieve those benefits.

Said one engineer in the crowd after the meeting, “It’s amazing how much quicker things go when you have money!” Before the Flood Bond in 2018, the Flood Control District often had to save up multiple years to build one detention basin.

For More Information

To learn more about the Cypress Creek Flooding Task Force, visit their web site here.

For a list of the Task Force leaders, click here.

They describe their mission as helping to “facilitate the construction of 22 stormwater detention sites recommended in the Harris County Flood Control District’s Jones/Carter Study as the most feasible means of mitigating flooding along Cypress Creek.”

For the meeting’s PowerPoint, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/7/2022

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