Colony Ridge

Wildly Divergent Colony Ridge Population Estimates Pose Planning Problems

Colony Ridge, the controversial Latino development in Liberty county, has grown at least 50% larger than Manhattan in about a decade. How many people live there? No one knows for sure. Colony Ridge population estimates vary widely. And that has ominous implications for planners.

Most of Colony Ridge falls within Census tract 7003.02. The Census Bureau estimates that, in 2023, 13,573 people lived there, even though Colony Ridge occupies only about two thirds of the census tract.

Based on that, one might conclude that the Census Bureau believes about 10,000 people live in Colony Ridge. But the local school district estimates 80,000 people live there. Who’s right? And why does it matter?

What’s at Stake

A precise answer is important for many reasons: Congressional representation for Texas is at stake. So is planning for water supply, schools, traffic, law enforcement, flood mitigation, and more. Yet precise answers are elusive.

Why the Wide Variation?

Last year, I interviewed Congressman Brian Babin’s chief of staff. Babin represents Colony Ridge in Congress.

Babin’s chief told me about the problems that Census takers had in Colony Ridge back in 2020. To summarize, as many as two, three, or even four families often live together in one home. And often, they don’t want to be counted. Reportedly, many fear discovery and deportation because they entered the U.S. illegally. So they are under-reported.

In an interview with Blaze Media, Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader was asked if he has any idea how many Colony Ridge residents are here illegally. Rader replied (at 26:23 into the video), “… the majority of the people out there are illegal aliens.”

Rader’s observation is consistent with U.S. Border Patrol reports of record-high migrant encounters – more than a quarter million in last December alone at the Mexican border.

Yet the Census Bureau estimates that only about 50 people per year move to ALL of Liberty County as a result of international immigration and Colony Ridge is reputedly the largest, fastest growing colonia in the country.

Estimates contradict each other.

Who to Believe?

On the low end, in round numbers, the Census Bureau believes about 10,000 people live in Colony Ridge. On the high end, based on enrollment, the Cleveland ISD superintendent believes about 80,000 live there.

At 29:45 into the Blaze video, Cleveland ISD Superintendent Stephen McCanless says, “What we’re finding down there (in Colony Ridge) is that you have multiple families living in one house with four, five, six and sometimes seven children in one house.” At 28:14, McCanless says “District enrollment is usually 10% of your total community population. That tells me that we should have about 80,000 people living there.”

While the superintendent has an actual head count, he’s counting children, not adults. The Pew Foundation found that Hispanics are far more likely than Whites to have large families with four or more children today. That’s one possible source of error when comparing to historic, largely White norms.

The superintendent is also not counting Colony Ridge children whose parents enroll them in Montgomery County schools not far away. According to anecdotal reports, that number could be substantial.

John Harris, the developer, splits the difference between the Census Bureau and the ISD. He estimates the current population of Colony Ridge at approximately 35,000 at 3:22 into the Blaze video. But Harris is basing his estimate on “lots sold,” not residents per lot.

Deeply Flawed Population Estimates Will Affect Planning

Conclusion: all these contradictory population estimates have flaws. And that makes planning an exercise in guesswork. Let’s take the example of water. It’s necessary to sustain life, yet planning large scale water projects can take decades. Most take up to 50 years.

If Colony Ridge grew by 80,000 people in roughly 10 years, will there be enough water in the aquifers to support a quarter million in another 20 years? If not, where will the water come from?

I talked to one long-term resident of neighboring Plum Grove whose well ran dry recently. She and her neighbor both had to drill their wells lower.

If Colony Ridge does grow to a quarter million people, it would rank near the ten largest cities in Texas.

At that point, the fight for water rights would pit Liberty County’s traditional farm-based population against newcomers, more than half of whom by the Sheriff’s estimate are illegal aliens. I don’t see that battle ending well…for anyone.

Missing Documents: Skirting State and County Water Regulations

To avoid surprises like this, Liberty County requires proof of a 30-year water supply before it approves plats. See Section 8.2 of Liberty County Subdivision Regulations. So does the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas.

Yet when Maria Acevedo, a former landowner in Colony Ridge, requested such proof, neither Liberty County, the TCEQ, nor PUC could supply it. That’s scary.

It took decades to plan and build the Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer Project and even longer for the Northeast Water Purification Plant. Together, they cost $2.3 billion.

Can an area where at least 30% of the population lives below the poverty line afford that investment? Colony Ridge has already shown that its corner-cutting business model can’t afford to meet Liberty County fire hydrant and drainage regulations.

The issue is sustainability. As aquifers deplete, land subsides. And Colony Ridge already has flooding problems.

Subsidence can make that worse by creating a bowl in the landscape that reduces the gradient of streams. That slows down floodwaters and makes them peak higher, faster – especially when surrounding development has insufficient stormwater detention like Colony Ridge.

It’s time to do some mid-course correction while there’s still time.

For more information about Colony Ridge, see this list of previous posts.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/31/24 with thanks to Michael Shrader for his research on population

2406 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.