Willow Water Hole

Pros, Cons of Strategies to Reduce Flood Damage

Last week, I published a three-part series on the root causes of flooding. Some readers immediately started leaping to solutions. But different mitigation strategies each have pros and cons. That prompted the idea for this post. Flood control experts say that there are only three things you can do with excess stormwater:

  1. Store it.
  2. Convey it.
  3. Avoid it.

Within each of these high-level strategies, a range of tactical alternatives exists. Let’s look at them and their pros and cons.


Storage alternatives include detention basins, reservoirs and levees. They can trap excess water during storms and release it slowly after the storm passes.

  1. Can be multi-use. Dry detention basins can double as parks or sports fields. Large reservoirs can supply water and recreation.
  2. Can develop new habitat for fish. Plants and other filters can improve stormwater quality.
  3. Can be a community amenity or economic feature.
  4. Easy for public to understand how they work.
  1. Requires extensive rights-of-way, which can be costly, time consuming and politically difficult
  2. Usually involves destruction of the original habitat/land cover, and sometimes even whole neighborhoods
  3. Requires constant maintenance in perpetuity
  4. Expensive and difficult to retrofit and/or repair, as we’re seeing with the Lake Houston Dam gates.
Willow Water Hole
A small part of Willow Water Hole at South Post Oak and Hwy 90. Provides recreational alternatives and water quality features, but requires constant upkeep.


Increasing conveyance usually involves: channel widening/modifications; concrete-lining to accelerate throughput; straightening channels to reduce travel time; or creating new, supplementary pathways such as storm tunnels.

  1. Proven to be very effective.
  2. Relatively simple concept and easy to understand.
  1. Can require extensive right-of-way acquisition and relocations of homes/businesses.
  2. Can destroy habitat along channel banks.
  3. In urban areas, modifying bridge crossings and moving utility lines adds significant expense. For instance, since 2000, we have spent approximately half a billion dollars to widen Brays Bayou and rebuild 30 bridges across it.
  4. Can move the flooding problem from one location to another.
Brays Bayou near Texas Medical Center illustrates difficulty of widening channels in urban areas.


The avoidance strategy involves several different strategies: building on high ground far from rivers; elevating structures; conserving floodplains; implementing better building codes and more.

  1. Prevention is always less expensive than correction and usually the least expensive option.
  2. Floodplain conservation can result in dual-use opportunities (i.e., parks/trails). From a developer’s point of view, homes near green space usually fetch higher prices.
  3. Floodplain preservation is low/no maintenance. Nature heals itself.
  4. Structure elevation can significantly reduce risk of flooding, but it’s much harder and more costly after flood damage than during original construction.
  1. New regulations/building codes can be difficult to get approved. FEMA estimates that adoption of hazard-resistant building codes saved $32 billion during the last 20 years and could save another $132 billion by 2040. But Texas hasn’t updated its building codes since 2012.
  2. Floodplain acquisition can be very expensive. And doing it before surrounding land is developed means the Benefit/Cost Ratio probably won’t qualify for federal assistance.
  3. Pier-and-beam foundations are not as popular as slab-on-grade foundation for single-family, residential development. They’re also usually more expensive.
Once intended to be a subdivision within Kingwood, the 158 acre East End Park is now one of the community’s most popular attractions. It draws approximately 100,000 visitors each year. It also buffers surrounding homes from flooding.

Finding the Best Alternative

No one answer exists for every situation. To find the optimal solution, engineers study multiple alternatives and weigh their costs against the benefits. Then comes the hard part – finding the money to build them. No one budgets for disasters. We typically deal with disasters after the fact.

Altogether, projects such as these can take a decade or more to develop. And during that time, flood risk can be a shifting target because of upstream development and revisions to rainfall probability statistics. Personally, I’m a big advocate of caution when it comes to living near water. Your best bet is to avoid flooding.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/5/2023 based on information from leading hydrologists

2289 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.

Northpark Expansion project

Northpark Expansion Presses Forward While Fighting Entergy Obstacle

In the last two weeks, progress on the Northpark expansion project has slowed somewhat but is still pressing forward. Illegally dumped oil, utility surprises, and a traffic signal have all created bumps in the road, so to speak.

But there’s also good news to report: the Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (LHRA) wired a $53,000 payment for a Union-Pacific (UP) easement to the railroad. That clears the way for construction of ground-level turn lanes near where the bridge over the UP tracks will go.

Let’s look at what’s happened in the last two weeks and what’s coming up.

Contaminated Soil Isolated

Two weeks ago while preparing to work on a detention basin on the north side of Northpark at US59, contractors encountered oil dumped years ago. That forced crews to see how far the pollution extended. They excavated a wide area and isolated contaminated dirt.

All contaminated soil was isolated with plastic sheeting before the rains last week.

Contractors are now getting ready to remove the contaminated soil to a safe site for permanent disposal where contaminants can’t leach into groundwater. While that cost time, it will make the site safer in the long run.

Looking west at area where north retention basin will be excavated.

Entergy Estimated It Would Take 50 Weeks to Move a Transformer

In other news, an Entergy consultant in The Woodlands has tried to hold the Northpark expansion project up for two years. He wanted an extra half million dollars (above and beyond the $700,000 already budgeted) to move some power lines and a transformer near the Exxon station at US59.

The consultant demanded 50 weeks to move the ground-mounted transformer alone. His motive was unclear. Was he using a not-so-subtle form of extortion to make himself look better in his client’s eyes?

It’s also unclear whether Entergy, a company that trumpets its social responsibility, knew about the consultant’s demands. Entergy is a Fortune 500 company with 3 million customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. 

The Northpark Expansion project is designed to create an all-weather evacuation route for 70,000 people. One would think that a socially minded company with a $4.4 billion rate base (in Texas alone) could move a transformer in less than a year if it really wanted to.

Ralph De Leon, project manager for the Northpark expansion project, finally managed to bypass the consultant and is now working directly with Entergy executives in Beaumont.

Lawyers for LHRA have negotiated a settlement in lieu of condemnation. Hopefully the Entergy issue will resolve amicably before the end of the year. The agreement will be on the December 14, LHRA board meeting agenda.

Traffic Light Alternative

At Russell-Palmer, contractors are still waiting for the City of Houston to change a pole mounted traffic signal to a wire-mounted one. That will enable them to continue installing box culverts when Centerpoint returns to finish moving its gas line. Centerpoint crews were MIA during the holidays.

Traffic signal in median at Northpark and Russell Palmer Road must be replaced with wire-mounted system for now.

Replacement of Ditch with Box Culverts

The City of Houston has approved the plan to detour a waterline across Northpark to the Parkwood Baptist Church (see upper right corner of photo above). The original contractors didn’t install the waterline deep enough. That created a conflict with the 6’x8′ box culverts being installed in the median. But the water-line detour should be resolved soon.

The culverts will replace the ditch in the median so that the road can be expanded inward, adding an extra lane of traffic in each direction.

Looking west in opposite direction from over Russell Palmer.

Plan for Next Three Weeks

Construction is always difficult, even in the best of times. The holidays make it even more so. Weather permitting, here are the priorities for the next three weeks.

  • Continue burying reinforced culvert at Outfall B depending on weather 
  • Alternatively, continue working on 8″ waterline on south side of Northpark between railroad tracks and King’s Mill
  • Install 12″ waterline in front of the Chick-Fil-A.
  • Complete filling in around new sidewalks west of US59
  • Mobilize on December 4th to begin tree relocation throughout the month of December.
  • Continued Retention Pond Excavation on north side at US59.

For More Information

For more information about the project including construction plans, visit the project pages of the LHRA/Tirz 10 website. Or see these posts on ReduceFlooding:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/3/23

2287 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.

Before after clearing at Northpark South

From Green to Gone in Three Weeks

I took the first picture below two years ago before the clearing of Northpark South started. All the rest were taken during the three weeks between November 9 and December 1, 2023.

Looking west toward the San Jacinto West Fork from the west end of Northpark Drive at Sorters-McClellan Road, this is what you saw before clearing started.

Northpark South, October 31, 2021. Note pocket of wetlands in middle. Intersection in bottom left was under eight feet of water during Harvey.
Clearing starts in wetlands. November 9, 2023.
Eight days later. November 17, 2023.
Another seven days. November 24, 2023.
December 1, 2023.

In the pictures above, note a sister development in the upper right corner called Northpark Woods by the same developer, Century Land Holdings of Texas, LLC. The developer totally cleared it, too.

Of course, it’s easier to grade the land, fill in wetlands, and put in streets that way. But it doesn’t slow floodwaters down or soak them up. That will soon be the job of homes and carpets. Lots of them.

The developer asked the Houston Planning Commission for a variance to build 235 homes on lots as small as 5000 square feet here.

Getting Rid of Green

What do you do with all that timber? Turn it into 2x4s? Mulch? Paper? Pencils? Something socially useful?

Why not just burn it and save all that trouble?

You can save the hauling costs.

Close up of burn pit.

Let people breathe it. Not a problem if you’re a developer with headquarters in Colorado!

Looking east toward Kingwood and Northpark Drive at top of frame.

This is how you go from green to gone in three weeks. If it were the only such story, it might not be worthy of mentioning. But you can see this same story being played out relentlessly across the watershed.

For More Information

To learn more about the flood risks in this area, see these posts:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/2/23

2286 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.