Harris County Flood Control Meeting in Kingwood Will Be Rescheduled

The meeting sponsored by Harris County Flood Control in Kingwood to explain the upcoming $2.5 billion  flood bond is being rescheduled. The rescheduling is so that County Judge Ed Emmett can attend.

The giant, new dune constricts the cross section of the East Fork by at least 50% near East End Park (background). Note how the dune reaches tree tops. The Army Corps emergency dredging project will not affect anything on the East Fork, so it is important that we put issues, such as this on the County’s flood bond agenda. 

Originally the meeting was to have been held at the Kingwood Community Center on June 14 from 6-8pm. That meeting date has been cancelled and will be reset.

June 14 Meeting Harris County Flood Control District Bond Meeting Cancelled

No new date has been set yet. As soon as the new date has been finalized, I will post it on ReduceFlooding.com.

Thanks for your patience. Few things are more important for the future of our community than this flood bond.

Posted June 4, 2018

279 Days Since Hurricane Harvey

Now is the Time to Start Thinking about Maintenance Dredging

As we prepare to dredge portions of the West Fork of the San Jacinto River for the first time, it’s also time to start planning and budgeting a regular maintenance dredging program. Let’s make sure that’s included in the August 25th $2.5 billion flood bond referendum.

Back in 2000:

…Brown & Root conducted a Regional Flood Protection Study for the Lake Houston Watershed Flood Program. At that time, Brown & Root recommended dredging as the best option to deal with sediment in the river that had accumulated from major floods in 1994 and 1998. They also recommended regular maintenance dredging every five to 10 years.

Engineers  concluded (on Page E-5), that, “…channel enlargement, primarily through sediment removal, was considered one of the more practical alternatives for achieving flood-level reduction” in this area.

Importance of Maintenance Dredging

On page 47 of its report, Brown & Root also states, “Based on the estimated sediment rate, it is expected that regular maintenance dredging at five to ten-year intervals may be necessary in maintaining the current channel conditions.”

But no dredging ever took place, even though (in conclusion on page 70) Brown & Root said, “…sedimentation may progressively aggravate future flooding as depositional areas develop in the area downstream of the Lake Houston Parkway bridge toward Lake Houston. Sediment control along the West Fork channel can be an effective means to minimizing these continued sedimentation problems.”

Ignoring Recommendations Proved Costly

Today, that report sounds prophetic. Sedimentation is exactly what happened where Brown & Root said it would happen. Here’s how the West Fork looks today where it joins Lake Houston.

During the three 500-year floods in the last three years, this West Fork sand bar at the head of Lake Houston grew exponentially. Engineers say that sediment is not being carried out into Lake Houston (background) as expected.

Major Changes Since 2000 that Have Exacerbated Flooding

Since the Brown & Root report, several major things have changed that make dredging, as well as maintenance dredging, even more important:

  • We’ve been hit by four “500-year storms” (2001, 2015, 2016, 2017). They left massive amounts of sediment in the river that have blocked drainage ditches and backed up the river itself.
  • Development has boomed between here and Lake Conroe. Upstream development brings more water to the river faster, exacerbating downstream flooding.
  • According to the Houston Chronicle, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is redefining a 100-year flood for Harris County. Instead of basing it on 12 to 14 inches of rain in a day, the new standard will be 15 to 18 inches. Said another way, many homes that weren’t in the 100-year flood plain soon will be. That’s because a 100-year flood will be based on a greater volume of rain.
  • Sand mining on the West Fork has radically increased. The orange outlines on the first map below show the locations of sand mines between Lake Houston and Conroe today. Note also the one East Fork mine.

Orange outlines show sand mines currently upstream from Lake Houston area. FM1960 Bridge over Lake Houston is in bottom right of image. Courtesy of Google Earth.

This next image from 1999 shows how many fewer sand mines existed then and how many fewer acres they occupied. Note the changes within the outlines.

At the time of the Brown & Root survey, upstream sand mines occupied approximately one fourth the acreage that they do today. 

Maintenance Dredging Could be Included in New Flood Bond

The proposed Harris County flood bond initiative currently includes language that would permit dredging of the West Fork and drainage ditches.

It is important to remember when considering this bond proposal that the US Army Corps of Engineers is only returning the river to pre-Harvey levels. That’s because they’re working with FEMA money which can only be used on Harvey-related damage.

The Harris County bond proposal, in its current, not-yet-final form states that bond funds may be used for…


Upcoming Meetings: Bond Meeting Postponed

The Harris County Flood Control District originally scheduled for 6pm on June 14th at the Kingwood Community Center has been postponed due to a conflict with Ed Emmett’s schedule. Stay tuned for updates on the new meeting date. Your attendance is important. Let’s clarify the County’s position on additional dredging and whether they support it. The language above seems sufficient to permit it, but we should clarify that.

And please also attend the meeting on June 11th, starting at 6:30pm, also at the Kingwood Community Center. It will feature the dredging project manager from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

When Dredging Will Help the Most

Dredging alone will not save many people from another storm as intense as Harvey. However, preliminary modeling suggests it could be valuable in preventing flooding from smaller and more frequent events, such as 25-, 50- and 100-year storms. Dredging and maintenance dredging are important parts of a more comprehensive solution to flooding in this area.

Posted on June 4, 2018 by Bob Rehak

279 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Case for Lowering Lake Conroe up to Two Feet During Peak of Hurricane Season

Dockline Magazine just posted three articles in its Spotlight section about lowering the level of Lake Conroe up to 2-feet during the peak of Hurricane season in late August and September.

The Case for Lowering Lake Conroe Two Feet During Hurricane Season” represents the Lake Houston point of view. I authored it and have reprinted it below.

Editorial on Proposal to Lower Lake Conroe Levels” sounds as though it represents the magazine’s point of view. However, it the president of the Lake Conroe Association, a group of volunteers, wrote it.

The third article, “SJRA Proposes Temporary Seasonal Lake Lowering Strategy for Lake Conroe” contains the details of the plan to lower the lake. Jace Houston, general manager of the SJRA, authored it.

Currently, the SJRA and City of Houston back the plan to lower Lake Conroe. The TCEQ  is still evaluating the proposal and expected to rule on it later this month.

The Case for Lowering Lake Conroe by up to Two Feet
During the Peak of Hurricane Season

By Bob Rehak, Lake Houston Area Resident

On April 26, in response to pleas from Lake Houston residents and a directive from the governor (to protect downstream residents from flooding), the SJRA board voted to lower the level of Lake Conroe temporarily. The lowering would amount to one foot during the rainiest months in spring and up totwo feet during the peak of hurricane season in late August and September.

I say “up to” because Lake Conroe loses on average of more than a foot and a half due to evaporation by September. The most likely reduction would be only an additional 4.8 inches. In no case would the SJRA manually lower the level of the lake beyond 199 mean feet above sea level (msl).

Nevertheless, in an open letter posted on May 11, the president of the Lake Conroe Association says his group MUST FIGHT a 2-foot reduction. He makes three arguments. Two feet would: 1) make shallow docks unusable, 2) harm tourism, and 3) reduce values of Lake Conroe homes. He says, “Families expect to enjoy their investment...’”

In the letter, he does not address how long SJRA intended the two-foot reduction to last. Nor does he discuss whether it is necessary to protect downstream residents, so allow me.

These seasonal reductions would only last until the threat to downstream residents can be reduced through other measures. In practical terms, that likely means until: 1) the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can dredge sand buildups that exacerbate West Fork flooding, and 2) the discharge rate of Lake Houston can be synchronized with Lake Conroe’s to eliminate a bottleneck in the river system. SJRA would re-evaluate the need for temporary, seasonal reductions each year and stop them when these other mitigation measures reduce flood risk.

Downstream residents understand that lowering the lake level will make it difficult for some Lake Conroe residents and businesses to use their docks. However, a temporary lowering should not result in any permanent losses. Lake Conroe goes down almost this much naturally every year. Yet still it bounces back. The area is still renowned for its beauty and recreation. And home values have climbed steadily.

Real, Not Potential Damages

Meanwhile, the damage from flooding downstream has devastated thousands of homeowners and businesses.

According to the SBA, more than 16,000 homes and 3,300 businesses in the Lake Houston area suffered damage during Harvey. A survey last month at a meeting of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative showed that half of the residents are stillnot back in their homes – eight months after Harvey! Likewise, many businesses still have not reopened and many never will.

If you think the flood affected only people who built “too near the river,” think again. I live 1.7 miles from the river in a subdivision where 40 percent of the homes flooded. Many of my neighbors still live in hotels, with friends, or in campers as they try to restore their homes. Home damage in our little 350-acre neighborhood totaled an estimated $40 million. Most residents didn’t have flood insurance because they were nowhere near theflood plain. To finance repairs, many have taken on long-term debt, burned through retirement savings, or cashed in their children’s college funds.

Also, because of West Fork flooding during Harvey:

  • Union Pacific had to replace its bridge, disrupting rail traffic for weeks.
  • TxDoT had to replace part of the I-69 bridge, creating massive traffic delays during rush hours for months.
  • 44 percent of all Lake Houston Area Chamber businesses were adversely affected.
  • 100 percent of Humble businesses between Deerbrook Mall and the West Fork flooded on both sides of I-69.
  • 100 percent of Kingwood’s Town Center businesses closed for months.
  • Memorial-Hermann’s new Town Center facility flooded just before it opened and is still under repair.
  • Kingwood and Deerwood country clubs flooded and still have not fully reopened.
  • Lone Star College/Kingwood lost 11 of its 13 buildings for most of the school year.
  • Kingwood High School closed for 7 months and underwent repairs costing $60 million
  • 4000 students had to be bused to another high school an hour away for all that time
  • Humble ISD closed its Instructional Support Center, Welcome Center and Agricultural Barns for repairs.
  • Tax revenues from the Lake Houston area were impacted by 20-30 percent according to City of Houston estimates.
  • Humble ISD had to give out tax rebates for the last third of 2017.
  • Kingwood’s library closed for more than eight months.
  • River Grove Park had to be excavated from sand up to five feet deep.
  • Kingwood’s only community boat launch became landlocked.

Harvey knocked out the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge over the San Jacinto, disrupting rail service for weeks. Picture taken Sept. 14, 2017.

TxDoT hopes to complete I-69 bridge repairs in September, more than a year after Harvey. Picture taken May 13, 2018.

Causes for Concern

So, what caused all this devastation? Was it purely the magnitude of Harvey? Or are other factors at work?

Release Contributes to Flooding Far Outside 500-Year Flood Plain

First, the release of 79,000 cubic feet of water per second from Lake Conroe at the peakof Harvey made the flood worse. That volume represented about ONE THIRD of all the water coming down the heavily populated West Fork between Humble and Kingwood where most of the damage took place.This extra water flooded people and businesses outside the 500-year flood plain.

New Sand Deposits Back Up River and Drainage Ditches

Second, Harvey swept sand downstream, in part, from approximately 20 square miles of sand mines between I-45 and I-69. This sand blocked and backed up the river at strategic choke points. It also blocked drainage ditches leading to the river.

This massive sand bar grew 1500 feet in length and 12 feet in height during Harvey. It now blocks a drainage ditch (left center) that empties the western third of Kingwood. More than 650 homes flooded in neighborhoods that connect to this ditch.

This sandbar deposited during Harvey is an estimated 8 feet in height and stretches nearly the entire width of the West Fork.

Until dredging removes such deposits, Kingwood and Humble residents live in fear of every approaching storm.

Greater than Expected Flooding on Minor Rains

Third, even minor storms are causing much greater-than-expected flooding because of such blockages.

For example, a late-March storm this year dumped an average of five inches of rain across the watershed. It brought floodwaters two to three feet higher than a similar 5-inch rain at the beginning of last August – just before Harvey. Worse, the March flood happened AFTER Lake Houston had been lowered by 2 feet in anticipation of the storm.

Clearly, something has changed on the river. Because of massive sand deposits, such as those shown below, it won’t take another Harvey to cause significant damage.

During Harvey, thousands of homes and businesses flooded behind blockages, such as this one, where the West Fork enters Lake Houston.

At West Lake Houston Parkway (left), Harvey deposited sand in the tree tops. Sand now blocks water from flowing under the bridge and through the trees during a storm as it did before, narrowing the effective width of the river considerably.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is organizing a dredging project to address such problems and expects to start in June. Until they finish and redraw the flood maps after dredging, no one really knows how many homes would flood due to Lake Conroe releases, such as those we have seen in the last three years.

Artificial Bottleneck

A fourth factor also worries Kingwood residents – the dam on Lake Houston has only two small floodgates. Combined, they have one-tenth the release rate of Lake Conroe’s. This creates a bottleneck. It greatly inhibits the ability of officials on both lakes to coordinate releases of water before storms as a flood mitigation strategy.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has committed to adding ten more gates to Lake Houston and Congressman Ted Poe has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fast-track the project.

But still, the gates must be built – just as the river must be dredged. Until we fix these problems, thousands of downstream residents will not be able to sleep soundly at night. For them, this is about survival, not recreation.

The Only Immediate Option to Reduce Flood Risk

Lowering the level of Lake Conroe is the only IMMEDIATE option that will provide a buffer against additional downstream flooding.

How much lowering is necessary? Is that extra foot really needed? If we got another storm as intense as Harvey, it would provide downstream residents only a two-hour buffer! That’s right. The storm would raise Lake Conroe that extra foot in just two-hours.

However, the two-foot reduction isn’t designed to protect against another Harvey. It’s designed to protect downstream residents against lesser floods that are abnormally high because of sand blockages like those shown above.

A two-foot reduction would let Lake Conroe absorb more water, decreasing the chances that SJRA would have to open flood gates. And if they had to open flood gates, it would delay the opening, giving downstream residents more time to evacuate.

The Lake Conroe Association will accept a one-foot reduction, but not two. That extra foot doesn’t seem like too much to ask, given all that’s riding on this decision for downstream residents as they still struggle to recover from billions of dollars in damages.

That buffer would also help protect the hundreds of Montgomery County homes that flooded around Lake Conroe and downstream from its dam.

Could another 500-year storm strike us this year? As unlikely as that seems, consider the fact that we’ve had three so-called “500-year storms” in the past three years. Something has changed out there affecting all of our assumptions. That’s why a little extra insurance would help.

Plea for Support

We ask our neighbors to the northwest for patience and support. Instead of lobbying against us, please join our fight. Help us expedite mitigation measures. With your support, our combined voices will bring change faster, so we can all return to normal life sooner.

Until then, we need to manage the river in a way that respects the lives and property of all residents on both sides of the dam, not just one.

Posted on 6/2/2018 by Bob Rehak

277 Days since Hurricane Harvey