Tag Archive for: City of Houston

Rate of Woodridge Village Excavation Increases 47%

The rate of excavation for another stormwater detention basin on the Woodridge Village property picked up 47% in the last five weeks. That’s compared to the weekly average since Sprint Sand and Clay began excavating last year under the terms of its Excavation and Removal (E&R) contract with Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD).

  • The current weekly rate is the highest since last July.
  • As of:
    • January 30, 2023, Sprint had excavated 80,360 cubic yards (CY)
    • March 6, 2023, Sprint has excavated 93,023 CY, according to HCFCD.
  • Dividing the difference by five weeks, yields an average of 2,532.6 CY per week.
  • The weekly average since the start of excavation 54 weeks ago equals 1722.7 CY.
  • So, the February/early March data is an increase of more than 800 cubic yards per week compared to the long-term average, a 47% increase.

Demand for dirt under E&R contracts varies with with housing starts and road construction. Housing starts have slowed greatly in recent months as interest rates have increased to cool inflation. It’s not clear yet whether the increased rate of excavation represents a temporary blip or the beginning of a turnaround in the market for dirt.

Then and Now Photos

Here’s the extent of excavation on the new pond as of January 24, 2023.

Woodridge Village Detention Pond #6
Woodridge Village Detention Basin #6 at the end of January 2023. Contractors have not yet connected the new basin to others.

Here’s how the new basin looks today from approximately the same location – much longer!

Same location at start of March.
Sprint has not yet reached the end of S1, the detention basin on the right.
Looking south toward Kingwood. Sprint has the width of four or five more houses to go before it reaches as far as the end of S1. The tree line in the background is the Harris/Montgomery County line.

Increased Rate is Welcome News

The increase in the excavation rate is welcome news for residents who flooded twice in 2019, thanks in large part to Woodridge Village construction practices. Perry Homes left the aborted development about 40% short of Atlas-14 requirements. Since then HCFCD and the City of Houston bought the site and are working on ways to reduce flood risk.

E&R contracts give HCFCD a low-cost head start on mitigation as engineers finalize plans. Knowing that they will need additional stormwater detention capacity, HCFCD established a flexible contract with Sprint for only $1,000. It lets Sprint remove up 500,000 CY and sell the dirt at market rates. This virtually eliminates a major construction cost and provides major savings to taxpayers.

Sprint is obligated to remove a minimum average of 5,000 CY per month and must place the dirt outside of the 100-year floodplain. The contract lasts three years.

Sprint will excavate within the red line. If they move the total 500,000 cubic yards, they will more than double stormwater detention capacity on the site.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/6/2023

2015 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 1264 since Imelda

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.

Recommended Floodgates Could Release at Rate of Lake Conroe During Harvey

City of Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s office has supplied ReduceFlooding.com with the Black & Veatch Engineering report on the recommended alternative for adding floodgates to Lake Houston. One key finding immediately jumped out at me that wasn’t in Martin’s press release last week. The recommended gates would have a release capacity that virtually equals the highest release rate of Lake Conroe during Hurricane Harvey.

The Lake Conroe release rate during Harvey maxed out at 79,000 cubic feet per second (CFS).

The eleven tainter gates recommended by Black & Veatch would have a release rate of 78,700 CFS.

New Possibilities, More Certainty

That opens up a world of possibilities. For instance, the City could wait to start releasing water until it knew water was coming downstream from Harvey.

Said Martin, “Once constructed, we can release with a moments notice which gives us great opportunities to coordinate release protocols with the SJRA!!”

Previously, Public Works has been reluctant to release water in advance of a storm because the release rate of the existing gates is so small. They have to start lowering the lake so far in advance of storms that a storm can veer away before it gets here. If it does, that means water has been wasted.

The recommended floodgates should provide much more certainty for operators and avoid waste.

Key Elements of Recommendation

site of proposed gates for Lake Houston on east side of dam
Gates would be placed at the original channel for the San Jacinto River seen in foreground.

Other key elements of the recommendation include:

  • Locating the floodgates in the earthen eastern portion of the dam near the old channel of the San Jacinto River.
  • Creating baffles and a dissipation basin downstream from the new gates to break up the flow and reduce water velocity
  • “Outdenting” the gates (i.e., building them in front of the current dam)
  • A bridge between the two parts of the earthen dam
  • Using tainter gates, the same type used at Lake Conroe.
  • A 3.5 year construction schedule.

The last point means that if construction started in January, the earliest completion date would be mid-2026.

However, given the need to line up additional funding in the state legislature, 2027 is a more realistic date.

For a complete discussion of the project history, constraints, alternatives, recommended options, construction drawings, rationales, and costs, see the entire 28-page Black and Veatch Report by Chris Mueller, PhD, P.E.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/14/22 based on the Black & Veatch Report

1933 Days since Hurricane Harvey

66% Impervious Cover? Really?

Because the Laurel Springs RV Resort was grandfathered under old drainage regulations, it got away with building a detention pond that was half the size required by current regulations.

But assuming the developers were just shrewd businessmen who legally and successfully exploited the system, did they follow the rest of the rules? Let’s look at two other things.

  • The percentage of impervious cover on the site
  • How the number of parking spots increased 25% without the impervious cover increasing.
Laurel Springs RV Resort as of 10/22/22. The contractor still has one more “pour” to complete the concrete in the far upper right of the image.

Were Impervious Cover Calculations Correct?

Detention-pond volume calculations begin with impervious cover (i.e., land covered by concrete plus the entire detention pond area). See below.

66% impervious cover
Laurel Springs RV Resort Detention Pond calculations from approved permit plans.

The total site covers 20.032 acres. The proposed impervious portion, they claim, covers 13.349 acres. That works out to 66.6%. So one third of the site should be grass, trees and other vegetation. But since the entire 5-acre detention pond counts as impervious, mathematically, the remainder of the site can have no more than about 60% concrete and still comply with the percentage they promised.

But just eyeballing that trapezoidal area in the photo above, it seems much more than 60% is covered with concrete.

If my eyeball assessment is correct, then the detention pond is even more undersized than I initially thought because the percentage of impervious cover has increased and with it the amount of runoff.

I wish the developer would show us the basis for those calculations.

Plans Show Increase in Density With No Increase In Impervious Cover

The developer’s permit allows 182 RV spaces, but the plans show 226 – about a 24% increase. However, the impervious cover shown on the plans before and after the permit approval did not change. That could also affect detention pond capacity requirements. And explain why the percentage of concrete appears higher than they claim.

Why Underestimate Impervious Cover?

Why would a developer underestimate the amount of impervious cover? Two reasons:

  1. It would make the detention pond smaller and thus allow the remaining property to produce more income.
  2. By claiming they’re providing more detention than required, they can get a discount on their drainage fees. See page 10.

I’m not alleging they did anything illegal. I’m just saying that much more than 60% of that trapezoid in the photo above appears to be concrete and I sure would like to see how they arrived at their figures. I requested the drainage analysis twice and never got it. That should tell you something.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/23/22

1881 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.

GLO Posts Amendment 11 to Harvey Plan Affecting Houston Flood Victims

Amendment 11 from the Texas Hurricane Harvey Action plan will let the Texas General Land Office (GLO) take over unused money from seven Houston disaster relief funds. The money will be reallocated to a state-run Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP) currently administered by the GLO on behalf of Houston residents.

On 10/7/22, GLO posted Amendment 11 to the State’s Action Plan for $5.676 billion in Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) related to Hurricane Harvey. View the entire 461-page Action Plan Amendment 11 at https://recovery.texas.gov/public-notices/index.html. Or see the major changes below.

File photo from June 2021. Flood damaged home on Houston’s NE side, still needing repair.

Reallocation of $141 Million

Amendment 11 deals with the $1.2 billion in CDBG-DR funds previously allocated to and administered by the City of Houston. The amendment reallocates $140,930,253 in unused funds from seven City of Houston disaster relief programs. The money will be reallocated to a state-run Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP) administered by the GLO on behalf of Houston residents. 

Reason for the reallocation? The City programs repeatedly failed to meet contract benchmarks and deadlines.

The GLO acted after the City missed contractual benchmarks designed to ensure that funds for City of Houston residents are expended before HUD’s final program deadlines.

GLO currently administers the “City of Houston Homeowner Assistance Program,” nicknamed HAP, the acronym used by the state as opposed to HoAP, which the City used.

Latest City Pipeline Report

The City doesn’t publish statistics for all of its programs in its monthly “Pipeline Reports.” However, the most recent, dated 9/6/2022 shows the following:

The City’s HoAP program included three sub-programs: Reimbursements, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction.

According to the City’s own statistics, it helped only 704 homeowners in all three categories in the five years since Harvey. That’s out of 96,410 homes that flooded inside the City limits during the storm. That’s less than three-quarters of 1%.

  • Approximately one out of six families invited to apply for aid submitted applications.
  • Of those who completed applications, approximately two out of three were eligible.
  • But of those, only 807 applications made it to the GLO for approval.
  • The GLO approved all of those but 10.
  • So 9,422 applicants were left in the pipeline (10,229 – 807).

Reallocated Funds Will Stay in Houston

Six hundred and forty six days have elapsed since the City’s Housing and Community Development Department cut off applications at the end of 2020.

This whole issue came to a head several years ago when the GLO attempted to step in once before as programs were expiring. The City sued the GLO to keep the programs. A settlement let the GLO keep some and the City others. But it also stipulated that the City had to meet strict deadlines and quotas.

The City had to clear a certain percentage of its backlogs each month. The City missed those contractual deadlines repeatedly according to the GLO. And now the GLO is stepping in to help as many people as it can with the unused funds.

The GLO will only reallocate funds not already obligated to a project by the City. All funds will stay in Houston to benefit the residents of Houston. Funds should now get to residents in a faster and more efficient manner.

GLO has helped thousands of homeowners statewide in less time than the City has helped several hundred.

Reasons Cited for Delays, Slowness

The City blames the GLO for delays. However, many of the applications submitted by the City to the GLO early on were incomplete, lacked required documentation, or didn’t meet program requirements. Reasons cited for the Houston Housing and Community Development Department problems included bad hiring decisions, poor record keeping, training failures, refusal to accept help, political interference, unwillingness to follow GLO recommendations, making programs overly complicated, late starts, and procedural violations.

A HUD audit in late 2021 also ripped the department for conflicts of interest and failure to document recommendations.

The GLO maintains it has not slowed the City of Houston from using disaster recovery funds – only prevented the City from using them improperly. “Any delays are a result of the City of Houston’s misplaced focus on circumventing rules and requirements,” said a GLO spokesperson.

Attempting to Help Those in Need Faster

Caught in the middle are the most vulnerable among us.

According to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) statistics, nearly 90% of the homeowners served by the affected programs have incomes less than 80% of the area’s median income (AMI).

Nearly two thirds of the Houston homeowners served by the GLO’s program make less than 30% of the AMI. In Houston, this would include families of four living on $26,600 or less.

Also, 64% of the homeowners identify as Black/African American and 25% identify as Hispanic/Latino.

Finally, about 87% of approved homeowners are female heads of households and at least 72% are aged 65 or older.

The GLO’s Houston HAP demographics are updated monthly and available online.

Main Changes in Amendment 11

City of Houston Impacts

The amendment includes the following changes. Funds remaining with the City of Houston for all disaster recovery programs would be reduced to $694,157,590 from $835 million.

The difference – $140,930,253 in uncommitted funds – would be taken from the following City programs, which would be reduced to:

  • Homeowner Assistance Program (HoAP) – $69,188,511.
  • Multifamily Rental Program – $400,855,752.
  • Small Rental Program – $12,943,423.
  • Homebuyer Assistance Program – $18,381,000.
  • Public Service – $20,000,000.
  • Economic Revitalization Program – $18,888,904.
State of Texas Impacts
  • State administered disaster recovery programs increase to $4,064,897,426.
  • The State-administered City of Houston Homeowner Assistance Program increases to $565,601,475.

The last total exceeds the $141 million because the State had previously taken over several programs that the City relinquished.

To Comment on Amendment 11…

The amendment triggers a federally required 30-day public comment period.

Submit all comments to cdr@recovery.texas.gov by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, to be considered. Per federal requirements, the GLO must respond to public comments before the amendment can be sent to HUD for its 45-day final approval.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/8/22

1866 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.

City of Houston Updates Infrastructure Design Manual

On October 3, 2022, the City of Houston announced an update of its 568-page Infrastructure Design Manual (IDM). The new IDM will govern all new construction within the jurisdiction of Houston after October 1.

Residents concerned about the possibility of new construction negatively affecting drainage should review it and related documents to make sure contractors adhere to requirements. At a minimum, neighbors should understand the outcomes that the City expects developers to achieve in case something goes wrong.

Chapter 9 addresses Stormwater Design and Water Quality Requirements. At a minimum, make sure you read Section 9-2, pages 183 and 184 of the PDF. The City lays out the high-level requirements and objectives for developer/contractors.

Goals Guiding Drainage Standards

Chapter 9 begins with several paragraphs that lay out the obligations of developers and contractors. I’ve condensed them for brevity below. See the original document for the exact wording.

9.1.02.A (1)     

Drainage criteria for newly designed areas must provide protection from Structural Flooding during a 100-year storm event. 

9.1.02.A (2)     

Recognizing that each site has unique differences, the City may consider alternatives (pipe flow, overland sheet flow, and detention storage) that still achieve objectives.


Ponding in streets and roadside ditches of short duration is anticipated and designed to contribute to the overall drainage capacity of the system. 


When rainfall events exceed the capacity of the storm sewer system, the additional runoff is intended to be conveyed or stored overland in a manner that reduces the threat of structural flooding.

All proposed New Development, Redevelopment, or Site Modifications shall not alter existing or natural overland flow patterns and shall not increase or redirect existing sheet flow to adjacent private or public property. 

Where the existing sheet flow pattern is blocked by construction (i.e. raising the site elevation) of the Development, the sheet flow shall be re-routed within the developed property to return flow to original configuration or to the public right of way (ROW).

Except under special circumstances dictated by natural or existing drainage patterns no sheet flow from the developed property will be allowed to drain onto adjacent private property

No impact will be allowed onto adjacent property. 

9.1.02.C of CoH 2022 Infrastructure design manual

No sheet flow from the developed property may drain onto the adjacent ROW.  

Any increased quantity discharge should only be discharged to the ROW at the approved point of connection (which have enough capacity to handle the discharged) via a subsurface internal drainage system.

How to Review Changes Quickly

The Houston Public Works Director signed the IDM Cover Letter & Executive Summary on July 1, 2022. The executive summary discusses updates made to all documents during the review cycle. The IDM Redlines and Construction Specifications Redlines are available for additional background. Redlines highlight changes from previous versions.

All of the content described here is accessible on the City’s Design and Construction Standards web page.

For more information, read HPW’s announcement here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/4/2022

1862 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Major Kingwood Shopping Center Almost Back

Hurricane Harvey flooded 100 percent of all the businesses in Kingwood Town Center. Recovery has been a long, hard road. Some retailers threw in the towel. Others hung on by their nails. The shopping center on the northwest side of Kingwood Drive and West Lake Houston Parkway was one of the hardest hit – caught between rising waters from Lake Houston and descending waters from Bens Branch. For several years, the entire center looked like a ghost town.

Kingwood Town Center Old H-E-B
In this shot on the shopping center taken in November 2020, more than 30 stores were vacant.

Finally, the owner sold it to a buyer with deeper pockets who could make needed repairs.

Flood Mitigation Efforts Bolster Confidence

While that was happening, the Army Corps finished dredging the West Fork. Harris County Flood Control District completed a major maintenance project to restore the conveyance of Bens Branch. And the City cleared sediment from under the Kingwood Drive bridge over Bens Branch, eliminating a major bottleneck on the creek.

City of Houston crews remove sediment from under Kingwood Drive Bridge over Bens Branch by shopping center.

The remediation efforts seem to have bolstered confidence and encouraged the return of retailers.

Pardon Their Dust

For the last two years, loyal customers had to dodge construction as the shopping center got a facelift. But last month, the construction trailer and fencing disappeared. Today, I counted only four vacancies in the main part of the shopping center. And workmen are busy doing interior buildout on some of those.

Ghost-Town Look Gone

The ghost-town look is gone…replaced by pristine exteriors, new signage, and fresh landscaping. It will only be a matter of time before the remaining spaces refill.

Here’s how the center looks today.

A new Trek bicycle store recently opened, and makes a nice complement to other retailers.
Around the corner, a fresh new look for the urgent care center and Walgreens.

Still Searching for Anchor Tenant…

Unfortunately, the center still lacks an anchor tenant.

The leasing agent, NewQuest, is rumored to have been in discussions with a large fitness center to occupy that space or part of it. This morning, I saw electricians entering the space to work. But NewQuest did not return a phone call to confirm or deny a deal with a new tenant. NewQuest’s website still shows the space officially for lease.

…But Appraised Value Quadruples Since Harvey

Regardless, you can see another sign of the shopping center’s success on the Harris County Appraisal District website. The appraised value of the center has more than quadrupled since those bleak days after Harvey.

Five-year appraised value history from HCAD.org as of 9/8/22.
Screen capture from HCAD.org as of 9/8/22.

Welcome Back, Retailers!

If you avoided this center during construction, explore what all the small business owners have to offer.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/8/2022

1836 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harvey: A 5-Year Flood-Mitigation Report Card

Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. Many in the Lake Houston Area have asked, “Are we safer now?” The answer is yes, but we have a long way to go to achieve all our goals. Here’s a five-year flood-mitigation report card. It describes what we have and haven’t accomplished in 29 areas. So get ready for a roller coaster ride. I’ll leave the letter grades to you.

Lake Houston Area Mitigation

1) Dredging

The most visible accomplishment in the Lake Houston Area since Harvey is dredging. The City and Army Corps removed approximately 4 million cubic yards of sediment blocking the West and East Forks. Before dredging, River Grove Park flooded six times in two months. Since dredging, it hasn’t flooded once to my knowledge.

west fork mouth bar before dredging
West Fork mouth bar after Harvey and before dredging. Now gone, but not forgotten.

State Representative Dan Huberty secured additional funding during the last legislature to continue maintenance dredging. That includes clearing drainage canal outfalls into the lake, such as the entrance to Rogers Gully. The dredging operation is now moving around the lake, according to the City’s District E office.

2) Adding Floodgates

Engineers keep looking for a cost-effective alternative. They first identified 11 options in a preliminary review. They then studied the most promising – spillway crest gates – in more detail. Now they’re looking at tainter gates in the earthen portion of the dam. In case the Benefit/Cost Ratio still doesn’t meet FEMA requirements for moving forward with construction, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin is also exploring additional funding sources. But so far, no construction has started on additional gates. Martin hopes to reveal a recommendation in September.

Lake Houston Dam, area for new gates
Potential location for new tainter gates east of the spillway portion of the dam (out of frame to the right.
3) Upstream Detention

To reduce the amount of water coming inbound during storms, the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Study identified 16 potential areas for building large stormwater detention basins. Unfortunately, they had a combined cost of $3.3 billion and would only reduce damages by about a quarter of that.

So, the SJRA recommended additional study on the two with the highest Benefit/Cost Ratio. Their hope: to reduce costs further. The two are on Birch and Walnut Creeks, two tributaries of Spring Creek near Waller County. Expect a draft report in February next year.

Funding these would likely require State assistance. But the Texas Water Development Board’s San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group has just recently submitted its first draft report. The draft also recommended looking at detention basin projects on West Fork/Lake Creek, East Fork/Winters Bayou, and East Fork/Peach Creek.

Building them all could hold back a foot of stormwater falling across 337 square miles. But funds would still need to be approved over several years. We’re still a long way off. Results – on the ground – could take years if not decades.

4) “Benching”

The Regional Flood Planning Group also recommended something called “benching” in two places along 5 miles of the West Fork. In flood mitigation, benching entails shaving down a floodplain to create extra floodwater storage capacity. Like the detention basins, benching is still a long way off…if it happens at all.

5) West Fork Channel Widening

Finally, the Regional Flood Planning Group recommended widening 5.7 miles of the West Fork to create more conveyance. But again, at this point it’s just a recommendation in a draft plan.

San Jacinto River Authority

6) SJRA Board Composition

After Harvey, many downstream residents accused SJRA of flooding downstream areas to save homes around Lake Conroe. At the time, SJRA’s board had no residents from the Humble/Kingwood Area. So Governor Abbott appointed two: Kaaren Cambio and Mark Micheletti. Cambio later resigned due to a potential conflict of interest when she took a job with Congressman Dan Crenshaw. That leaves Micheletti as the lone Humble/Kingwood Area resident on a seven-person board. However, the SJRA points out that the Board’s current president, Ronnie Anderson, represents Chambers County, which is also downstream.

State Representative Will Metcalf, who represents the Lake Conroe area, introduced a bill to limit SJRA board membership to upstream residents. Luckily for downstream residents, it failed.

7) Lake Conroe Lowering

SJRA identified temporary, seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe as a strategy to reduce downstream flood risk until completion of dredging and gates projects in the Lake Houston Area. The lowering creates extra storage in the lake during peak rainy seasons. After SJRA implemented the plan, Lake Conroe residents objected to the inconvenience. They sued SJRA and the City, but lost. After discussion with all stakeholders, the SJRA quietly modified its plan. It still lowers the lake, but not as much.

8) Lowering Lake Houston

Houston also started lowering Lake Houston, not seasonally, but in advance of major storms. The City has lowered the lake more than 20 times since beginning the program. That has helped to avoid much potential flooding to date.

9) Lake Conroe Dam Management

SJRA applied for and received several TWDB grants to enhance flood mitigation and communications in the San Jacinto River Basin. One involves developing a Lake Conroe Reservoir Forecasting Tool. SJRA has also worked with San Jacinto County to develop a Flood Early Warning System.

Finally, SJRA’s Lake Conroe/Lake Houston Joint Reservoir Operations Plan is on hold pending completion of the City’s plan to add more gates to the Lake Houston dam. Such projects may help reduce the risk of releasing unnecessarily large volumes of water in the future.

Coordination between Lake Conroe and Lake Houston has already improved. You can see it in the SJRA’s new dashboard. It shows releases requested by the City of Houston to lower Lake Conroe.

10) Sediment Reduction

Huge sediment buildups in the West and East Forks of the San Jacinto clearly contributed to flooding. The Army Corps stated that the West Fork was 90% blocked near River Grove Park. To reduce future dredging costs, SJRA also studied the use of sediment traps. SJRA may implement a pilot study soon on the West Fork near the Hallett mine.

However, the location is controversial. Geologists say it wouldn’t reduce sediment in the area of greatest damage. Environmentalists worry that it could increase sedimentation through a “hungry-water” effect and open the door to river mining. And I worry that, even if successful, the pilot study would not be extendable. That’s because it relies on partnerships with sand miners. And other tributaries to Lake Houston do not have sand mines or as many sand mines.

Sand bar blocking West Fork after Harvey. The Corps has since removed it.

Federal Funding

It’s hard to get good grades on your flood mitigation report card without funding.

11-18) Appropriations

In March this year, Congressman Dan Crenshaw secured appropriations that should help advance projects in the San Jacinto Basin. They included:

  • $1.6 million for HCFCD for Taylor Gully  stormwater channel improvement. 
  • $1.6 million for HCFCD for Kingwood  Diversion Channel improvement. 
  • $1.67 million for Harris County for the Forest Manor drainage  improvement project in Huffman.
  • $8.2 million from FEMA the Westador Basin stormwater detention project on Cypress Creek.  
  • $9.9 million from FEMA for the TC Jester storm water detention basin on Cypress Creek.

Crenshaw also has backed community requests for more funding in Fiscal 23. They include:

  • $8 million for the Lake Houston Dam Spillway (Gates).
  • $10 million for the Woodridge Stormwater Detention Basin (see below).
  • $10 million for a Cedar Bayou Stormwater Detention Basin.

Harris County Flood Control

19) Channel Maintenance and Repair

Harris County Flood Control has already completed several maintenance projects in the Lake Houston Area. In Kingwood, those projects include Taylor Gully, Ben’s Branch, parts of the Diversion Ditch and other unnamed ditches. In Atascocita, HCFCD also completed a project on Rogers Gully. Upstream, HCFCD is working on the third round of repairs to Cypress Creek. Batch 3 includes work at 12 sites on 11 channel sections. I’m sure the District has maintenance projects in other areas, too. I just can’t name them all.

Bens Branch
Bens Branch near Kingwood High School after sediment removal.
20) Woodridge Stormwater Detention Basin Expansion

In 2019, uncontrolled stormwater from the Woodridge Village development twice flooded approximately 600 homes in Elm Grove Village and North Kingwood Forest. HCFCD and the City purchased Woodridge from Perry Homes last year. HCFCD soon thereafter started removing sediment from the site to create a sixth stormwater detention basin that would more than double capacity on the site. At the end of last month, contractors had removed approximately 50,000 cubic yards out of 500,000 in the contract. This gives HCFCD a head start on excavation while engineers complete the basin’s final design.

21) Local Drainage Study Implementation

HCFCD authorized four studies of the drainage needs in the Lake Houston Area. They completed the Huffman and Kingwood studies. Atascocita and East Lake Houston/Crosby started earlier this year and are still underway.

The Kingwood study measured levels of service in all channels and outlined strategies to improve them to the 100-year level. The first two projects recommended: Taylor Gully and the Kingwood Diversion Ditch. Neither has started construction yet. But see the notes under funding above.

The Huffman Study recommended improvements to FM2100, which TxDOT will handle. It also recommended dredging in the East Fork near Luce Bayou which the City has completed. Finally, it recommended a bypass channel for Luce. However, pushback from residents forced cancellation of that project.

22) Buyouts

HCFCD completed buyouts of 80+ townhomes on Timberline and Marina Drives in Forest Cove last month. Contractors demolished the final run-down complex in August. That should improve property values in Forest Cove.

forest cove townhome demolition
Completion of demolition of one of the last Forest Cove Townhome Complexes in July 2022.
23) Regulation Harmonization

Harris County Flood Control and Engineering have been working to get municipalities and other counties throughout the region to adopt certain minimum drainage regulations. I discussed the importance of uniformly high standards in last night’s post. So far, about a third of the governments have upgraded their regs. A third are still deciding whether to act. And the remainder have taken no action. There has been little movement in the last six months.

City of Houston

As mentioned above, the City has taken a lead role in dredging, adding gates to Lake Houston, and proactive lake lowering. In addition, the City has helped with:

24) Bridge Underpass Clean-Out

The City of Houston successfully cleaned out ditches under Kingwood Drive and North Park Drive in at least six places. Bridges represent a major choke point during floods. So eliminating sediment buildups helps reduce flood risk in areas that previously flooded.

City excavation crews working to remove sediment on Bens Branch under Kingwood Drive
Excavation of Bens Branch under Kingwood Drive by City crews.
25) Storm Sewer Inspections, Clean-Out, Repairs

The City has inspected storm sewers throughout Kingwood and cleaned those that had become clogged. It also repaired sinkholes and outfalls that had become damaged.

Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District

The lowest score on the flood-mitigation report card probably goes to LSGCD.

26) Subsidence

The Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District has started pumping groundwater again at an alarming rate. Projected subsidence near the Montgomery County Border equals 3.25 feet, but only 1 foot at the Lake Houston dam. That could eventually tilt the lake back toward the Humble/Kingwood/Huffman area and reduce the margin of safety in flooding. That’s bad news.

Sand Mining Regulations

Twenty square miles of West Fork sand mines immediately upstream from I-69 have exposed a swath of floodplain once covered by trees to heavy erosion during floods. Mathematically, the potential for erosion increased 33X compared to the normal width of the river. Sand mines were also frequently observed releasing sediment into the river. And the dikes around the mines often wash out.

So in 2019, the Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative (LHAGFPI) began meeting with legislators, regulators and the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association (TACA). The goal: to establish comprehensive Best Management Practices (BMPs) for the sand mining industry in the San Jacinto River Basin. 

27) Mine Plan/Stabilization Reports Now Required

TCEQ adopted new regulations, effective January 6, 2022.  They required miners to file a ‘Mine Plan’ by July 6, 2022 and also a ‘Final Stabilization Report’ when a mine is played out.

28) Vegetated Buffer Zones (Setbacks)

The new regs also stipulate undisturbed vegetative buffer zones around new mines. Buffer zones aid in sediment filtration and removal by slowing surface water. They also strengthen dikes.

The new regs require a minimum 100-foot vegetated buffer zone adjacent to perennial streams greater than 20 feet in width. However, for streams less than 20 feet wide, the buffer zone is only 50 feet for perennial streams, and 35 feet for intermittent streams.

29) Reclamation Bonds

Unfortunately, the Flood Prevention Initiative could not convince TCEQ to require ‘reclamation bonds.’ Other states use such bonds to prevent miners from abandoning mines without taking steps to reduce future erosion, such as planting vegetation.  

My apologies to any projects or parties I omitted. Now it’s your turn. Give grades to those you think have done the best job on YOUR Harvey flood-mitigation report card.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/26/22

1823 Days since Hurricane Harvey and one day from Harvey’s Fifth Anniversary

All Parties Still Focused on Finding Solution for Adding Flood Gates to Lake Houston Dam

Initial options that the City of Houston explored for adding more flood gates to the Lake Houston Dam struggled to achieve a high enough Benefit/Cost Ratio. However, all parties involved are still hopeful that a solution can be found. They are now evaluating yet another option. It would add gates in the earthen (eastern) portion of the dam.

Looking south over eastern portion of Lake Houston Dam at area under consideration for five new tainter gates. The spillway is out of frame to the right. Picture taken on 7/22/22.

More Gates Would Create More Room For Floodwaters

Flooding devasted the entire Lake Houston Area during Harvey. Since then, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin has led an effort to find a way to lower the lake faster in advance of a storm. This would create extra room in the lake for floodwaters. And that would reduce the risk of flooding homes and businesses around it.

Currently, the dam has a fixed height spillway. That makes releasing water in advance of a storm difficult. The dam does have several small gates, but they have only 1/15th the release capacity of the gates on Lake Conroe. Adding more gates would help release water faster…to keep up with water coming downstream.

It would also let managers wait to start a release until they were certain a storm would not veer away. That would help avoid wasting water if forecasts are not accurate.

The Dual-Role Dilemma

The City built Lake Houston in 1953 to supply water. Making the dam play two roles – water supply and flood mitigation – poses a challenge.

In 2017, immediately after Hurricane Harvey, Martin began leading the effort to transform the dam to play a dual role. This would let Lake Houston provide our region with needed drinking water and reduce flood risk. 

New Timeline Longer Than Hoped, But Still Shorter Than Usual

A project of this magnitude normally takes up to twelve years. However, Martin worked with federal, state, and local officials to shorten the timeline. Martin now hopes the project will take no longer than seven years. While acknowledging that he hoped completion would happen in as little as five years, Martin also cites unexpected technical and cost challenges related to the aging dam.

Difficulty of Finding Best Alternative

The age of the Lake Houston Spillway, built in 1953, has proven to be a bigger obstacle than expected. Engineers initially proposed six different alternatives for adding different types of gates in different locations, with variations on several.

As engineers started precisely calculating costs and benefits of preferred approaches, they weighed those against environmental impacts, construction challenges, safety risks, and available budget.

During that process, engineers discovered hidden challenges with some options that initially looked promising. At this point, they have determined that all six initial options cost more than the federally funded amount of $48 million. 

A Complicated Path Forward

So now engineers are focusing on finding the optimal solution while Martin and others explore options to pay for it.

Martin says the City of Houston, Texas Division of Emergency Management and Federal Emergency Management Agency are working together to find the option with the highest Benefit to Cost Ratio (BCR). 

Acceptable BCRs for projects like this range from .75 to 1, according to Martin. Preliminary engineering studies found that two crest-gate alternatives (already evaluated) yielded only .48 – largely due to the aging structure of the existing spillway, which drove up costs. 

City Expects Answer on Latest Option Before October

Currently, the City has paused the final-design phase of the project while engineers evaluate Alternative 1A. That now consists of five new tainter-gates (not six or twelve as previously reported) on the earthen embankment east of the spillway. 

The comprehensive, final BCR analysis for the embankment alternative should be completed by the end of September 2022. The preliminary engineering report suggested the 1A alternative could reduce flood heights by half a foot for a cost of $47.3 million with a BCR of .89. So initially, on the surface, this appears feasible.

Martin Widens Search for Funding

While engineers work to find the best BCR, Martin is leading an effort with BOTH state and federal partners to find additional funding for the project. 

For instance, Martin is working with outgoing State Representative Dan Huberty and incoming State Representative Charles Cunningham to seek funds in the upcoming Texas Legislative Session. Martin says that state dollars do not require BCRs like federal dollars do.

While all the challenges would have discouraged many, Martin says they have fortified his resolve. He vows to find a path forward. Martin promises an update in his regular fall public meeting in October and hopes to have an attractive BCR for alternative 1A.

Interim Flood-Mitigation Measures Still In Place

In the meantime, the City of Houston will continue its existing Lake Houston pre-release strategy. It calls for lowering the lake when forecasters predict three or more inches of rain in the San Jacinto Watershed. Since Hurricane Harvey, the City has lowered the lake more than twenty times and successfully avoided flooding.

Thanks to Key Contributors 

Martin acknowledges the continuing contributions of Congressman Dan Crenshaw, Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Commissioner Tom Ramsey, State Representative Dan Huberty, State Representative-Elect Charles Cunningham, TDEM-Chief Nim Kidd, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello, and Harris County Flood Control District. 

Martin says, “All parties are committed to constructing these additional gates to help ensure protection against future flood events.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/4/2022

1801 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Construction of Northeast Water Purification Plant Past Halfway Mark

The City of Houston’s new $2 billion Northeast Water Purification Plant between Lake Houston and Beltway 8 East is now more than 50% complete. The last monthly progress report posted on GreaterHoustonWater.com was from more than a year ago. At the time, it showed construction 55% complete. Since then, the City has continued to post detailed periodic construction updates. The latest was in March 2022. It featured 79 pages of photos that dramatize the complexity of such a huge project. A flyover of the plant on 7/22/22 showed even more progress.

The latest timetable shows completion of the first phase early next year and completion of the second in 2025.

Project Benefits

The plant will provide enough treated surface water to reduce subsidence, which causes much of our flooding problems according to the City of Houston and the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District.

The Harris-Galveston Subsidence District says that land subsidence is caused by the withdrawal of groundwater. For that reason, regulations have been put in place to limit the use of groundwater.

By 2025, surface water must supply at least 60 percent of our water. The plant should meet that objective. And, it will wean 80% of the region off groundwater by 2035.

The plant expansion will supply 320 million gallons per day of treated water capacity in addition to the current 80 million gallons per day. So, capacity will quintuple by completion.

Then and Now Pictures Show Progress

The last time I posted about this project, construction was kicking into high gear back in September of 2020. Below are five pairs of photos from then and now that show how far it has come.

intake plant
September 2020
July 2022

The two pipelines leading to the Northeast Water Purification Plant are each 9 feet tall!

Northeast Water Treatment Plant
September 2020. Looking west toward Beltway.
July 2022

September 2020
July 2022

September 2020
July 2022

Improved Techniques

According to the City, “The expansion will include conventional treatment processes like the existing plant that help coagulate, settle, filter, and then disinfect water.” Quality will exceed Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requirements. 

In addition, says the City, an advanced oxidation process called ozonation will disinfect water to help ensure that harmful organisms such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium are eliminated. Ozonation also helps eliminate taste and odor causing compounds, which improves the aesthetic quality of the water supplied by the Northeast Water Purification Plant.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 28, 2022

1794 Days since Hurricane Harvey

RV Resort Still Leaking Stormwater into County Park

The detention basin at the Laurel Springs RV Resort was supposed to have been a dry-bottom pond. Despite one of the driest springs on record, it’s still holding water. And it’s still leaking into Harris County Precinct 3’s Edgewater Park. Despite:

History of Discharges

The leak in question is in the exact place where contractors dug a trench through the south wall of the detention pond. They discharged silt that spread out for hundreds of feet into the wetlands of the park. Then they laid pipes in the trench and covered them up.

But somehow silty, oily stormwater still seems to be escaping into the wetlands from where the pipes were.

Photo taken 5/15/22. Leak in same area where trench and pipes were.
Close up cropped from shot above. Note ripples on rushing water.
Same area photographed again on 5/22/22.
Close up cropped from 5/22/22 shot. Again note running water and oily film on it.

One wonders why the pumps in the approved drains are still not working. See bottom center in photo below.

Laurel Springs RV leaking pond
Wide shot taken from over Laurel Springs Lane on 5/22/22 showing location of approved drain (bottom center) and extent of construction.
Forms being laid for next concrete pour. Will there be enough space between RV slots to open doors? Picture taken from over railroad tracks.

Obviously, from all the standing water, they still have a little work left to do on drainage.

Still No Replacement Trees Planted

Photo taken on 5/18/2022 showing swath of trees that contractors cut in county park (left).

The developer also has a lot of work to do replanting trees. Note the wide swath outside the fence in the photo above that stretches for approximately 750 feet. That’s where the contractor destroyed trees in the county park.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/22/2022

1727 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.