Tag Archive for: cypress creek

Construction Beginning Soon on Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) will soon start building the new Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin, a large flood-risk reduction project along Cypress Creek adjacent to Mercer Botanical Gardens. HCFCD issued a notice to proceed to the contractor in December 2023 and the contractor is now mobilizing. 

The basin is north of FM-1960, east of the Hardy Toll Road, south of Cypress Creek and west of the Memorial Hills.

Combined 512 Acre Feet in Two Basins

The Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin project will include the excavation of 512 acre-feet of soil and other materials from the site. Once complete, the $14.8 million dry-bottom stormwater detention basin will provide approximately 166.8 million gallons of stormwater storage during heavy rainfall events.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program provided a $15.4 million grant for the project. Another $9.7 million comes from the 2018 Bond Program.

Arrowstone Contracting, LLC received a $14,846,391 contract for construction. Land acquisition, engineering and administration will consume the rest of the budget.

The stormwater detention basin will include two separate compartments, north and south, with an equalizer pipe connecting them. An 54″ outfall pipe will also be constructed along the north compartment so stormwater can slowly flow back into Cypress Creek after storms pass.

Construction Caution

Contractors will access the work area via FM-1960 or Lazy Ravine Lane in the Memorial Hills Subdivision. The contractor may use heavy construction equipment such as dump trucks, excavators and bulldozers. Motorists should be aware of truck traffic when passing near construction access points and along truck routes.

The HUD Grant stipulates that construction needs to finish by Fall 2024. And construction is scheduled to take 348 days.

Reducing Backwater in Tributaries

This is among multiple stormwater detention basin projects the Flood Control District is developing in the Cypress Creek watershed.

A regional drainage study for the watershed found that flooding along tributaries of Cypress Creek is predominately caused by rising stormwater in Cypress Creek backing up into tributaries. Flooding is not caused by a lack of sufficient stormwater conveyance or drainage capacity on the tributaries themselves. Therefore, stormwater detention basins could be a beneficial project to reduce that backwater issue.

Project Benefits

The Mercer Basins will remove the 100-year area of inundation from 30 structures and the 500-year area of inundation from an additional 17 structures.

The project also includes a 30’ wide berm to accommodate maintenance and future recreational amenities.

The project avoids wetlands and will lower the water surface elevation by .35 feet during a 100-year storm event, according to HCFCD.

Upstream detention was one of three major prongs of the strategy to reduce flooding in the Lake Houston Area. This and every other little bit will help downstream.

The regional drainage study found here recommends nearly 25,000 acre-feet of additional stormwater detention in the Cypress Creek watershed. That would be enough to hold back the peak flow during Harvey for almost 5 hours. In lesser storms, the benefit would last even longer.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/2/24 based on information from HCFCD

2317 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Third-Quarter Flood-Mitigation Spending Trends, Surprises

Third quarter flood-mitigation spending data is now available for Harris County Flood Control District and its partners. In some ways, the data shows a continuation of previous trends. But the data also contained some surprises. The major findings:

  • Spending continued to dip. Slower project delivery means inflation will claim an increasingly large percentage of taxpayer dollars and may force cancellation of some bond projects.
  • If the last quarter of this year is anything like the first three, we could see less than half the activity in 2023 than we saw in 2020.
  • The trend toward investing more heavily in minority areas continued and even accelerated. But there was one notable exception – Cypress Creek and its tributaries.
  • An unusual $9.7 million real-estate transaction for a stormwater detention basin near the Mercer Arboretum skewed the Cypress Creek total. That was 16.5% of all HCFCD spending for the quarter.
  • Without it, many of the numbers below would also have been skewed. For instance, total spending and average spending per watershed would vary dramatically.
  • The focus on so-called “equity” spending and the Cypress Creek watershed meant 15 watersheds saw less than a million dollars in activity during the quarter. And five of those received less than $100,000.

Let’s look at each and the implications. Everything below INCLUDES the unusual real estate transaction near Mercer. In several places, I note how things would have changed without Mercer.

Overall, Slowdown Magnifies Inflation Concerns

Overall, flood-mitigation spending dipped about 5% in the third quarter compared to the previous quarter. It declined by a little more than $3 million to $58.8 million. That may not sound like much, but it continues a 3-year downward trend and creates delays that expose residents to more flood risk.

As projects are delayed, their costs also escalate due to inflation, raising concerns about whether there will be enough money in the bond to finish all the projects promised to voters.

Spending this year will likely be a hundred million dollars less than the first full year of the 2018 flood bond – when projects were ramping up. See chart below.

Annualized estimate for 2023. 23Q4 data estimated based on average of first 3 quarters. Without Mercer, the 2023 estimate would be below $200 million.

Moreover, spending will be $200 million less than the peak year of 2020 – about half of what it was then.

Halfway through the 2018 10-year flood bond, HCFCD has spent only about a third of the funds approved by voters – $1.65 billion. However, if the present slowdown continues, this will be the third straight year of decline.

The slowdown in project delivery means inflation will increasingly raise costs and undermine the purchasing power of the dollars authorized by voters.

HCFCD acknowledges the serious impact of inflation in its latest bond update to Commissioners Court, and hopes toll-road money remaining in the Flood Resilience Trust will cover any shortfall.

Average Spending in LMI Areas Growing

Data also reveals that with one exception (Cypress Creek and its tributaries), the trend of preferentially allocating funds to Low-to-Moderate-Income (LMI) areas continued and even accelerated when measured by average spending per watershed.

On average during Q3, watersheds with a majority of LMI residents (hereinafter called “LMI watersheds”) received 2.5X more funding than more affluent watersheds – $3.1 million each vs. $1.2 million. That’s up from 1.7X over the longer period since Harvey. So, the gap is widening.

Without the Mercer real-estate transaction, the average for more affluent watersheds would have been cut in half to $600,000. That would have almost doubled the ratio. The recomputed average would created a 4.7X ratio between LMI and all other watersheds for the third quarter.

That trend will likely continue for some time as projects funded by HUD through the Texas General Land Office get approved and start construction. That pot of money will spread across the income spectrum, but projects in lower income areas will likely start first.

Cypress Creek Spending Explodes

In fifteen Harris County watersheds, more than 50% of residents make above the average income for the region.

As a group, those 15 received $18.6 million last quarter – $2 million more than the $16.6 million received by the eight LMI watersheds.

However, the first group is twice the size of the second. And looking deeper within the more affluent watersheds, we can see that Cypress Creek and its tributaries (Willow and Little Cypress) received 79% of that $18.6 million last quarter.

The three Cypress watersheds received almost 4X more funding than the 12 other watersheds in the more affluent category put together.

Cypress Creek and its tributaries consumed 79% of all HCFCD/Partner spending last quarter among watersheds without a majority of LMI residents.

Here’s how that same spending looks in a bar graph.

Only the first three watersheds on the left received more than a million dollars in Q3. The twelve on right received less than $1 million each.

The 12 other watersheds divvied up $3.8 million; they averaged just $348 thousand each.

FOIA request. Data supplied by HCFCD.

$348,000 is one ninth of the $3.1 million average for LMI watersheds. And we know that some of those, such as the San Jacinto, have huge, unmet needs.

Cypress Knocks Brays Out of First Place

Now, let’s look at ALL watersheds in both categories. When looking only at the third quarter, Cypress Creek surged into first place. It nudged out Greens, White Oak, Brays and Sims, all of which have LMI populations greater than 50%.

HCFCD and Partner spending by watershed
Includes all 23 watersheds during 23Q3.

HCFCD finished Project Brays 15 months ago, but still managed to spend $3.8 million there last quarter. That was almost 10X more than it spent during the third quarter in the San Jacinto watershed, the county’s largest, and where the flooding was deepest. HCFCD spent only $400 thousand in the entire San Jacinto watershed last quarter.

worst first
Comparison of 33 gages in Harris County during Harvey showed San Jacinto had worst flooding.

Brays Still Ranks #1 in Total Spending Since Harvey

Since Hurricane Harvey (not just last quarter), Brays still ranks #1. But Cypress now ranks second. If you added its Little Cypress and Willow Creek tributaries in the graph below to the Cypress Creek total, they would rank #1 by more than a $100 million.

Includes all 23 watersheds since Harvey

Brays even managed to increase in the last quarter by $1.5 million while the San Jacinto decreased by $55,000.

Granted, some watersheds have smaller needs than others, but the ratio between the highest and lowest spending exceeds 300X.

Impact of Equity Formula

The spending priorities shown in this post reflect the Equity formula adopted and periodically revised by Harris County Commissioners Court.

Ironically, the language approved by voters in the flood bond never mentions the word “equity.” Paragraph 14G does say that Commissioners Court shall provide for an “equitable expenditure of funds.”

However, most dictionaries define “equitable” as “nondiscriminatory.” Yet the current formula prioritizes projects largely on the racial composition of neighborhoods as described in the CDC’s social vulnerability index.

The theory is that poor people are financially less able to fix their homes after a flood. I accept that.

But some commissioners are using that to push the idea of fixing 500-year flooding in poor neighborhoods before fixing 2-year flooding in more affluent communities.

Therefore, I ask:

  • At what point do we do we say enough money has gone into an LMI watershed and start spending elsewhere to reduce greater flood risk?
  • Why isn’t HCFCD publishing updated flood risk maps as it completes mitigation projects so we can make objective comparisons and see what our tax dollars bought?
  • Why does Harris County’s formula for allocating flood-mitigation funds NOT consider:
    • Flood damage to homes, businesses and retirement communities?
    • Damage to infrastructure, such as bridges, schools, hospitals, grocery stores, traffic arteries, water and sewage treatment plants, etc.?
    • Height of floodwaters, i.e., the severity of flooding?
    • Deaths caused by floods?
  • Is a poor person’s carpet worth more than a rich person’s life?
  • Will there be enough money in the flood bond and flood resilience trust to finish all projects in the bond given inflation?

So many questions. So few answers. Perhaps this explains why trust in government has reached a 70-year low.

Only 20% of Americans now say they trust government “just about always or most of the time.” That’s something to think about as we near the next election.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/15/23 and updated 10/16/23 with additional info on Cypress Creek

2238 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.

Funding Announced for Massive Detention-Basin Complex on Cypress Creek

9/25/23 – Approximately 425,000 people live in the 204 square mile Cypress Creek watershed which has severe repetitive flooding. At a press conference this morning, County, State and Federal officials announced $50 million in funding for a massive complex of stormwater detention basins on Cypress Creek at T.C. Jester Blvd. to help protect those people.

The basins will span approximately 150 acres on both sides of T.C. Jester and include 1200-acre feet of planned stormwater detention capacity, wet bottoms, and recreational trails.

Approximate boundaries of three detention basins – one will go west of TC Jester and two more east. White area is existing basin.

Altogether, the stormwater detention capacity in this area will increase approximately 75X.

Google Earth calculation of existing and planned ponds

The existing pond covers approximately 2 acres and the new areas will cover more than 150.

Looking E over T.C. Jester. Existing 2-acre basin in foreground was site of press conference. Wooded area beyond will become two new detention basins.

Thanks to County, State and Federal Governments

The $50 million will come from three primary sources:

Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director Tina Petersen also reminded everyone of the money designated for Cypress Creek in the Flood Bond, which was considerable.

The GLO/HUD money has been requested but not yet confirmed although all indications are positive at this time. GLO Commissioner Dawn Buckingham has committed to making sure that people in all parts of Harris County benefit from the $750 million.

Timetable and Project Scope

HCFCD Director Dr. Petersen addressed the next steps in the projects. “A portion of the projects on the east side of T.C. Jester will start construction in the next 6 to 9 months. The remainder should go into construction no later than the end of 2024. So we’re going to see these projects move quickly. This type of progress would not have been possible without the critical funding that our Congressman and Representative secured “

The overall project includes three stormwater detention basins within a broader footprint. Two basin compartments are on the east side of T.C. Jester Boulevard and another is on the west side.

Excavation of the west side basin (see below) has already begun under an E&R (Excavation and Removal) Contract. A private contractor is removing the dirt, almost free of charge, then selling it at market rates to recoup costs and make a profit. An estimated 120,000 cubic yards of material has already been excavated to date.

Work to date on basin west of T.C. Jester. Looking N toward Cypresswood Drive.

The contractor began removing dirt in the general area to get a head start on construction, even before final design of the basin. The final design will begin soon.

Each basin will have a wet-bottom with maintenance berms, side slopes and high banks along the outside.

Construction for all basins should begin no later than Q4 2024. They have estimated 8-month construction timelines.

Extent of Benefits

The three stormwater detention basins will work together – taking stormwater from the main stem of Cypress Creek and holding it until water levels recede on the main stem.

The projects will also have recreational benefits such as hike and bike trails.

Director Petersen stated that the projects will primarily benefit the local area, i.e., benefits will not extend very far downstream. The 1200 acre feet will likely take several thousand homes out of the floodplain.

Even though those homes will be in the Cypress Creek area, 1200 acre feet being held back upstream is 1200 acre feet that won’t be in the living rooms of Lake Houston Area residents during the next big flood.

More to Come

Ramsey also pointed to more projects to come, though he didn’t elaborate. He said, “This is $50 million of the $100 million that will be spent over the coming months in the Cypress watershed. So hold on. We’re getting started. This isn’t the end. This is the beginning.”

Speakers at T.C. Jester Detention Basin Press Conference included U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw, State Representative Sam Harless, Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey P.E., and HCFCD Executive Director Dr. Tina Petersen.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/25/2023

2218 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Batches 1 and 2 of Cypress Creek Major-Maintenance Projects Completed, More to Come

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) has essentially completed Batches 1 and 2 of Cypress Creek major maintenance projects, according to District spokesperson Karen Hastings. On 9/12/22, I photographed the freshly repaired and reseeded channel K131-00-00 (Spring Gully) at Cypresswood Drive, one of the last projects in Batch #1. See the pictures below.

Looking NW at K131-00-00 (Spring Gully) across Cypresswood Drive in foreground. Location is about a block west of TC Jester.

Such projects typically involve desilting. That involves removing accumulated sediment that reduces the conveyance of the channel.

Same tributary from a vantage point a little farther upstream. Looking NW.
At the split, you can see that repairs extend farther upstream. Spring Gully goes toward the right; Theiss Gully to the left.

Even though maintenance on Spring Gully may be complete for the time being, additional projects are in the works to provide even more flood relief to the area.

TC Jester Stormwater Detention Basin

Among them is the capital improvement project below. Note the two red ovals in the photo. They loosely represent the locations of what will become two large detention basins on either side of TC Jester.

Looking SE across Cypresswood Drive. TC Jester cuts across Cypresswood in the upper left and continues S between the circles.

Looking SE toward TC Jester in upper left. HCFCD has a head start on a detention basin thanks to an E&R Contract.

E&R Contract

E&R stands for Excavation and Removal. HCFCD has owned this property and the property across TC Jester for years. Knowing that someday a detention pond would be built here, HCFCD entered into an E&R contract with a dirt company. Such contracts give dirt companies the right to excavate the dirt and haul it away for pennies a truckload. The company then makes its money by selling the dirt at market rates.

Such contracts also create a quadruple-win situation.

  • Taxpayers get dirt removed virtually for free.
  • HCFCD gets a head start on excavation.
  • The hauling company reduces its costs.
  • Home- and road-builders reduce their costs.

The main restriction: excavated dirt must be taken outside of the floodplain.

The main drawback: If the market slows, so does excavation.

This contract is very similar, if not identical to the one with Sprint Sand & Clay on the Woodridge Village property in Montgomery County. There, HCFCD hopes to more than double the stormwater detention capacity on the site.

Crenshaw Earmark Will Accelerate Construction

U.S. Congressman Dan Crenshaw obtained a $9.9 million earmark earlier this year to help build a stormwater detention basin near TC Jester.

Crenshaw is also seeking another $15 million next year to expand stormwater detention basin capacity in the area.

Area shown in photo above with E&R contract is approximately 40 acres. HCAD has owned this since 2003.
Area east of TC Jester is almost 100 acres. HCAD has owned this since 2015. First phase of expansion will include light blue area.

Together, the projects will mitigate the risk of future riverine flooding by providing a safe place to temporarily store stormwater runoff. That will reduce both the size of the floodplain and the water level within it.

Every cubic yard of dirt removed creates room for a cubic yard of stormwater runoff.

Crenshaw and HCFCD say that approximately 2689 structures are located nearby in the existing 100-year floodplain. The proposed detention basin east of TC Jester could reduce stormwater elevations in a 100-year storm by half a foot. The first phase will remove 87 structures from the 100-year floodplain. When complete, the full detention basin will remove 271 structures from the existing floodplain. 

Spending this money now should save money in the long run – money that would otherwise go to more costly post-disaster recovery programs. 

Looking east over TC Jester toward area where HCFCD will build first phase of first detention basin. Photo taken 7/24/21.

More Major Maintenance and Capital Items

In addition to that, HCFCD just started its third batch of major maintenance projects in the Cypress Creek Watershed. HCFCD also expects a fourth and fifth batch. Altogether, HCFCD built $60 million into the 2018 flood bond for Cypress Creek maintenance projects. (See Project CI-012).

Separately, Crenshaw has also requested another $8.25 million to begin building the planned Westador Stormwater Detention Basin farther east along Cypress Creek at Ella Blvd.

None of these projects will provide an instant fix for the entire Cypress Creek watershed. But together they will reduce risk in areas along it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/15/22

1843 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Coastal Prairie Conservancy Plan Shows How Preservation Can Help Reduce Flooding

The Katy Prairie Conservancy (now the Coastal Prairie Conservancy) has preserved prairies for more than 25 years to slow down and reduce floodwaters.

Tall-grass prairies and wetlands soak up, store and slow runoff from heavy rains, all of which decrease flooding for residents downstream.

The three main dimensions of natural flood reduction.

But how does that work in practice in specific locations? How MUCH do nature-based initiatives reduce flooding? And how can they complement traditional engineered solutions?

Multifaceted Plan Could Hold Back Harvey’s Excess Floodwater

Working with the SSPEED Center at Rice University, the Conservancy produced this brochure. It outlines a plan to expand currently protected lands to 50,000 acres and restore 21,000 of those.

Source: Katy Prairie Conservancy and Rice University SSPEED Center

The plan would absorb, slow, and store water in the Upper Cypress Creek Watershed. It also recommends detaining water near Cypress Creek by creating shallow detention on private lands with the help of willing landowners.

Likewise, by constructing retention and detention ponds in the Upper Addicks Watershed, even more floodwater could be stored and slowed down. The plan also includes the creation of retention corridors along Bear and South Mayde creeks. The retention corridors would serve as a buffer for floodwaters that threaten communities along the creeks. These projects will store up to 110,000 acre-feet of floodwater.

That’s the equivalent of a foot of rain falling over 172 square miles! And that’s 10% of Harris County!

Expand Addicks Reservoir Storage through Excavation

Addicks and Barker Reservoirs are valuable assets that need to be restored and enhanced. Storing additional floodwaters in Addicks Reservoir can keep homes upstream safe and prevent extreme releases that destroy downstream properties, according to the Conservancy and SSPEED.

Addicks Reservoir on May 20, 2021. Looking NW.

Put all these solutions together and the results look like the bar graph above.

The recommendations could easily hold back more water than Addicks had to release during Harvey.

Benefits Extend to Multiple Watersheds

During Harvey, so much water accumulated in the Cypress Creek watershed that it overflowed into the Addicks watershed. So, these recommendations could help reduce flood risk in superstorms along multiple streams, including Buffalo Bayou and Cypress Creek.

Plan includes excavation of additional capacity within Addicks with a goal of enhancing natural environment.

Other Interesting Statistics

The brochure also cites interesting statistics from other groups that touch on the plan. For instance, the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that every 1% increase in soil organic matter results in the soil holding an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre.

No One Solution

After studying flood reduction for almost five years now, I’ve concluded there is no silver bullet. No one solution will work for all situations. But every little bit helps. Multifaceted recommendations like these can ultimately reduce costs and increase effectiveness by harnessing the power of nature.

Natural solutions also provide numerous other benefits such as recreation and wildlife habitat.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/16/2022

1721 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Reality Check: Easy Way to Learn About Flood-Mitigation Projects in Your Area

It’s time for a reality check, folks. I meet regularly with Harris County residents from almost every watershed. Virtually all of them have one thing in common. Rich and poor alike see NO Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) projects in their watersheds. Yet as of the end of the first quarter, out of 181 total 2018 Bond Projects, 19 were completed, 141 were active, and only 21 had not been initiated.

Gap Between Perception, Reality

So what accounts for the gap between perception and reality?

  • Most projects are practically invisible from streets. They’re “hidden” behind fence lines, tree lines, gates, or often, under forest canopies.
  • They’re scattered over dozens to hundreds of square miles. Often, they happen outside of residents’ normal traffic patterns in unfamiliar neighborhoods.
  • Most people have only a sketchy idea of which watershed they live in.
  • People could drive by projects and not realize they were flood-control construction as opposed to some other kind.
  • The projects are often disguised as parks, wetlands or natural areas when finished.

I lunched last week with three people from Cypress Creek who swore that nothing was happening in their 205-square-mile watershed. But actually, within the watershed, HCFCD has spent:

  • $260 million since 2000, the fourth most of any watershed in Harris County.
  • $169 million since Harvey – more than any other watershed – period – since Harvey.

Simple, Three-Step Reality Check

So where did all the money go? Here’s an easy, three-step way to learn…that applies to any watershed in Harris County:

  1. Go to www.HCFCD.org
  2. If you know your watershed, select it from the list. If not, type your address in the search bar just above the list.
  3. You’ll be taken to a page that lists recent, current and planned projects in your watershed. Click through them and start digging down several levels to learn more about the status of each.

Want to verify the information? Make a list and get in your car. I did that this morning and checked out four Cypress Creek projects between the Katy Prairie and I-45.

It took an hour of planning, three hours of driving, and another 3 hours for drone photography. The hardest part was finding favorable drone launch sites near the projects. But sure enough, all the projects existed. Here’s what I found.

Katy-Hockley Wetlands Mitigation Bank

The Katy-Hockley Wetlands Mitigation Bank. 152 acres that will be part of a 440-acre tract set aside for wetlands mitigation. Note additional wetlands in the upper right and below.
Detail from upper left of first photo. At same site.

The property will remain protected under a conservation easement with the Katy Prairie Conservancy. The wetlands may be used in the future to offset unavoidable wetland impacts caused by other federally permitted projects.

T.C. Jester Stormwater Detention Basin

South of Cypresswood Drive, HCFCD has 171.5 acres of land split by T.C. Jester. Eventually, this whole area could become one large detention pond. The east side of TC Jester is still undergoing a preliminary engineering review, but excavation has already started on the west side.

East of T.C. Jester at Cypress Creek (foreground).
West side of T.C. Jester where excavation has already begun.
Start of excavation on west side of T.C. Jester.

The purpose of these projects: to construct stormwater detention on the main stem of Cypress Creek, which will work to reduce flood risks and damages during heavy rains.

A regional drainage study for the watershed found that flooding along tributaries of Cypress Creek is predominately caused by stormwater from a rising Cypress Creek backing up into tributaries. Stormwater detention basins could reduce that backwater.

The study recommends nearly 25,000 acre-feet of additional stormwater detention in the watershed. This one area could go a long way toward meeting that goal.

Cypress Creek Tributary K-163 Conveyance Improvements

At Timberlake Drive and Cypress North Houston Road, HCFCD is replacing a shallow, silted-in ditch with 8’x6′ reinforced concrete box culverts. Depending on the location along Timberlake, there are either two or three such box culverts side by side.

The project is replacing a portion of an existing earthen channel with 4,750 linear feet of boxed culverts, including inlets, junction boxes and tie-ins with subdivision outfalls.

This ditch was down to a two-year level of service and had flooded neighborhoods on both sides on multiple occasions.

The project will also include the installation of approximately 1,200 linear feet of erosion control for the channel downstream nearer the confluence with Cypress Creek in the distance.

Ridge Top Channel Improvements

Another ditch (K129-00-00) farther east parallels Ridge Top Drive in the Ponderosa Forest area of northwest Harris County.

Here, HCFCD replaced the concrete lining in the entire channel. That included about 3,800 linear feet from Saddlecreek Drive to Cypress Creek. The project also repaired multiple sinkholes or voids that had developed in some areas as a result of stormwater undermining the original channel lining. 

Major Maintenance by HCFCD on K129, a Cypress Creek Tributary
Early stages in the design of this project took place prior to the 2018 Bond Election. Construction began in October 2018 and was completed in January 2020.

More than Cypress Creek Projects in the Works

Altogether, I counted more than 20 projects in Cypress Creek at various stages of development. They included:

  • Swales for extreme rainfall events
  • Right-of-way acquisitions and floodplain preservation
  • Buyouts
  • Neighborhood projects
  • Stormwater detention basins in various stages of planning and construction
  • Channel conveyance restorations
  • Major maintenance projects

Knowing that improvements are happening sure beats living in fear that they aren’t. So do a reality check of the watershed around you.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/24/2021

1425 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.

I-45 Feeder Over Cypress Creek Is Cattywumpus

Ever since Harvey, Cypress Creek residents near I-45 have been caterwauling that the southbound feeder road is cattywumpus. For those who may not speak fluent Texan, that first word means “screaming” and the second means “skewed” or “out of alignment.”

So on my latest helicopter flight, I flew over the bridge to see what was up. Or down. Actually, the road bed appears level. And nothing has yet fallen into the creek.

However, aerial photos indicate that the bridge panels are indeed cattywumpus. Note how the side guardrails seem to be out of alignment. Also note uneven gaps in the bridge panels (tight on one side, wide on the other). Finally note the vegetation growing or stuck in the cracks, and the un-level bridge support – at bottom of center oval in row of three.

This image taken on 5/26/2021 and cropped from image below.
I-45 Southbound Feeder Road at Cypress Creek

For now, the bridge seems to be holding. But I’m not sure I would want to be the first one to drive over this after the next big flood.

During Harvey, residents say, this bridge went completely underwater. It appears that the force of the water lifted and twisted the bridge panels as much as 6 to 10 inches. However, TxDoT, the responsible authority in this case, has not yet fixed the issue.

Repairs Delayed

According to resident Frank Adamek, TxDoT originally said it would fix the bridge in 2020. Now, says Adamek, TxDoT says they hope to bid the job by the end of 2021 and start construction in March of 2022.

The bridge has other issues, too. Adamek says, the supports under the main lanes are 110 feet across. That allows trees swept downstream in floodwaters to pass through. However, the supports under the southbound feeder road are only 26 feet apart. Adamek says that they have caught trees and backed water up toward homes in the area.

Extreme events, such as Harvey, tend to reveal problems we didn’t even realize existed. Once you see them, though, they’re hard to forget. I, for one, intend to stay off that feeder road.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/2/2021

1373 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TWDB To Vote on Financial Assistance for Improving Taylor Gully Level of Service from 10 to 100 Years

In its May 6 board meeting tomorrow, the Texas Water Development Board will vote on whether to approve financial assistance from the Texas Flood Infrastructure Fund to widen and deepen Taylor Gully. That would increase the “level of service” from 10 to 100 years.

The channel would then be able to handle a 100-year rain without flooding instead of just a 10-year rain as it does now. And that would benefit more than 400 homes.

To put a ten-year rainfall into perspective, the eight inches received in two days last week by areas northwest of Lake Houston qualified as a ten-year year event. Luckily, the rain that fell over the Taylor Gully watershed only qualified as a 1- to 2-year rain.

Taylor Gully is the channel below Woodridge Village that experienced disastrous flooding twice in 2019 on May 7th and September 19th (during Imelda).

Explanation of Partnerships and Financing

The City of Houston has requested a $10.1 million loan for construction of the Taylor Gully project. The financial assistance that the TWDB will vote on would take the form of a purchase of City of Houston bonds.

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) would lead the project all the way through construction. The Flood Control District (and hopefully, federal money) will provide the balance of project funds up to $20.2 million out of Bond Project ID F-14 and a Community Project Funding request by US Congressman Dan Crenshaw.

The project will require a considerable amount of upfront work that includes engineering, design, surveying, geotechnical work, environmental permitting and more. The project won’t be ready for actual construction for at least a year. And the City cannot tap into a construction loan until construction starts.

Therefore, the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) will use County money to cover those upfront costs, according to Alan Black, Director of Operations for HCFCD. Some land acquisition may also be necessary, though that has not been fully investigated yet.

Congressman Dan Crenshaw has requested federal dollars to help supplement HCFCD funds for the Taylor Gully and Kingwood Diversion Ditch improvements identified in the Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis. Federal dollars could help stretch local dollars to help develop more projects. (See below about Cypress Creek projects.)

Crucial TWDB to Vote Tomorrow

But everything hinges on the City’s application for a loan from the Texas Flood Infrastructure fund. The City’s request will be #6 on the TWDB meeting agenda. Here is the packet for the board that explains the proposal. It includes cost breakdowns and a timetable, which will likely be accelerated according to project insiders.

The TWDB staff has recommended that the board approve the project.

TWDB

The Taylor Gully watershed currently has a 10-year level of service because the area upstream has undergone significant development with limited flood mitigation or detention.

Elm Grove debris pile from Imelda flood. This is one of hundreds of homes that flooded near Taylor Gully.

The proposed project includes improvements along the Taylor Gully channel to upgrade the conveyance capacity to provide a 100-year level of service. The improvements include channel widening, deepening, and lining. The project will benefit more than 400 structures. 387 will see direct benefit during 100-year inundations. An additional 62 structures benefit indirectly.

How to Attend the TWDB Meeting

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) meeting to consider approving financial assistance for Flood Infrastructure Fund projects will be held on Thursday, May 6, at 9:30 a.m. There are two ways that the public and interested stakeholders may attend the Board meeting:  

  1. Via GoToWebinar 
  2. Via AdminMonitor.

A recording of the meeting will also be available.

If you wish to address the Board, please fill out the visitor registration form and send it to Cheryl.Arredondo@twdb.texas.gov no later than 8:00 a.m. on May 6. For more information, please visit the TWDB’s website.

This link explains how the TWDB closing process works on loans.

Credits

State Senator Brandon Creighton sponsored the bill that created the state’s Flood Infrastructure Fund in the 2019 legislature. This link tracks expenditures from the Flood Infrastructure Fund. To date, the TWDB has committed almost $200 million from the fund.

The TWDB has recognized the importance of the project. The City of Houston is putting up the lion’s share of the money for the project. HCFCD is fronting the upfront costs and half of construction dollars. And Congressman Dan Crenshaw is helping to stretch local dollars by supplementing them with federal funds.

HCFCD, Crenshaw Also Working on Cypress Creek Improvements

Crenshaw’s funding request would also help fund the Westador and TC Jester Detention Basins on Cypress Creek. Those are two large basins being planned by HCFCD. Together they would hold about 1,600 acre-feet of stormwater.

To put that in perspective, 1,600 acre feet is enough to contain a foot of rain falling over 2.4 square miles. That could provide benefits both upstream and down. More news to follow on those projects.

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 5, 2021

1345 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 594 since Imelda

West Fork Still Running Siltier Than Spring Creek

After 3.5 years since Harvey and dozens of helicopter flights up and down the West Fork of the San Jacinto, it never ceases to amaze me. Despite sediment gage readings that say more silt is coming from Spring and Cypress Creeks than the West Fork, the West Fork appears siltier the vast majority of the time.

Misleading Data Used to Kill Meaningful Legislation

Here’s what the West Fork looked like today. Definitely siltier.

West Fork comes down from top of frame, Spring and Cypress Creeks from right. Photo taken 3/3/2021 from near US59 bridge, looking north.

Approximately 20 squares miles of sand mines line the West Fork. Problem is, the one sediment gage on the West Fork is upstream from virtually all of the mines. But most people don’t understand that. And that lack of understanding has allowed the mines to claim for decades that they are not the dominant source of sediment.

I’ve even heard miners testify on multiple occasions in the state legislature to that effect. That’s how they managed to kill best-practices legislation and minimum setbacks in the legislature in 2019.

When Brown & Root, the SJRA, City of Houston, Montgomery County, and Harris County Flood Control all cite the same misleading statistics, what’s an ordinary citizen to do?

Only a Sediment Gage Below Sand Mines Will Tell Whether This is Serious

To be fair, the engineers and hydrologists point out that the silt you see above and below may float out into Galveston Bay.

But I would also point out that:

  • The giant sand bar above didn’t exist before Harvey.
  • Neither did the multiple sand bars blocking the West Fork up to 90% (according to the Army Corps) after Harvey.
  • A misrepresentative gage placement, no matter how many times you repeat the sample in different studies, will always yield the same sampling error.
  • Most sediment moves during floods and far more sand is exposed to floodwater on the West Fork.

Finally, I would point out that the dikes of sand mines routinely breach and many mines routinely pump sediment laden water into the West Fork.

The point is: we will never really know what’s going on here until we get a gage downstream from the sand mines.

Photos of same location taken from different angles in previous months. In each case, the West Fork is siltier.

Time Of Essence

When I pointed out the data error caused by a misrepresentative gage location, the partners in the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Study promised to re-evaluate claims they made based on the gage. The originally found, as did Brown & Root, that the vast majority of the sediment is coming from Spring and Cypress Creeks – based on the gage upstream of the sand mines. They also promised to consider installing a new gage downstream from the mines. But nothing has happened yet. And we’re already well into this legislative session.

Until changes are actually made to the study and a new gage is added, I fear the same miners may again repeat the same self-serving and misleading statistics in the legislature. That’s how they have killed bills that could help clean up our water more than once.

We’re now into the third month of the legislative session. And until the San Jacinto Master Drainage Plan consultants modify their findings, we’re all at risk. People will likely reference that study for another two decades, just as they have referenced Brown & Root’s. So this is important. Tick tock.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/3/2021

1282 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Developing Problem

A Guest Post by Paul Eschenfelder and George Peckham of CyCreekStopTheFlooding.com

It’s the heart of the storm season.  It’s going to be an interesting next several weeks as we look toward the sea.  Buy flood insurance.  ANY place in Harris County can flood, don’t be another surprised flooding victim.  “I’ve never flooded before” will not get you much sympathy anymore, we have heard it too much.  

Rice U Assesses Cypress Creek Situation

In 1984 Dr. Phil Bedient, of Rice University, wrote his first research paper on flooding along Cypress Creek.  At the time he said the cause was too much development with no place for the water to go.  In 2018 Dr. Bedient, as head of Rice’s Severe Storms Center, wrote another paper on flooding on Cypress Creek.  

He said the cause was too much development with no place for the water to go – too much run off.  

One of his co-authors told us that even if a dam was erected on the creek at 290, and another dam erected at the junction with Little Cypress Creek, the main stem of the creek would still flood.  Too much run off, no place for the water to go.  And too much unbridled development.

We all bewailed the Arizona developer who brought eight (8) feet of fill onto the 50 acres at the Vintage, on Vintage Preserve Pkwy., to build apartments.  He installed detention to capture the run off on that 50 acres, but what of the water that used to pool there during floods, where does it go?  He produced an engineering study saying “no adverse impact”, but where does that water go?

Rebuilding Next to Buyouts!

We recently visited a Harris County home buy out focus site in Saracen Park on Cypress Creek.  There were several vacant lots where residents had sold out to FEMA to escape repeated flooding.  Immediately adjacent to these properties, which were purchased with federal tax dollars, was a new home being constructed.  It was a spec home being erected by a builder – “for sale by owner”.  The County verified that the builder had the proper permits to build in the floodway.  Not flood plain, floodway – the stream channel.  

Is There No Other Land?

Harris County allows building in the stream channel.  Why?  Is there no other land?  Or is this land just really cheap because it’s in the floodway?  Why spend tax dollars to buy out properties and, in turn, allow more properties to be built there?  What sense does this make?  Who are the stewards of our tax money?  

Harris County is one of the few places in the country which allows building in the floodway.  As one of our state representatives told us, it is difficult to obtain state funding for flood mitigation in Harris County when other representatives from around the state ask: “Well, why ya’ll allow building in the flood plain, anyhow?”  How does one answer that?

Fill Without Permit and Slap-on-Wrist Fine

At the corner of Cypresswood Drive and Champions Forest Drive a developer, Don Hand, recently brought in 5-6 feet of fill to build up his lot for a construction project.  

He didn’t bother to obtain a permit.  There was no detention built and no consideration for his neighbors.  

If a tropical storm had arrived, the water would have cascaded off that lot into the Chase branch bank, crossed the street into the Mormon Temple, flooded the Conservatory parking lot, inundated Cypresswood Drive and perhaps entered the Kroger, again.  Citizen outrage caused the County to ‘red flag’ his construction.  

The County was required to go to court to obtain an injunction to stop this developer and require the fill to be removed.  It was a pyritic victory.  The penalty assessed under the law against this type of dangerous develop is $100/day.  Little wonder the dirt is still there – it’s cheaper to pay the fine than remove it.  

3600 Building Permits Issued Along Cypress Creek Since 1997

Development continues apace along Cypress Creek.  Community Impact’s investigation into development along the creek indicates that since the 1997 county standards were adopted, there have been over 3,600 new building permits issued along the creek.  More impervious surface, less room for the water.  

Subsidizing Developers with Taxpayer Dollars

The Greater Houston Flood Consortium’s 2017 report on flooding and building standards recited that “…not requiring new development to fully mitigate its impacts would essentially be a subsidy for that development, reducing the cost of building but ultimately requiring taxpayers to pay for more new flood mitigation infrastructure and saddling downstream residents with flood-related property damages.”

The Politics of Development

How did we get so far out of balance?  For a century builders & developers have had a powerful hold on Houston and Harris County.  Recall the 1960s mayor of Houston, Louie Welch, and his statement: “The business of Houston is business”.  No zoning, weak regulation.  

Another reason is money.  County regulations are approved by Commissioner’s Court.  In 2018 a Houston Chronicle investigative report indicated that all four commissioners received at least 80% of their re-election funds from builders/developers/engineering firms.  While all the commissioners deny that these election contributions have any impact on their decisions, you can bet the donors get their phone calls returned.  

Luck Not a Strategy

Thus far in this very active hurricane season we have been lucky and dodged all the storms.  In flood mitigation, luck is not a strategy.  We must have flood infrastructure.  Three years after Harvey, four years after Tax Day, not a shovel of dirt has turned on Cypress Creek.  But we must also have reasonable rules which look after not only developer profits, but public safety and security.  Tell your friends, tell you neighbors, tell your elected representatives.  Let’s start that conversation.

By Paul Eschenfelder and George Peckham of cycreekstoptheflooding.com

1105 Days after Hurricane Harvey