Tag Archive for: Dave Martin

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

City Gets Favorable Ruling on BCR for Lake Houston Gates Project

During Harvey, 16,000 homes and 3,300 businesses in the Lake Houston Area flooded. Local leaders identified the disparity in release capacities between the Lake Conroe and Lake Houston Dams as one of the contributing factors to the severity of flooding. The floodgates on Lake Conroe can release water 15 times faster than the gates on Lake Houston. So, adding more floodgates to Lake Houston became one of the area’s primary mitigation goals.

New gates would let the City rapidly lower the water level of Lake Houston in advance of a storm to prevent or reduce upstream flooding.

gates for Lake Houston and Conroe
Lake Houston (l) and Lake Conroe gates (r). Conroe release capacity is 15X greater.

While the City of Houston initially obtained a $50 million grant from FEMA to add gates, two problems became apparent. The project cost more than anticipated and the benefits delivered did not justify the cost – at least the way FEMA was initially calculating them. However, a huge hurdle has been cleared.

The City of Houston has finally secured a favorable ruling from FEMA on a benefit-to-cost ratio, according to a press release from Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s office on 12/7/2022. The key was the FEMA administrator’s decision to allow the inclusion of social benefits, for instance, avoidance of disruptions to business, commerce, schools and the area’s tax base. Those brought the BCR up to 2.88, according to Martin.

Hurdle Removed: Project Now Federally Compliant

Earlier this summer, Martin announced challenges related to the Lake Houston Spillway Dam Improvement Project. The City needed to secure a benefit to cost ratio (BCR) between .75 and 1 and had examined multiple alternatives to find a favorable balance between costs and benefits.

Martin, Mayor Sylvester Turner and Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello met with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator to discuss the inequities of the Federal BCR formula associated with incorporation of social benefits.

As a result, Martin and Turner have announced that a large hurdle has been removed. The revised draft BCR for the Lake Houston Spillway Dam Improvement Project has been determined to be “federally compliant and is very favorable.”

The change affected the Lake Houston Gates and several other Houston stormwater projects including the massive, new Inwood Forest detention basin.

New BCR Based on Eleven Gates

Atkins, a City of Houston consultant, revised the BCR for an eleven-gate structure. The eleven gates will be built into the existing embankment on the east side of the Lake Houston Spillway Dam.

New gates would be added to the earthen portion of dam in foreground, not spillway at far end as originally planned.

Building the new gate structure in the east embankment removes the high construction risk of modifying the existing gate structure. It also allows continued use of the existing gate structure during construction, and eliminates the need for a coffer dam in the lake, according to Martin.

The new gates would likely align with the original course of the San Jacinto River, the channel on the left.

Cost Quadruples: Additional Funding Sources Now Necessary

The new preliminary cost estimate of $200 million exceeds the City’s original FEMA grant of $48 million.

Martin, Costello, and State Representative Dan Huberty have already met with the Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Phelan’s Director of Finance regarding additional funding. They have positioned the project as a “life and safety initiative” that affects the survival of the community and economy of the Lake Houston Area.

Martin has bi-partisan support already lined up for financing. Key partners this legislative session include:

  • Congressman Dan Crenshaw
  • State Senator Brandon Creighton
  • State Senator John Whitmire (who has already announced his intention to run for Houston mayor after Turner retires)
  • Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan
  • State Representative & Chair of Appropriations Dr. Greg Bonnen
  • State Representatives Charles Cunningham and Armando Walle.

Martin plans to work with Federal and State partners to ensure the cost of the Lake Houston Spillway Dam Project is fully funded before he leaves office in December 2023.

Said Martin, “Today a significant obstacle has been surpassed as this project moves forward through the financial process.” The new BCR should let federal, state, and local partners work toward fortifying the Lake Houston Area against future storms.

It would be unfair to call this a “start over.” A huge amount of engineering and analysis has gone into the project. However, challenges turned out to be greater than anyone anticipated after Harvey.

The original timetable from 12/16/19 showed the project completed by now. The fact that it is still alive is a tribute to the persistence of Martin, Turner, Costello and others.

Let’s look forward to the benefits, not backwards to the problems. People are working in the right direction. A huge obstacle has been eliminated. We just need to keep tackling new obstacles as they occur. Next step: the House and Senate.

I will post construction plans for the 11 gates and the Atkins’ BCR analysis as soon as the City supplies them; they promised they would.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/7/22

1926 Days since Hurricane Harvey

CWA Exploring Alternate Plan for Adding Lake Houston Dam Gates

Coastal Water Authority (CWA) recently posted minutes from its May 11th board meeting that reveal a possible new direction for adding more flood gates to the Lake Houston Dam. After months of discussing various crest gate alternatives to increase the release capacity of the dam, engineers will now focus on examining two tainter gate alternatives. One would add six tainter gates, the other twelve.

Neither alternative would modify the concrete portion of the spillway, as crest gates would. Black & Veatch, the engineering firm in charge of the project, will explore adding the tainter gates in the earthen embankment to the east of the existing spillway. See below, upper right.

Looking ENE at Lake Houston Dam. Black and Veatch is now exploring adding tainter gates to the earthen portion of the dam in the upper right.

The eastern embankment is a solid earthen area 2800 feet long east of the spillway and existing gates (see upper right of photo above). Water cannot get over it in a storm because it is so much higher than the spillway. By adding various structures in this area, engineers could widen the current spillway capacity, allowing release of more stormwater.

Tainter gates rotate up from a central pivot point. Crest gates rotate down from a bottom hinge, like a piano lid.

Minutes from May CWA Board Meeting

Item IV(B) on Page 3 of the May 11, 2022, minutes states, “…CWA, City of Houston (COH), and Black and Veatch (B&V) met on April 14, 2022. During that meeting the COH requested that an alternate gate location to the east of the existing gate structure be further [emphasis added] evaluated.”

Following the meeting, B&V developed a scope of work to update the gate concepts and construction costs for this area. The COH provided comments and B&V modified its proposal. B&V reportedly began work on the new direction by June 1.

Additional Funding Needed

Each of the new alternatives would require additional funding; neither fit within the existing budget, according to the CWA staff. COH Public Works will pay for the new evaluation.

Wayne Klotz, P.E. and President of the CWA Board, reminded everyone present that COH owns the dam and is the FEMA grantee for this project, while CWA works for and takes direction from COH.

Minutes from the June CWA meeting have not yet been posted. The last post about gates on the COH District E website was almost a year ago on July 8, 2021.

7/4/22 Screen Capture from District E Website.

However, City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin did take questions on the project at an April 2022 community meeting. At the time, Martin expected to have a final answer on gates in a “September-ish” time frame.

Based on costs of the Addicks and Barker dam modifications by the Army Corps, some remain skeptical of any alternative for adding gates to the dam. The reason: budget and the Benefit/Cost Ratio.

Currently, the release capacity of tainter gates on the Lake Conroe Dam is 15X greater than those on the Lake Houston Dam (150,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) vs. 10,000 CFS.)

Concept Studied and Rejected Once Already

Adding gates to the eastern embankment was one of the original concepts evaluated. (See Column 5, Offsite Alternative #2, Column 5, Page 4.) But engineers focused on adding crest gates instead, largely because the total estimated costs for adding tainter gates at that time exceeded $90 million for a $50 million budget. However, the Army Corps also had environmental concerns about adding gates to the eastern embankment.

FEMA initially gave the City three years to complete the project (18 months for engineering and 18 for construction). Engineering began in April 2020.

No other details about May’s change in direction have been released to my knowledge.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/4/2022 based on minutes from the May CWA Board meeting

1770 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Mitigation Update: 3rd Anniversary of First Elm Grove Flood

Back in 2019, portions of Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest Villages flooded twice. The first time occurred on May 7th. According to Harris County Flood Control District’s (HCFCD) report on the storm, “A 30-min rate of 2.9 inches was recorded at US 59 and the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and a 1 hour rate of 4.0 inches.”

“380 structures were flooded in the Elm Grove Village subdivision and other nearby subdivisions in the northern portions of Kingwood.”

Investigation by HCFCD the following day revealed that “… the flooding was potentially caused by development upstream in Montgomery County that sent large volumes of sheetflow into the subdivisions and Taylor Gully.” This video shows the sheetflow pouring out Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village property into homes along Village Springs Drive.

Perry contractors had clearcut 267 acres without installing the required detention ponds when the rain hit.

In the three years that followed, I posted 242 reports about every aspect of that flood and a second one during Imelda. The second flood affected two to three times more homes in the same areas.

The floods triggered multiple lawsuits which Perry Homes, its subsidiaries and contractors finally settled late in 2021.

What It Looked Like

Shady Maple the night of the May 7 2019 flood
Escape. In Elm Grove on Shady Maple the night of the May 7, 2019 flood.
High water rescue
Rustling Elms Bridge in Elm Grove underwater as school bus tries to cross it.
Water in Keith Stewart's home on Shady Maple after May 7th flood in 2019.
Water rising at night in Keith Stewart’s home on Shady Maple after May 7th flood in 2019.

Catalog of Flood Mitigation Efforts

Ever since the Elm Grove floods, Harris County, HCFCD, the City of Houston, Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s team and others have worked diligently to reduce future flood risk.

On this Mother’s Day weekend, it may bring flooded families comfort to understand how far we have come. Much remains to do, but much has already been done, or at least started.

Major Maintenance on Taylor Gully

Even before the second flood, HCFCD undertook a major maintenance project on Taylor Gully to remove accumulated sediment and restore channel conveyance.

The project began in 2019. Work extended downstream to the natural portion of the channel. It finished in 2021.

Taylor Gully maintenance
HCFCD working to remove sediment buildup in Taylor Gully near the Maple Bend Bridge in January of 2021. The work began upstream near Rustling Elms in July 2019.

Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis and Taylor Gully Study

In 2019-20, HCFCD, Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (TIRZ 10), and City of Houston teamed up to conduct a drainage analysis for all streams in the Kingwood area. A recommendation to prioritize engineering of drainage improvements along Taylor Gully (including Woodridge) came out of that study.

The Flood Control District began preliminary engineering study on the Taylor Gully improvements in 2021. HCFCD anticipates presenting results during late summer or early fall this year.

Purchase of Woodridge Village By County and City

In early 2021, the Flood Control District and the City of Houston partnered to acquire the 267.35-acre Woodridge Village property for approximately $14 million.

They closed on the purchase of Woodridge Village in March 2021.

Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin lobbied the City to purchase about 70 acres of the property.

HCFCD will use the remaining 194.35 acres of the Woodridge site for stormwater detention. That will help reduce flood risk.

Crenshaw Earmarks

Congressman Dan Crenshaw secured an earmark for $1.6 million for engineering of flood mitigation improvements along Taylor Gully. The engineering should shrink the floodplain. That will effectively remove 387 structures from the floodplain and has the potential to remove another 62.

Crenshaw also has another earmark pending for $10 million to actually construct the improvements recommended by the study.

Local groups must spend earmarks during the fiscal year in which Congress approves them. So funding can’t get too far ahead of the engineering.

Taylor Gully Preliminary Engineering Study

The Taylor Gully study will look at Woodridge in conjunction with other potential Taylor Gully improvements. However, HCFCD must perform additional preliminary engineering to further evaluate specific alternatives for Woodridge and determine the best. 

During each study, HCFCD will hold Community Engagement Meetings to present alternatives and gather feedback.

Excavation & Removal Contract

In January 2022, HCFCD began work on a Woodridge Excavation and Removal (E&R) project.

Start of the new floodwater detention basin that could double the capacity on Woodridge Village.This pond should ultimately expand beyond the lone trees in the middle of the frame near the top. Photo taken 4/30/22.

E&R projects provide a head start on the excavation process and risk reduction. They can start before the design of a stormwater detention basin. Contractors excavate a set amount of material within an agreed-upon timeframe and general area.

The excavation can also potentially provide interim stormwater storage while awaiting the design and construction of the final stormwater detention basin.

As of April 30, 2022, 36,421 cubic yards of material has already been removed from the site. See photo above taken that day. The project will remove as much as 500,000 cubic yards of soil and other material.

Woodridge will remain an active construction zone for up to three years.

Have a Happy Mother’s Day this weekend.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/6/2022

1711 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 1096 Days since May 7, 2019

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.

Martin Updates Community on Additional Gates for Lake Houston

Perhaps no flood-mitigation project has generated more interest in the Lake Houston Area recently than the addition of more flood gates to the Lake Houston Dam. In recent months, as engineers worked on the project’s benefit/cost ratio, information about the project became hard to find. That fueled rumors.

But Tuesday night, at the Kingwood Community Center, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin put many of those rumors to rest. He denied the project was on hold, reaffirmed the City’s commitment to the project, and outlined the three main issues that engineers are currently grappling with.

Issues Still Being Evaluated

The main issues include:

  • Safety concerns about cutting into the concrete of a dam that’s almost 70 years old.
  • Getting the benefit/cost ratio up.
  • Finding a suitable alternative that significantly reduces flood risk within the budget.

Martin elaborated on each. Regarding:

Safety concerns – He described the risks of cutting into it to install crest gates. Among them, he said engineers worried about structural stability of the dam after construction. Accordingly, they are recommending significant reinforcement of the concrete. He also hinted that contractors might not bid on the project for fear of the potential liability.

Benefit/Cost Ratio – He said that the higher-than-expects costs on of some alternatives drove the BCR down, and that that was driving the exploration of additional alternatives. He did say, however, that FEMA allows including “social benefits” when the BCR is between .75 and 1.0. The inclusion of social benefits still must yield a BCR of 1.0 or greater. On a separate note, a federal employee told me that the Biden administration may change this policy. So significant uncertainty still exists re: calculation of the BCR.

Budget – He implied that some alternatives under consideration became non-starters because of high costs and inflation.

Alternatives Still Under Consideration

So, the search for a suitable alternative that meets all objectives continues. Among the options still in the running, Martin mentioned crest gates on the west side of the dam and adding a tainter gate to the earthen, eastern portion.

Martin shared a timetable that shows construction beginning in November. However, FEMA must approve the benefit/cost ratio before they release construction funds.

Schedule for adding gates to Lake Houston, first shown in July 2021. Also shown on 4/19/2022. Martin emphasized the schedule has not changed, but could.

Background of Project

At the peak of Harvey, 425,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) went over the dam’s spillway. That’s five times the average flow of Niagra Falls. Floodwater backed up so far that it flooded thousands of homes and businesses. It also killed 13 people in the Lake Houston Area, 12 of them in one retirement center.

The release of 80,000 CFS from Lake Conroe contributed almost a fifth of the water going over the spillway. Lake Conroe gates can release 150,000 CFS while Lake Houston’s can release only 10,000 CFS. The disparity in release capacity caused many to ask whether more gates on Lake Houston could reduce flooding.

Martin pointed out that when water gets high enough in Lake Houston, it can escape over a 2,000-foot-wide spillway. However, more gates could play a role in a pre-release strategy.

Pre-releasing water from Lake Houston in advance of major storms, as the City does now, creates extra capacity in the lake so that it can absorb more water without flooding homes and businesses. This strategy (coupled with the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe) has worked effectively since Harvey and prevented flooding on more than one occasion.

Time Vs. Release Capacity Vs. Water Preservation

However, right now, it takes so long to release water from Lake Houston that storms can sometimes veer away and miss us after the lowering starts. Thus, water could be wasted. But bigger gates would let dam operators release the same volume of water in less time, so operators would not have to start releasing water so far in advance. In other words they would have a higher degree of confidence that the the storm would not veer away and that release was worthwhile.

Martin reassured people that:

  • Smaller (i.e., less costly) floodgates can lower Lake Houston sufficiently if given enough time
  • The lake usually refills quickly
  • Even if it doesn’t, the City can always call for the release of water from Lake Conroe.

We should know within a few months whether Black & Veatch, the engineering company leading the project, has succeeded in designing additional gates within the budget that meet all other objectives.

Staying on the schedule above will be ambitious. FEMA must approve the BCR before releasing money for construction.

Posted by Bob Rehak on April 21, 2022

1696 Days since Hurricane Harvey

City De-Silting Channel Under Kingwood Drive Near High School

Last week, the City of Houston started clearing debris from the culverts under Kingwood Drive near Kingwood High School. Local flood-fighter Chris Bloch has been working for years behind the scenes to document drainage issues such as this one and convince local officials to address them.

Un-named and Long-Forgotten Tributary Finally Getting Attention

One of Bloch’s latest investigations has been an uncatalogued and long-ignored channel under Kingwood Drive. It helps drain Kingwood High School into Bens Branch. But it doesn’t show up anywhere on Harris County Flood Control District maps.

HCFCD’s Flood Education Mapping Tool. Red oval indicated approximate area of uncatalogued ditch.

Two Feet of Sediment Block Culverts Under Kingwood Drive

Bloch says, “The channel originates at Kingwood High School’s athletic fields. The ditch is narrow and full of sediment and vegetation. Side channels, which empty into this ditch, are also full of sediment and vegetation. This is the only ditch providing storm water drainage from the high school campus.”

The high school building suffered $67 million in damages during Harvey and lost another $10 million in contents.

The ditch in question passes through three culverts under the Westbound lanes of Kingwood Drive. They are obstructed by 24 inches of sediment and debris. See below.

Blocked culverts under Kingwood Drive are finally being cleared. Photo courtesy of Chris Bloch.

“Debris indicates stormwater runoff from the campus passes over Kingwood Drive due to the poor conveyance capacity of this ditch.”

Chris Bloch, Kingwood Resident and Retired Engineer

“If cleared of sediment, the cross section area of the three culverts would total 60 square feet.

More Blockages Downstream

After crossing under Kingwood Drive, the ditch funnels water into a 24-inch corrugated plastic culvert. That carries it across the Kingwood Country Club Driving Range. “This cross-sectional flow area of this culvert is only about 5% of the total area of the three culverts that pass under Kingwood Drive,” says Bloch.

Later, as the ditch crosses two fairways on its way to Bens Branch, sediment and vegetation again partially block it. They also partially block the three culverts under Centerpoint’s easement near Bens Branch.

Bloch believes, “Maintenance and improvement of this ditch upstream of these outfalls would significantly improve drainage of the high school campus.”

Ensuring Long-Term Maintenance

“Although the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) has no property rights for this channel, the District may be willing to partner with property owners to improve drainage,” says Bloch. “The original channel was reported to have been installed by Humble ISD (HISD) prior to the existence of the driving range.”

Bloch says he has been communicating with HISD, HCFCD and the City of Houston about the poor condition of this ditch since 2020. “I recently communicated with Mayor Pro Tem Martin’s office about this ditch and spoke with Mayor Pro Tem Martin himself about it. The de-silting is another small step forward for flood mitigation in Kingwood. I appreciate the involvement of Mayor Pro Tem Martin.”

“Recently, HCFCD indicated they would be willing to partner with the property owners of this ditch to improve drainage. Hopefully, once the City completes the sediment removal of the channel on the Kingwood Drive right of way, HISD and the Country Club can get together with the HCFCD to improve drainage across the Country Club property to Bens Branch,” says Bloch.

To see Bloch’s full report, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak with thanks to Chris Bloch and Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin

1650 Days since Hurricane Harvey

City Inspector Finds No Problems At RV Park. 311 Says “Case Closed.” Martin’s Office Says “Not So Fast.”

After photos showed clear construction permit violations at the Laurel Springs RV Resort, a City inspector said he found no problems there. Then, 311 closed the case. But Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s office said another group was investigating. Martin’s chief of staff did not elaborate.

Discharging Silty Stormwater into County Park

On Saturday, I photographed the contractor digging a trench to let silty stormwater out of the detention pond into Harris County Precinct 4’s Edgewater Park.

stormwater runoff
RV Park Drains its construction pond into Harris County Precinct 4’s new Edgewater Park in background.

This violated the terms of the developer’s construction permit. The trees behind the trench belong to Harris County Precinct 4 Park System. And the construction permit clearly states that “stormwater runoff shall not cross property line.”

Note first sentence on approved drainage plan.

Discharging across property lines also violates state law. See Chapter 11.086 of the state water code.

Then on Monday morning, I photographed the contractor covering up pipe that creates a permanent outfall onto County property.

Contractors laying pipe under wall of detention pond to send stormwater into Edgewater Park
Contractors covering up pipe that will convey future discharges. Photographed yesterday.

So I filed a complaint with the City’s 311 system at the request of Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s District E staff.

Finally, today (Tuesday morning), I tried to photograph the drain/trench again. But contractors had covered it up and repaired the dike. If you hadn’t seen the previous pictures, you would never suspect a drainpipe was there (except for some black silt fencing around the intake which will be taken down).

By Tuesday morning, contractors had repaired the pond wall. Area circled in red is the outfall, covered with water.

Extent of Silty Runoff

The silty stormwater ran almost all the way down to Hamblen Road.

Water should have gone under Laurel Springs Lane and into the detention pond above via COH storm sewer. However, the contractor discharged it into the park instead. Note sediment-laden water in foreground.
A large portion of the park appears to be inundated with silty discharge.
Looking north toward detention pond on RV site from over Edgewater Park. Note silty water in foreground.

City Inspector Found No Violations

As I reviewed Tuesday’s images, I received an email from 311 saying the inspector found no problems and that 311 had closed the case. Obviously, the 311 operator didn’t clearly communicate the nature of my complaint. It was about stormwater runoff and construction-permit violations, not a fence line encroachment.

And clearly, the inspector didn’t:

  • Look at the approved drainage plan that showed the outfall should be going into the City storm sewer under Laurel Springs Lane.
  • Understand that draining water onto neighbor’s property violates the construction permit and state regulations.
  • Know the trees below the construction site belong to the County Park. He thought they belonged to the contractor. (See below.)
Response from 311 to complaint about construction stormwater violations. No pictures were attached despite text of email.

Inspector Felt Discharging into County Park Was Best Management Practice

To add insult to injury, the inspector characterized discharging into Edgewater Park’s vegetation as a contractor best management practice (BMP). Obviously, he thought the trees belonged to the contractor. He didn’t bother to explore who owned the land below the construction site or how far south the discharge had traveled.

Responses like this give the City a black eye.

I immediately emailed Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s office about the 311 response. Jessica Beemer, his chief of staff, responded that the case wasn’t really closed. She said a different group had been assigned to investigate the complaint. But, as of this writing, she did not elaborate.

The TCEQ hopes to respond to a separate complaint by tomorrow. And I met several Harris County employees investigating the construction this morning in response to other complaints.

Stay tuned. More news to follow. This isn’t over yet.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/1/2022

1617 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.

Special City Meeting Thursday At 2 PM Will Address Multi-Family Housing Flap

City of Houston called a special joint committee meeting for Thursday, October 7, at 2PM between Budget & Fiscal Affairs and Housing and Community Affairs. Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin will chair the meeting.

The agenda is scant. It entails a Housing and Community Development “Financial Update” with three speakers:

  • Keith Bynam, Deputy Director, Housing and Community Development
  • Temika Jones, Chief Financial Officer, Housing and Community Development
  • Andy Icken, Chief Development Officer, Mayor’s Office

I asked Mayor Pro Tem Martin for more detail. He replied, “Fiduciary update on City of Houston Housing, specifically CDBG and DR-17, and the status of the investigation from the City Attorney regarding his decision to bring in outside Firms and appropriate resources to ensure independence and completeness.”

Turner Vigorously Denies Allegations

The last part about the City Attorney refers to a self-investigation Mayor Sylvester Turner launched in the wake of explosive allegations by Tom McCasland, Housing and Community Development’s former director. Turner fired McCasland two weeks ago after McCasland accused the Mayor of improperly influencing the award of a housing grant. The Mayor skipped over the top seven recommendations by McCasland’s department to pick the eighth ranked project. The Mayor’s selection would have delivered one quarter of the affordable housing for basically the same price as the four projects recommended by the Department of Housing and Community Development. It just happened to turn out that the Mayor’s former law partner, Barry Barnes, is also a stakeholder in the eighth ranked project.

Turner vigorously denies any charges of impropriety and asked the City Attorney to investigate. However, the appointment of an appointed official to do the investigation was panned by the media.

Since then, the Texas General Land Office (GLO), HUD and the Harris County Attorney have each launched separate investigations. And now it appears that the City Attorney will also bow to public pressure by appointing an outside investigator.

Documents At Heart of Controversy

I spent the better part of the day reviewing complex documents in this case. I will post them below with some brief comments for those who like to refer to original source materials.

  • The 110-page contract between the GLO and City of Houston for $835 million. This is a subset of the $1.2 billion original contract that became the subject of a lawsuit between the same two parties last year. It lays out the expectations for each party, allocates totals to each program, sets performance goals for each, and lists deadlines. The Mayor signed it on Page 104.
  • A letter from the GLO to Keith Bynam, Interim Director of Housing and Community Development. It requested a review of the City’s Multi-Family Rental Program, starting no later than September 29, 2021.
  • The agenda for a review and a list of requested documents. Some of the acronyms in this may be puzzling. MQA stands for “Monitoring Quality Assurance.” MFRP stands for Multi-Family Rental Program. Page 4 lists the purpose of the review. Page 5 lists the scope. Page 11 lists the items that the City had not yet supplied as of 9/30/2021. Page 12 explains regulations that could penalize the City if it fails to provide the requested records.
  • The 40-page 2021 Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) refers to Round 3 of the Disaster Recovery (DR-17) and Multifamily Program. It lays out the ground rules and selection criteria for the controversial Clear Lake apartment complex preferred by the Mayor. This was the “report card” for companies submitting proposals. It told them how they were going to be graded – i.e., what would increase or decrease their chances of success. It includes such factors as “flood resilience,” “experience,” “project readiness,” “cost reasonableness,” “disaster-recovery construction standards,” “location relative to the floodway,” and more.

Significantly, in the last document, the City’s Chief Procurement Officer, Jerry Adams, promises, “Bid proposals will be reviewed, underwritten and scored to select awardees based on a predetermined set of criteria outlined in the NOFA.”

Is There a Contract?

Yes and No.

No, in that a contract has not been signed with the Mayor’s hand-picked developer. The developer has not been paid any money. GLO has not even received a recommendation yet as to the developer. Everything blew up on the launching pad before things got that far.

However, the GLO and HUD contend that the NOFA is a contract. It obligates the City to solicit proposals according to criteria that have been agreed to beforehand.

The documentation calls into question whether bypassing seven higher scoring proposals in favor of a lower scoring project might violate the NOFA and federal procurement process regulations.

Here are some important federal requirements listed in the Code of Federal Regulations under 2 CFR Part 200:

  • Appendix I to Part 200 – Full Text of Notice of Funding Opportunity: “The intent is to make the application process transparent so applicants can make informed decisions when preparing their applications to maximize fairness of the process.” (E. Application Review Information)
  • § 200.319 Competition: “All procurement transactions for the acquisition of property or services required under a Federal award must be conducted in a manner providing full and open competition consistent with the standards of this section and § 200.320.

Additionally, in CONTRACT NO. 21-134-000-C788 above (section 8.05, page 19), the City of Houston agreed to strictly adhere to sections 318-326 of 2 CFR Part 200.

From that perspective, there was and is a contract. As this controversy plays out, the contract question will likely play a central role. Don’t be fooled if someone says, “There was no contract.” Clarify what that means.

To View Special Meeting Thursday At 2PM

To view the Microsoft Teams Live Meeting, go to: https://tinyurl.com/JOINTMTGBFAHOU.

Presentation handouts may be available at: https://www.houstontx.gov/council/committees/bfa.html. As of this posting, no handouts were available.

This meeting will also be broadcast on HTV, the City of Houston’s Municipal Channel.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/6/2021

1499 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.

Floodgate, Dredging Plans Unveiled

At one of the first large public meetings since Covid began, several hundred people crowded into the Kingwood Community Center last night. They came to see the City unveil floodgate and dredging plans for Lake Houston. Stephen Costello, PE, the City’s Chief Recovery Officer, addressed dredging. And Chris Mueller, PhD, PE, of engineering firm Black & Veatch discussed adding more floodgates to the Lake Houston Dam. Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin coordinated the meeting.

To see both presentations, click here. Or see the summaries below.

Dredging: About Half Done

In late 2019, the Army Corps finished hydraulic dredging in the area south of the West Fork mouth bar. Then in early 2020, the City of Houston began mechanical dredging to extend the effort. In terms of the estimated dollars designated for dredging, the effort is about halfway done.

The first four rows on this chart are done or almost done. They total $114 million out of a projected total of $222 million.

The last two rows on the chart above are estimates because they depend on bids currently in progress and a long-range plan not yet complete. The need for a long-term plan and maintenance dredging were identified early on by the Army Corps so that any benefits of dredging were not immediately wiped out by future sedimentation.

Scope of Long-Range Dredging Plan Still in Development

A long-range dredging plan for Lake Houston is critical. We must understand where the sediment comes from, how fast it builds up, where it builds up, and the consequences of not removing it periodically.

The numbered dots in the photo above show channels south of the East and West Forks draining into Lake Houston where sediment can also build up.

Costello says the City is currently working with affected homeowner associations to discuss cost-sharing arrangements.

He also says that the City must identify a long-range site for depositing the spoils that is suitable for hydraulic dredging. He called the mechanical dredging now in progress “not sustainable.” Currently, the City is using Berry Madden’s property on the West Fork south of Kingwood’s River Grove Park to deposit the mechanical dredging spoils. That’s a long haul for barges on the East Fork.

Next Dredging Steps: Channel to East Fork and East Fork Itself

Contractors must next deepen the channel between the West and East Forks of the San Jacinto to move dredging equipment and spoils back and forth (see below).

Current location of dredging is near yellow dot.

From there, dredgers will move slightly north of where Luce Bayou (far right) enters the East Fork and begin dredging the East Fork mouth bar. See large circle above. The map shows that area grew shallower by up to nine feet between 2011 and 2018. Imelda, in September 2019, made it grow even shallower. Note the fresh deposits of sand in the photo below now poking up above the water.

Growth of East Fork Mouth Bar after Imelda in September 2019. Photo taken in November 2019.

Additional Floodgates for Lake Houston Dam

Chris Mueller of Black & Veatch then discussed the reasons for adding additional floodgates to Lake Houston, preliminary engineering findings, and an implementation schedule.

The primary objective: to increase the outflow capacity of the dam to reduce the risk of future flooding. However, he emphasized that reducing the risk for people upstream of the dam cannot have an adverse impact on people below it. See below.

He emphasized that Lake Houston is, first and foremost, a drinking water reservoir. He also emphasized that the dam is almost seventy years old and near the end of its useful life. Significant safety issues exist in working with such old concrete.

Calculating the Benefit/Cost Ratio of Additional Floodgates

Mueller then explained how FEMA calculates the benefit/cost ratio of additional floodgates.

  • On the benefit side, it considers: the reduction in water surface level; how many buildings and streets that will prevent from flooding; reduced societal impacts; and reduced impacts to business revenues. These are primarily damage costs avoided.
  • On the cost side of the equation, FEMA factors in construction costs and annual operation and maintenance costs.

To win project approval, the City must show that the benefits of additional floodgates exceed the costs in a 100-year storm, similar to Imelda. Such a storm elevates the lake 10 feet.

The peak inflow to Lake Houston in a 100-year storm: 286,000 cubic feet per second (CFS), enough to fill the Astrodome in 3 minutes! However, during Harvey, SJRA estimated the peak inflow at 400,000 cfs.

Proposed Alternative Produces 11-Inch Benefit Nearest Dam

A hydrologic and hydraulic analysis conducted by Black & Veatch will help prove up the benefit/cost analysis. The San Jacinto Watershed (including Buffalo Bayou) includes flow from eight counties.

In evaluating about ten alternatives for adding floodgates, Black & Veatch considered both cost and non-cost factors listed below.

The company’s first choice was to install additional gates on the earthen portion of the dam on the east side. But environmental considerations there would have delayed the project by a decade or more.

So they decided to recommend a 1,000 feet of crest gates on the west side of the spillway instead. See example of crest gates in operation below.

An air bladder near a bottom hinge raises or lowers the floodgates to let water in/out

Such gates would increase the discharge capacity to 45,000 cfs, more than four times the current capacity of 10,000 cfs. That’s still only about a third of the discharge capacity of the floodgates on Lake Conroe. But according to Martin, that would still be enough to lower the level of the lake 4 feet in 24 hours.

However, before floodgate construction can begin, engineers must evaluate:

  • Downstream impacts and how to mitigate them
  • Impact to the stability of the existing concrete dam

Back in the 1950s when the Lake Houston dam was built, engineers did not use rebar. So this will be a delicate operation. Contractors must cut 6 feet into the existing spillway; cap the remaining concrete with a slab; and install the crest gates on top of the slab.

Black & Veatch must also develop an operations protocol for new floodgates that maximizes upstream benefits and limits downstream impacts. Mueller shared this schedule with attendees.

Best-Case Project Timeline Shows Completion in 2024

Schedule as of 7/8/2021. Detailed engineering could take another year.

A best-case scenario shows construction starting at the end of 2022 and finishing before the start of hurricane season in 2024. So, at least three more hurricane seasons to get through before seeing any benefit from additional gates.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/9/2021

1410 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Reminder: Floodgate Meeting at Kingwood Community Center on Thursday, July 8

On Thursday, July 8, Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin will host a pubic meeting to discuss the status of adding more floodgates to the Lake Houston Dam. Preliminary engineering finished earlier this year. In March, the Coastal Water Authority board approved Black & Veatch to begin final engineering.

Need for More Gates

The Lake Houston Area Task Force identified more and higher capacity floodgates as a key element in the area’s flood-mitigation strategy. The current gates have one-fifteenth the capacity of those at the Lake Conroe Dam. That makes it difficult to shed water from Lake Houston before people flood if Lake Conroe opens its gates as it did during Harvey.

During Harvey, Conroe released 79,000 cubic feet per second. That was one third of all the water coming down the West Fork between Humble and Kingwood. All by itself, that 79,000 CFS would have been the ninth largest flood in West Fork history. And that made the difference between flooding and not flooding for thousands of homes and businesses near the lake.

During Harvey, the peak flow over the spillway was five times the average flow over Niagra Falls. A wall of water 11 feet tall cascaded over the spillway above. Enough to fill NRG stadium in 3.5 minutes.

Lake Houston Dam During Harvey. The proposed crest gates would go in the far upper left of the spillway.

Floodgate Meeting Details

See the meeting details below.

Thursday, July 8, 2021
At the Kingwood Community Center (4102 Rustic Woods)
Doors Open 5:30 PM
Dredging Update Starts 5:45 PM
Gate Update Starts at 6 PM

Chief Recovery Officer, Stephen Costello, will provide a very brief update on Lake Houston Dredging operations at 5:45 p.m. before the Spillway Improvement Project program begins.

The program to discuss the Lake Houston Dam Spillway Improvement Project will start at 6:00 p.m. and conclude at 7:45 p.m. But don’t worry about sitting through a 2 hour meeting.

The main presentation by Black & Veatch, the project engineers, will be followed by a short Q&A session. The meeting will then transition into breakout sessions. Breakout tables will let residents engage with project management staff and engineers in small groups to ask more detailed questions.

Project Benefits

The Lake Houston Dam Spillway project will increase the outflow capacity of the Lake Houston Dam. The project proposes installing new crest gates in the existing uncontrolled spillway. This will allow for a rapid decrease of water levels in Lake Houston in advance of storm events to prevent or reduce upstream flooding. Engineers estimate the recommended alternative could help about 35,000 residents and 5,000 structures. It’s important for people to understand that if they flooded from streams or channels far from the lake during Harvey, this may not help them.


A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program provides $4.3 million for engineering and positions the city to receive another $42.7 million for construction.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/6/2021 based on info provided by Dave Martin’s Office

1407 Days since Hurricane Harvey