Tag Archive for: Developers

How to Find and Verify Flood-Related Information: Part II

This is Part II in a series about how to find and verify flood-related information. Yesterday’s post focused on finding good information about flood vulnerabilities. This second part will focus on reviewing developers’ plans. The second can compound the first.

The very first sentence of the Texas Water Code § 11.086 begins with a warning not to flood your neighbors. It says, “No person may divert or impound the natural flow of surface waters in this state, or permit a diversion or impounding by him to continue, in a manner that damages the property of another by the overflow of the water diverted or impounded.”

The second sentence declares that a person injured by diverted water may sue to recover damages. Of course, at that point the damage has already been done. Lawsuits are expensive and take years. And the defendant, usually a developer, will always point to plans prepared by a professional engineer and approved by a government body. Suing them will require expert witnesses. And the defendant will likely claim that you wouldn’t have flooded except for an Act of God.

Lawsuits are tall, expensive mountains to climb. So concerned residents near new developments are better off closely scrutinizing plans before they’re built and closely monitoring construction to ensure developers follow the plans.

You can’t stop development. But you can ensure developers play by the rules.

But how do you find and verify their plans?

Need to Find and Verify Info

If you notice a large piece of property for sale near you, monitor it closely. Check with the listing agent. Also check Houston’s Plat Tracker website. It’s updated before every meeting of the Planning Commission and shows items on their agenda. Houston also maintains a map-based website that shows projects in various stages of approval throughout the City and its extra-territorial jurisdiction.

Leap into action if you find a potential cause for concern near you. The next step is to obtain the development’s plans, the drainage impact analysis and soil tests. The developer must prove “no adverse impact” to people and properties downstream.

How you obtain those plans and studies depends on the development’s location. If inside a municipality, check with your city council representative. If you live outside a municipality, your best starting point will probably be your county engineer or precinct commissioner.

The plans are public information and must be provided in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests.

Signed, Stamped, Approved and So Obviously Wrong

In every case I reviewed during the last four years where someone flooded because of a new development, something jumped out of the plans that should have raised concerns for reviewers, but didn’t.

For instance, after Colony Ridge engineers apparently mischaracterized soil types, Plum Grove flooded repeatedly. The engineer said soils would let more water soak in than actually could. That meant the developer didn’t have to build as many detention ponds and could sell more lots. But it also contributed to flooding homes downstream.

Another example, the engineers for Woodridge Village claimed there were no floodplains on the property when there were. The property just hadn’t been surveyed yet.

In those cases, multiple other issues surfaced after close review. Wetlands that had been ignored. Substandard construction of detention ditches that led to severe erosion. Failure to implement stormwater quality controls. Failure to follow plans. Ignoring Atlas-14 requirements that led to undersizing detention ponds by 40%. And more.

In another development, I spotted safety issues related to river migration that had been ignored. Underground parking next to the floodway of the San Jacinto River. Failure to consider flood evacuation.

Concerned citizens must learn how to obtain and review such plans for potential problems or hire a consulting engineer.

Here are some things I’ve learned to look for.

Soil Tests

Are they accurate? Were the samples taken at representative points? Or did they conveniently ignore wetlands? Permeability of the soils will affect the amount of detention needed. The level of the water table could affect the amount of detention provided.

  • Highly permeable soils like sand have a high rate of infiltration and will let developers get away with less detention. Clay-based soils will require more. One engineer told me, “Soils like Colony Ridge reported don’t exist in the State of Texas.”
  • If plans call for a ten-foot deep detention pond, but the soil test encounters a shallower water table, that will compromise the pond’s capacity. Capacity should be calculated from the top of standing water, not the bottom of the pond. If the pond is already half full, that half shouldn’t count.

You can check the soils that a developer reports against the USDA national soil database.

Floodplain Issues

Floodplain maps in Harris County are currently being revised. That may not be the case in surrounding counties. The lack of updated flood maps endangers current residents, by letting developers build to old and ineffective standards.

Developers often try to beat the implementation of new requirements. This happened in the case of Woodridge Village. It’s also happening in the case of the Laurel Springs RV Park and Northpark South along Sorters-McClellan Road. The entrance to the Northpark development sits in a bowl. A quick check of the elevation profile on the USGS National Map confirmed that. During Harvey, local residents tell me that not even high-water rescue vehicles could get through that intersection. Put the Cajun Navy on standby now.

Wetland Issues

Filling wetlands requires an Army Corps permit for some, but not all wetlands. Whether they fall under the Corps’ jurisdiction depends on how far up in the branching structure of a watershed they are. Those near the main stem are jurisdictional. Three levels up may not be.

The US Fish and Wildlife service has thoroughly documented wetlands in this area. Check their National Wetlands Database and appeal to the Corps if you find a problem. At a minimum, the developer may be forced to buy mitigation credits somewhere nearby, which could help reduce flooding.

Drainage Issues

Is a new development’s detention pond capacity adequate? Is it based on the right percentage of impermeable cover? If the pond(s) fill up, where will the water go?

Calculating detention capacity requires math skills most people don’t have. But you can check the basis for the calculations. Are plans based on new Atlas-14 requirements? Are plans meeting current Houston and Harris County requirements?

Current City of Houston and Harris County Requirements for Detention Pond Capacity

In the case of the RV park, the developer will provide roughly half the current capacity requirement thanks to a grandfather clause in the regs. You can find construction guidelines for Houston, Harris County, MoCo and Liberty County on the Reports Page under the Construction tab.

Also see where they’re routing excess water in case of an overflow.

In the case of the Laurel Springs RV Park, the developer said they would route the water to a detention pond near Hamblen and Laurel Springs in anything greater than a two year rain. See below.

Screen Capture from Laurel Springs RV Resort Drainage Impact Report shows that in anything greater than a 2-year rain, overflow water will could threaten homes in Lakewood Cove.
RV Park Site Outlined in White. Overflow described above would presumably follow red path.
Laurel Springs RV Park as of 11/29/21. Detention pond will go in foreground, but overflow will go into pond at top of frame according to text above.

Missing Details from Drainage Impact Analysis

I have requested additional details three times from the City but still have not received them. I suspect they may not exist. All other plan requests have been filled.

So what happens when the Lakewood Cove detention pond fills up? Or gets covered up in a flood? Overflow from the RV park will contribute to flooding someone downstream.

The developer also said excess capacity would get to the Lakewood Cove pond by overland sheet flow. That could threaten homes on the southwest corner of Lakewood Cove – visible in the middle of shot above.

But a City engineer reviewing the plans said overflow would follow the railroad tracks on the western side of the RV park. Hmmmm. Two engineers – one who developed the plans and another who approved them – 180 degrees apart. What’s a concerned citizen to do?

If the engineers who develop and review such plans were always right, no one would ever flood. But we do. So always find and verify those plans.

To see the first part of this series, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/29/2021

1553 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

City of Houston Will Now Require Developers to Identify Flood-Prone Areas on Their General Plans

It’s a minor victory. And it may not actually change anything on the ground. But the City of Houston today sent a signal to developers, who now have to identify flood prone areas on their general plans.

The move should eliminate any doubt among bankers, buyers and real estate agents as to whether a particular property is in a floodway or flood plain.

By following all the other guidelines, developers can still get their plans approved. This change helps people seeking truth and full disclosure in the sales process.

There’s one other key change. Another new requirement is that, as each section of a general plan is platted, it has to adhere to the then current standards. That is important so that the entire development isn’t grandfathered by the approval date of the general plan.

These changes may make some developers think twice about buying and developing flood-prone property. Especially if they target unknowledgeable buyers, such as young people or foreigners, who may be unfamiliar with American flood standards.

Today’s press release by the City of Houston’s Planning and Development department says the changes will go into effect July 24, 2020.

The release is being blasted out to developers also. It’s titled “Platting Updates for Flood Prone Areas.” I have reprinted the full text verbatim below.


Effective July 24, 2020

Flooding events have been increasingly severe in the City of Houston and our region. The 2018 amendment to Chapter 19 City of Houston Code of Ordinances mandated that it was necessary to evaluate development within the 100-year and 500-year floodplains to protect investments made by residents and business owners in real property within the City. Harris County and others have developed their own needs in improving the drainage in their regions.

To mitigate and reduce the risk of flood loss for future development, the 100-year, 500-year floodplains and floodway will be required to be identified on all General Plans submitted to the Department with the Plat Tracker application. Applicants will be required to graphically depict the location of the floodplains and or floodway on their General Plans and provide related note.

This information must be provided as part of initial submittal of a General Plan for Planning Commission consideration. The General Plan application will be marked incomplete if this information is not included as part of the initial submittal.


The way to depict this information correctly is to go to the FEMA website through the following link: https://msc.fema.gov/portal/search#searchresultsanchor.Enter the address, place, or coordinates. The site will produce a map that will identify whether the property is located in the 100-year, 500-year flood plains or floodway. Provide a dashed line on your General Plan identifying the 100-year, 500-year flood plains or floodway as depicted on the FEMA map.


Also, include on the face of the General Plan the following related note as follows: Portions of the property included in this General Plan lie within the known floodway and the 100 and 500-year floodplains. As each section or parcel is platted and developed, the then-current standards of City of Houston [or if ETJ: Harris County] drainage, elevation, and building regulations must be adhered to. 


This document is being circulated to our customer eblast and posted on our Development Services web page https://www.houstontx.gov/planning/DevelopRegs/..

For additional information contact Dipti Mathur at 832-393-6560.

Imagine how the general plan of “Orchard Seeded Ranches” would look. It would clearly show that virtually every property was subject to severe flooding. Also imagine now how those new townhomes in Kings Harbor will look to Chinese investors.

Developers who specialize these types of distress properties may have to rethink their marketing strategies.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/17/2020

1053 Days since Hurricane Harvey

“The Developers Are Coming! The Developers Are Coming!”

Actually, the developers are already here and licking their chops over the extension of the Grand Parkway (SH 99).

My riff on Paul Revere’s famous line is not meant so much as a statement of impending doom as about the need for caution.

Certainly, there are many honorable developers who try to build high-quality communities for people without adversely affecting downstream residents. I don’t wish to malign a whole profession. Nor do I want to fail to acknowledge the many wonderful communities they have built in this area.

But there are also some developers who put profit before people. They try to cut corners wherever they can and hope that nobody will notice. Especially regarding flood control. It’s expensive and easy because most people don’t understand it.

Grand Parkway Coming Soon To Wetlands Near You

The construction of State Highway 99, aka the Grand Parkway, has opened up vast new areas on the outskirts of Houston to developers. Many of those areas consist of wetlands and forests.

TxDoT is currently prepping land for Section H of the Grand Parkway almost all the way to FM 1960 on the east from US59.
From USGS. Wetlands near the path of Grand Parkway extension. Compare with maps above and below.

Visible Difference in Development Density Where SH99 Completed

The map below shows permit applications in the north Houston area. Compare the density of projects around sections of the Grand Parkway that have already been completed (left) with the areas on the east where the concrete has not yet reached.

This map shows permit applications in the northeast Houston area, both within the City and its ETJ (extra territorial jurisdiction. The Colony Ridge development featured below is outside the ETJ (green area) in the upper right of the map above.

Developers have even more projects underway outside the City’s ETJ (not shown on the map above).

How Development Can Affect Flooding

Kingwood residents have seen how one developer can contribute to flooding hundreds of homes. Last year, Perry Homes clearcut 268 acres north of Elm Grove before installing detention ponds. Hundreds of Elm Grove homes then flooded on May 7 and again on September 19, during Tropical Storm Imelda.

Below are recent photos of a massive 10,000 acre development in Liberty County near Plum Grove. It is about to become a 15,000 development now, thanks in part to Grand Parkway access. And yet it has only one small traditional detention pond.

Detention ponds slow down the rate of runoff to compensate for the loss of trees, wetlands and ground cover that have been replaced by streets and rooftops.

Their goal: to prevent downstream flooding.

Colony Ridge Accounts for All Growth in Liberty County In Last Decade

Colony Ridge can account for all the growth in Liberty County in the last decade. Below are some photos of Colony Ridge and its expansion near Plum Grove. The approach of SH99 will make it more accessible and therefore more attractive (at least from one point of view).

All aerial photos below were taken on 6/126/2020.

Looking north across the Grand Parkway extension toward Colony Ridge in Liberty County near Plum Grove.
Just north of the Grand Parkway (upper left), you can see roads going in that will accommodate even more manufactured homes, aka trailer homes.
The developer puts in roads, ditches, water and sewer. Fire hydrants? Forget it.

Developer’s Marketing Strategy

The developer tries to pass as many costs along to lot buyers as he can to maximize profit. He targets Hispanics. Residents tell me that sometimes two or three families may live in one of the homes you see here.

Nobody knows the real population of Colony Ridge because many residents are reportedly undocumented and uncounted.

Site work before parking a home is the responsibility of site buyers, many of whom openly burn brush to clear their lots. Like the developer, they’re trying to cut costs.

Land of Fire and the Forgotten

Resident burning brush on his property last Sunday afternoon. Residents aren’t the only ones burning.
That smoke you see on the horizon is from dozens of brush fires set by the developer as he continues to clear land.
Here’s one still smoldering.
At this point, a major storm would bring the potential for uncontrolled erosion, just as it did in Woodridge Village in Montgomery County, above Elm Grove.
As dry as it has been lately, the developer is burning brush piles next to woodlands. That increases fire risk. The barren surface also accelerates runoff and erosion, increasing flood risk.
Note the haze and plums of smoke on the horizon and the vast expanse of exposed, packed dirt.
The smoke is coming from burning piles of brush, such as these. If a fire spread into surrounding woods, local volunteer fire departments would be overwhelmed.
No fire hydrants anywhere in sight.

If this were Houston, hydrants would be spaced at a minimum of every 500 feet. A firefighter told me that the spacing often depends of home values and population. Based on population alone, he believes this area should have hydrants.

One Small Detention Pond for 15,000 Acres

The developer has one detention pond (center) for the entire 15,000 acres. He relies on less efficient, in-ditch detention for additional capacity. Note the proximity to SH99 in the upper right.
There are no detention ponds anywhere in the new areas being cleared. This is reminiscent of Woodridge Village which contributed to the flooding of hundreds of homes in Elm Grove. But Woodridge was only 268 acres.
The developer relies on this and other drainage ditches to double as detention ponds in storms. But at the far end of this ditch…
…FM 1010 washed out during Harvey and destroyed one of the two major access roads into the development. The in-ditch detention failed. So has the county. The road has been out now for 1025 days, increasing the commute time for residents and the response time for firefighters.

Endless Loop of Construction and Destruction

State Highway 99 represents more than just a third loop around the City of Houston.

SH 99 will bring more developers and more people eager to escape downstream flooding issues.

Tapayer funded roads such as these create endless loops of construction and destruction. They are like a perpetual motion machine. Building one area floods another, causing people to move farther out and the cycle to repeat itself.

No one will admit it’s intentional, of course. The flooding is just a byproduct of greed. Cut a detention pond here. Substitute in-line detention there. Don’t bother planting grass to reduce erosion. Send your problems downstream. Let someone else worry about them.

One Chance

Do all developers think that way? Of course not. Many have principles and wonderful communities to show for them.

That notwithstanding, as one Splendora resident said, “They really only have one chance to get this right. If they screw this up, it will be almost impossible to fix and they will argue over who is going to pay for it for centuries.”

We are at that inflection point now.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/19/2020

1025 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.