Tag Archive for: Development delays

How Development Delays Can Impact Flooding

For a variety of reasons, many new developments seem to be “on pause” these days. Developers clear and grade land. Then it may sit undeveloped for months or even years.

This leaves exposed soil unprotected by vegetation. That makes it more susceptible to erosion for longer periods. And the eroded soil can clog streams and creeks with excess sediment. That reduces conveyance and can contribute to potential flooding. The EPA classifies sediment as the most common pollutant in American rivers and streams.

I am not alleging that all of the developments below have flooded other properties – though some have. But in extreme storms, they may contribute to conditions that increase flood risk.

That raises the question: Can we reduce that risk? That, of course, requires understanding what’s slowing development. But let me show you some examples of stalled developments first.

Unprotected Soil

No one keeps statistics on how long cleared land remains undeveloped. But suddenly, it feels as though stalled developments surround us. Below are pictures of just a handful taken in the last few months near the Montgomery/Harris County border.

Royal Pines in Porter
Royal Pines in Montgomery County on White Oak Creek has flooded neighbors’ properties multiple times in the last six months. White Oak Creek actually rerouted itself across a portion of the development.
Royal Pines border with White Oak Creek (in woods). Note sediment escaping property into creek.
Royal Pines
After a 4-inch rain in January, White Oak Creek branched and started flowing across the cleared area.
Truck of Royal Pines neighbor one day after being washed. Flooding isn’t the only problem.

The neighbor stated that she spoke with the MoCo Engineers’ office last Friday and the stormwater detention plan still had not been approved. According to the neighbor, the developer was told by the county last January to submit revised detention and berm plans. The engineer also requested the developer to divert the runoff away from the neighbor’s property. But the developer evidently went ahead and built a detention basin without revising the plans. The development still floods neighbors’ property after every appreciable rain.

Los Pinos in Huffman

Phase I of Los Pinos in Huffman has sat virtually vacant for the better part of a year.

Saint Tropez in Huffman
Saint Tropez in Huffman, also vacant, drains into Luce Bayou.

Trailer Park in Hockley

New trailer park development in NW Harris County is sending sediment into the headwaters of Spring Creek. See below.

As you approach the creek, the slope increases…

…and despite the best efforts of the developer, sediment is escaping into the creek.
Hockley trailer park from ground
A river of mud…
Hockley trailer park from ground
…is flowing into Spring Creek.
Townsen Landing in Humble
A small part of Townsen Landing in Humble. The developer cleared land, but no homes have been built in the last year.
Valley Ranch in New Caney/Porter
Valley Ranch Medical Center construction in November 2021
20 months later they were building detention basins and channels to connect them. In March 2023, uncontrolled runoff was sending sediment into a ditch behind homes and businesses along FM1314.

Multiple Reasons for Development Delays

To do something about development delays, you need to understand the causes first. Those most often cited by developers and media have to do with:

  • Regulations. For instance, Magnolia officials enacted a moratorium on permit applications in December 2022 over concerns the city’s water supply couldn’t keep pace with growth in the area. The moratorium impacts new as well as current development projects.
  • Developers rank permitting delays as one of their biggest headaches.
  • Increasing land prices push developers into marginal, flood-prone land as a way to help control costs. But such land also causes permitting delays. Developers struggle with extra layers of studies and approvals from flood plain managers that can slow projects.
  • Rising interest rates that may undermine developers/builders economic assumptions.
  • Shortages of building materials. For instance, a global cement shortage, often linked to the war in Ukraine, makes planning difficult for land developers and road builders. According to a source at the Houston Contractors Association, Texas pours more concrete annually than the next two states (CA and FL) combined.
  • The pandemic, which led to other supply and labor shortages.

Such issues often loom larger for less experienced developers whose pockets may not be as deep as their more experienced competitors.

Regardless, silt fences are woefully inadequate in dealing with issues such as these.

Need to Re-Evaluate Construction and Permitting Practices

Some suggestions. Many areas do not require a permit to clear and grade land. Developers may begin the process assuming normal permitting time for their plans, but then run into unforeseen hiccups. As regulations have gotten more complex in the post-Harvey world, this has become increasingly common. Perhaps we need to require:

  1. Permit approvals before clearing and grading.
  2. Vegetated buffers around the perimeter of properties during development.
  3. Berms to protect neighbors and waterways during development
  4. Clearing and installing drainage in a portion of a property before moving onto another portion of the property (phased development).
  5. Governments throughout the region to standardize construction requirements.
  6. Governments to hire enough people to review plans a timely way.
  7. Some or all of the above.

Other ideas suggested by readers:

  1. Do not develop on land not suited for development in the first place.
  2. Stop developing so close to waterways.
  3. Zone land to allow natural drainage to exist in harmony with human occupancy.
  4. Keep some areas prone to flooding heavily vegetated permanently.

Half Billion Dollars for Sediment Removal

Sound expensive? Consider this.

Since Harvey, we have spent/plan to spend approximately a half billion dollars on dredging and sediment removal. Half of that has been spent on the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto, plus channels/streams around Lake Houston. The other half will be spent on sediment removal in:

  • Willow Creek
  • White Oak Bayou
  • Spring Creek
  • Little Cypress Creek
  • Greens Bayou
  • Cypress Creek
  • Barker Reservoir
  • Addicks Reservoir

We must find a compromise that works for everyone. People need places to live. Especially places that don’t flood.

Posted by Bob Rehak on June 7, 2023

2108 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.