Tag Archive for: fire

Friday Flood Digest

Here’s a digest of recent flood-related happenings. Follow the links for more detailed information.

Texas’ First-Ever Regional Flood Planning Process Gets Underway

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is helping recently formed regional-flood planning groups deliver 15 regional flood plans by January of 2023. These regional flood plans will form Texas’ first-ever state flood plan, due to the legislature by September of 2024.

The Board designated flood-planning group members on October 1st. The regional flood planning group meetings are publicly posted under the Texas Open Meetings Act. The first meetings were posted on the TWDB website and the Secretary of State website. Groups have two objectives:

  • Reduce current flood risk
  • Prevent creation of new flood risk 

Flood Projects Move Closer to Funding

Flood projects eligible for funding through the State’s Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) moved one step closer to becoming a reality this week. Select applicants are currently submitting complete (as opposed to abridged) project applications to the TWDB. These applications will help Texas communities finance drainage and flood mitigation and control projects.

Eligible entities submitted 280 abridged applications for more than $2.3 billion in financial assistance.

TWDB culled that list to fit the available $770 million in funding for structural and nonstructural flood projects. Of that $770 million, TWDB will allocate $231 million (30 percent) to grants and $539 million (70 percent) to loans with no interest.

TWDB Chairman Peter Lake characterized this program as one of the biggest steps the State has ever taken toward flood mitigation.

As of November 5, 2020, the TWDB had received 125 applications from cities, counties, water districts, and other political subdivisions. The deadline for full applications is November 23.

Four of five SJRA abridged applications made the cut:

  • Upper San Jacinto Sedimentation Study
  • Spring Creek Flood Control Dams Conceptual Engineering Study
  • Lake Conroe/Lake Houston Joint Operations Study
  • Flood Early Warning System for San Jacinto County

Chuck Gilman, SJRA’s Director of Water Resources and Flood Management, said, “We hope to receive final notice on our four full applications in late December or early January.”

“The causes and effects of flooding vary from region to region, so there is no single ‘silver bullet’ solution to mitigate floods,” said Lake. “It is critical that we support Texas communities as they plan for and mitigate future risks based on their unique needs and circumstances.”

The Board will consider approving financial assistance commitments at public meetings in the coming months.“Financial assistance will help communities with both flood planning and project implementation. While we can’t avoid natural disasters, we can mitigate the damage they do,” said Lake.

Fire and Flooding

Fire and flooding may seem like a strange combination. But yes, fire can contribute to flooding. I first noticed this phenomenon on an island called Guanaja in the Bay of Honduras where I used to scuba dive. One year, poachers set fires at the bottom of a hill to drive exotic tropical birds toward nets at the top of the hill. The next year, half the hill slid into the Caribbean during heavy rains.

So what does that have to do with Houston? As drought approaches, developers continue to set fires to clear land. That kills all the grasses that retain soil. When rain does return, that soil will wash downstream and likely contribute to the mouth bar growing on the San Jacinto East Fork. Reduction of the river’s “conveyance” can back water up and contribute to flooding.

Drought Vs. Flooding

Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist says, “The focus for the last several years has been on flooding and heavy rainfall. We’ve had floods in some portion of Texas for each of the last 5 years. However, the onset of moderate to strong La Niña conditions in the Pacific appear to be swinging the state back toward a dry period.”

“What was predicted to be an active period next week is slowly decreasing both “cold” and “moisture” wise in recent model runs, as is typical in La Nina winters,” says Lindner.

Climate Prediction Center outlooks for the next two weeks indicate below average rainfall and above average temperatures. Similar outlooks continue for three months. Vegetation health will continue to decline, but likely at a slower rate than during the hot summer months when heat is maximized.  

Three month outlook from NOAA predicts below average rainfall across southern US.

So be careful of outdoor burning (see story above). Many counties have already imposed outdoor burn bans.

Note outdoor burn ban in Liberty County.

The only positive side of drought is that it can make ideal construction weather for flood-mitigation projects (see two stories above).

Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force Has First Meeting

The Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force held its first meeting earlier this month. The first order of business: expand the group’s membership from five to 17. The group is creating a web site which will accept online applications; it should be up shortly.

The application deadline: December 11. Stay alert for more information if you are interested in representing your area. Preference will be given to those:

  • Who have flooded
  • Represent flood-prone communities
  • Have knowledge in certain areas, such as housing, public health, engineering/construction, urban design/planning, flood-risk mitigation, environment, etc.

Water Baron of Montgomery County Takes On World; Lawyers Drool

Simon Sequeira, CEO of Quadvest and the Water Baron of Montgomery County, continues his War with the World. At the last GMA14 meeting, lawyers are reportedly lining up to get a piece of the action and licking their lips.

Sequeira also supplies water to Colony Ridge in Liberty County. Several years ago, he led a fight to get the board of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District elected rather than appointed. Then he backed candidates who favored unlimited groundwater pumping and promised to Restore Affordable Water.

Broken Promises

While groundwater is cheaper than surface water, water bills reportedly failed to come down. However, he has stopped paying the SJRA. Sequeira says he is setting aside that money in a special fund in case he loses his legal battle with the SJRA. But his legal battles go far beyond the SJRA. He’s also taking on the rest of GMA14.

GMA14 includes the 15 colored counties above, each represented by a different conservation district. Montgomery County (dark blue) has the Lonestar Groundwater Conservation District.
Purpose of Groundwater Management Areas

GMA stands for groundwater management area. GMAs were set up years ago, in part, to make sure that one county doesn’t hog groundwater, depriving surrounding areas and creating subsidence. So the other counties in GMA14 get to approve (or not) the groundwater withdrawal rates in Montgomery County.

They do that by defining “desired future conditions.” How much drawdown in an aquifer is acceptable? How much subsidence can people and infrastructure tolerate?

GMA14 wants Sequeira to leave 70% of the water in aquifers intact and to produce no more than 1 foot of subsidence.

Hired-Gun Experts Defy Scientific Consensus

Ever since, Sequeira took on this fight, his hired-gun experts have been trying to prove subsidence doesn’t pose a threat in Montgomery County. Unfortunately, data and models don’t agree with him. His pumping has already created subsidence in MoCo and now threatens northern Harris County, too.

Strangely enough, while science has shown – and the rest of the world believes – that unlimited groundwater pumping causes subsidence, Sequeira does not. His profit margin depends on cheap groundwater, unfettered by fees designed to encourage people to convert to surface water.

Five Alternative Plans Considered

Sequeira and company originally proposed three alternative plans to GMA14 that involved pumping:

  • 900 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer
  • 700 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer
  • 250 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer (Similar to Run D scenario, modeled below.)

Of those three, GMA14 only considered the last (even though Lone Star and GMA14 use different criteria to describe the volume pumped).

GMA14 countered by adding two more alternatives that involved even less pumping:

  • 115,000 acre-feet per year (Similar to Lone Star’s Run D scenario. See below).
  • 97,000 acre-feet per year
  • 61,000 acre-feet per year

The two sides are still arguing about how much can be pumped safely. And that’s why the lawyers are drooling.

Models Show Unacceptable Subsidence from Sequeira’s Least Damaging Plan

Subsidence can alter the landscape in ways that cause water to collect in areas that otherwise might not flood. The maps below model projected subsidence in south Montgomery and northern Harris Counties. And we know that this model under-predicts subsidence. That’s because it doesn’t model ANY subsidence from the Jasper aquifer.

Sequeira’s least damaging plan would cause up to 3.25 feet of subsidence in southern Montgomery County and up to 3 feet in northern Harris County, according to GMA14. See below.

Pumping 115,000 feet per year would cause up to 3.25 feet of subsidence in southern MoCo.
The same amount of pumping would cause up 3 feet of subsidence in parts of Kingwood and Huffman, and a foot or more in much of the rest of Harris County.
Effect on Humble, Kingwood, Atascocita, Huffman Areas

If you live in the Lake Houston Area and you stare at that last subsidence map long enough, eventually you will come to a jaw-dropping realization. The Lake Houston spillway is only subsiding by a foot. But the headwaters of the lake are subsiding up to 3 feet. Imagine filling your bathtub with water and then tilting it two feet.

Homes and businesses in the headwaters of Lake Houston will be lowered 2 feet relative to the spillway.

That’s a huge amount. Those who built homes a foot above the hundred year flood-plain would find themselves a foot below it. Those who had a couple inches of water in their homes would have more than two feet after subsidence.

Battle Lines Drawn

So the battle lines are drawn. Sequeira wants to allow up to 900 feet of decline in the Jasper aquifer. And GMA14 wants no more than 1 foot of subsidence with 70% of the aquifer intact. That would mean pumping less than 100,000 acre feet per year.

The presence of so many lawyers in the last GMA14 meeting reportedly has the smaller groundwater management districts nervous. One observer used the word “intimidated.” Some don’t have financial resources to fight Sequeira.

Lawyers I talk to believe Sequeira has little chance of winning a lawsuit. But who needs a favorable judgment when you have an army of lawyers that can intimidate the other side into backing down.

However, if Sequeira is successful, he could open up himself and the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District to billions of dollars in “takings” claims. The lawyers make out coming and going.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/20/2020

1179 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.

Last Townhomes on Timberline Drive in Forest Cove Burned to Ground

On September 24th, I noted some chatter online about another fire in the Forest Cove townhome complex between Hamblen Road and the West Fork. I went there last night to see what had happened. It was very disheartening. Five more townhomes had burned to the ground. Nothing remained but ashes.

Why We Should Not Build So Close to Rivers

Not long ago, dozens of families lived in this complex. They had hopes and dreams. Children played in the street. Neighbors looked after each other. Couples got married by the river. Everyone shared a love a nature. Sure, they had frequent floods. But the homes were designed around that. Then came Harvey.

Water reached 17 to 23 feet into the third floors of townhomes. After a night of terror in which 240,000 cubic feet per second literally swept some structures off their foundations, residents returned to a wasteland. It was so bad, that FEMA even came here to film a video about the ravages of Harvey. Now, it’s even worse.

Many people who once lived here, like Jennifer Parks, won’t even venture into the neighborhood. They find the memories too traumatic. Here’s what her once-proud townhome looks like today. This was the fourth fire in that neighborhood since the start of 2019.

Photos of Latest Fire

Five more units burned. Not one still stands west of Timberline Drive.
The fire scorched surrounding trees and left nothing but ashes.
The bottom floors were garages.
Townhomes between Timberline Dr., Timberline Court and Aqua Vista St. have all burned.

The northern half of the complex in the red rectangle burned last year on July 4. The southern half burned the day after Tropical Storm Beta on September 24 when weather was cloudy but calm.

Complex on left burned. Photo taken two weeks after Harvey.
Close up of the complex that burned. On September 2, 2020, it still looked much like it did after Harvey.

Four More Buildings Remain

Five other buildings remain on the eastern side of Marina Drive. View this post for an explanation of why buyouts take so long.

Two years ago, the County and City Parks Board announced plans to turn the area south of Hamblen into a park and trails. But so far…nothing.

Time for Plan B

It’s time to go to Plan B. Frankly, in my opinion, this latest fire underscores the need to condemn these properties as a public-safety hazard. We need to demolish them and get on with life for the good of the community and the safety of firefighters. Let’s turn these eyesores into assets. Return the area to green space NOW.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/6/2020

1134 Days after 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.

One Year Ago Tonight, Flooded Townhomes Burned for Third Time Since Harvey

On July 4, 2019, 10 pieces of fire equipment responded to a fire at the Forest Cove Townhomes on Timberline Drive. It was the second fire that week and the third that year. Unfortunately, the townhomes that burned that night still stand.

Remnants of fire one year ago still stand today.

The once-beautiful townhomes, in the floodway of the West Fork, were designed to have first floors that flooded. But Harvey’s raging floodwaters reached well into the second floors. 240,000 cubic feet per second raging down the West Fork didn’t leave much. After Harvey, structural instability made these townhomes unsafe and uninhabitable.

Townhomes on Aqua Vista in Forest Cove that were demolished by Harvey and then HCFCD.

Then came the squatters, looters, illegal dumpers and graffiti artists. FEMA made these townhomes the centerpiece of a 2018 video. Little has changed since then, a stain on the Agency’s reputation.

Almost three years after Harvey, little has changed except for the accumulation of discarded mattresses and couches that grows larger every week.

Buyout of Townhomes Slow and Cumbersome

Today, Harris County Flood Control (HCFCD) has bought out and torn down several of the buildings within this complex. But the process is slow and cumbersome. HCFCD can tear nothing down until all units in a building have been bought.

Without pointing a finger at anyone, the entire process, which stretches from Marina Drive to Pennsylvania Avenue is a logistical nightmare. Such eyesores lower property values and drag down communities.

In some communities, burned homes can be condemned and torn down within 30 days. But the eyesore below has stood for a full year. It has attracted illegal dumping and and anti-social graffiti.

After viewing the image above, HCFCD said it would accelerate these buyouts. Resolution can’t come too soon for my taste. They serve only one purpose at this point – as a stark reminder not to build near a river.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 4, 2020

1040 Days after Hurricane Harvey

After Eighth Flood in Five Years, Forest Cove Townhome Renter Forced Out and Burned Out

Before Harvey, Jennifer Parks lived in the Forest Cove Townhomes with her husband, four kids and cat. They absolutely loved the river lifestyle and the friendships they built with neighbors. Harvey was the eighth of seven floods in five years. It destroyed their 4-story townhome, a close knit community and a life they loved despite the trouble. This is a story about how a flood changed the trajectory of six people’s lives forever. It’s the latest in a series of Impact stories.

2019 Fire Brings Back Memories of 2016

Rehak: You lived in the complex on Timberline at Marina Drive that burned on July 4th this year?

Parks: Yes. We were the four-story unit at the end, two doors down from where there was another fire in 2016.

Rehak: How many fires have there been there this year?

Parks: Three. Two during the week of July 4th and one earlier over by the pool. 

Rehak: The fire department came out in force for this one. They had 10 fire trucks plus two ambulances. It was impressive.

Ten fire trucks were called out to battle the blaze in Parks’ townhome complex on July 4.

Parks: When we had the fire back in 2016 there were 32 fire trucks. The whole street was lined all the way. On both sides. Every truck in Kingwood, plus Porter and Atascocita came in. It was craziness but people lived there, then. So lives were at stake. Now, the townhomes are abandoned.

“We Always Flooded on My Husband’s Birthday”

Rehak: How long did you live there?

Parks: Five years. We moved in at the end of March, 2013. We had our first flood on Memorial Day. My husband’s birthday was Memorial Day and we always flooded on his birthday.

Rehak: (Laughs)

Parks: Yeah (also laughing sarcastically) it was nice. At first, we would flood from the streets when the storm drains backed up.  The first time I ever saw the river come over the bank was Memorial Day of 2016. It filled the area up like a bowl. People would drive around to look at it and splash water into our garage. It ruined everything we had on the floor.

Eight Floods in Five Years

Parks: We had a total of eight floods including Harvey in the five years we lived there.

Rehak: (Incredulous) Eight floods in five years!

Parks: Yeah. We had to move our vehicles and water got into the first story. Usually it would just splash in, but for the Tax Day flooding, we had three feet of water. That was the first time we left our house in a canoe. Then that Memorial Day we had eight feet. That was the second time we left in a canoe. Then there was Harvey. We had 20 feet.

Rehak: How many?

Parks: 20 feet is what FEMA measured.

Parks’ second story living room went under water during Harvey. FEMA says water reached 20 feet.

Rehak: Oh geez!

Parks: It went over my TV in the second story. 

Man Cave on First Floor

Rehak: Were those apartments vacant on the ground floor?

Parks: They were all built with the garage on the first. We have a big truck that did not fit in there. So we had a bar, darts and lights. Ours was decked out. It was more of a man cave than a garage. We never managed to get a lava lamp. But it was pretty cool. We were the neighborhood hang-out. We were always told that we were the welcoming committee.

As Harvey’s floodwaters receded, Parks’ husband took this picture from a canoe while returning to save the family cat.

The kids would be playing board games in the front. They had a TV, a table, a microwave and a refrigerator. It was like a snack hangout area. People would walk by, see us out there, and be like, “Hey, how you doin’!” That’s how we’d meet all the new neighbors. We were just in a friend’s wedding who we met that way. He went by one day to get the mail at stopped in to say hi. It was a very tight knit neighborhood to say the least.

Structural damage made townhomes unlivable. City condemned them all shortly after the flood.

Sense of Community Lost

Rehak: What brought you together? 

Parks:  Just living close to each other. Plus, the backyards were large. The driveways were very long. And then there was a big beautiful field. We have four kids. So our kids were always back there playing and we were outside. We did a lot of landscaping and gardening and we helped other neighbors. I think just being outside all the time was a large part of it because it was such a beautiful area to be outside.

Collapsed first floor game room where kids and neighbors once gathered.

Rehak: It’s easy to see why you miss it.

Parks: That’s how we made friends. And then there was the canoe.

Rehak: Canoe?

Parks: A neighbor with a canoe kept rescuing my children. Needless to say, we became very close with him. His name is Bob. 

And then there was all the bonding during cleanups. After the bigger floods, the sand deposits were crazy. It got in your house. So there was a lot of pressure washing and a lot of cleaning.

The first story had Blowout walls. They are intended to blow out with a flood.

Repairs and Clean Up Brought People Together

Rehak: So you had to rebuild those.

Parks: Yes. The structural walls with cement and cinder blocks … there was a lot of rebuilding those, too, and sand removal and pressure washing. The whole neighborhood just kind of came together. We would go from one drive to the next. Someone would be shoveling sand out of one. Someone would be pressure washing the next. I think that brought us really close together. We helped each other out. Then the Memorial Day flood happened and it was like ten times worse.

We had the Red Cross truck here three times a day with food. It was amazing. My kids joked, “Heyyyyy! We’re getting snacks from the Red Cross today!”

Rehak: Red Cross Cuisine!

Some of the sand deposited by Harvey in front of Parks’ Townhome.

Parks: Yes. And you know, it wasn’t bad…considering you work all day, and then you come home and you’re going to pressure wash or shovel sand. Because with sand come roaches and to try to keep the roaches out of everybody’s house, we’re trying to move the sand as quickly as possible.

Rehak: I hadn’t even thought about that.

Parks: It was disgusting. You would shovel it to scoop up sand and roaches would just scurry. And we never had roaches before the Memorial Day flood. Never! It was baaaad.

Why They Stayed Despite Flooding

Rehak: If you flooded eight times in five years, why did you stay?”

Parks: The first few weren’t that bad. Then the next two were big and really rough. We contemplated what we were going to do. One big argument for staying put was that our kids went to Foster Elementary school. It was and is an amazing school. And we didn’t want to pull our kids out. Another big factor was finding another rental in the area that was within our $1400 budget. That was just not happening unless it was an apartment. And we really didn’t want to do an apartment. Finally, there was also the beauty. Every time we felt we couldn’t go through another flood, we’d take a look at how beautiful it is here. We’d say, “It’s worth it to stay. And we have our community here.” So we stayed.

“You Know We’re Not Coming Back This Time, Right Bubba?”

I have a video of my husband and Bob in a canoe. As Harvey was receding, they went back and got our cat. In the video, it’s like the most heart wrenching thing you will ever hear. Bob says to my husband, “You know we’re not coming back here this time, right Bubba?”

Every single time I watch that video it brings me to tears because it tells you how much that place meant to all of us. My husband and I actually got married there. It’ll be four years in October. We got married right on the river bank. We had party tents in our driveway and we had a big wedding. It meant so much to us.

I get a little defensive when people say, “Oh, you lived in the crackhead apartments? No, it was not crackhead apartments in any way, shape, or form! Sorry if I get a little defensive. 

Parks surveys the gang graffiti where her children once played.

Too Heartbreaking To Go Home Again

Rehak: When you go down to your old neighborhood today, what does it make you feel?

Parks: I don’t go down there. I can’t. It’s heartbreaking. It’s disgusting. It amazes me how in two years … how it got so bad. A friend who is a police officer was down there after the last fire. He took pictures and there’s graffiti all over my beautiful garage. Like disgusting graffiti. And it’s…it’s gang graffiti. It’s absolutely gang graffiti. There are gangs living in my beautiful home. 

As Parks gave me a tour of her former property, she discovered this looseleaf notebook that looters had thrown from her kitchen. It contained a lifetime of recipes. She tried to salvage her family cookbook.

Our house was completely redone after the 2016 fire. All the walls. All new appliances. Everything was brand new. Flooring and carpeting. It was beautiful. So that’s the other thing people don’t know because they hadn’t been inside the townhomes. A lot of them were gorgeous. 

Rehak: Did your kids end up in a different school? 

Learning Firsthand What It Means to Be Homeless

Parks: We actually were able to stay. Because our status was “homeless,” which is always interesting, our daughter was able to stay for fourth grade at Foster without any question. That was fantastic. But then for the fifth grade we would have had to transfer. Her guidance counselor told me to note, “mental stability of the child at stake due a natural disaster.” And so she got to stay for fifth grade and finish up at Foster.

Rehak: Tell me about the homeless aspect for a second. What did that mean in practical terms? 

Parks: We were fortunate. I’m involved in Cub and Boy Scouts. One of my Cub Scout friends, she actually lived here her whole life. She knew that in the ’94 floods, a couple of the townhomes collapsed. So after Harvey she was, “Get out, get out, get out, right now.” She said, “Come stay with me.” I only knew the family for two years from Monday night Scout meetings. But we ended up living with them for months while we bought our current house. 

We were actually renting the townhome in Forest Cove, but wound up having to buy a house because we were “homeless.” It took time. While we were looking, we were considered “displaced due to natural disaster.” They condemned the townhomes pretty quickly. We couldn’t even think about going back because of structural damage. What else?

School Restores Sense of Normalcy for Kids

Parks: So the kids got free lunch at school. 

Foster Elementary was one of the highest impacted elementary schools between teachers and students because of where it is and because it services Forest Cove. 

Many of the teachers were impacted, too, and the school did amazing things, incredible things really … like blankets were donated to the kids. Something so simple. But my daughter didn’t have the blanket that she grew up with anymore. So you know having a new blanket was something really special. 

They gave all the kids year books that year. 

When the book fair came around, they gave the kids gift certificates.  

They were just a lot of little things that happened even after we bought our house. 

We moved in the day before Thanksgiving so we were pretty quick. Others were displaced for so much longer and still are. We were fortunate that we had friends and family that helped financially. We were able to furnish our new home. We have all this stuff and a beautiful house. But getting there was not fun.

Friends Now Farther But Not Forgotten

Rehak: I certainly understand that. What has happened to your old circle of friends? Are you still in touch?

Parks: We are. Except for one who moved pretty far away … out to Crosby. We see Bob at least on a weekly basis. That was a hard transition from seeing him every day to now only once a week or so. He bought a house in Porter. His daughter … I see her at least two or three times a week still.

And Jane and Rob. It’s gone from seeing them every day to once a month now.

Rehak: On balance, are you happier now?

Learning to Live with Moderate Neighborhood-Ness

Parks: I don’t know if you can compare. Everything in our lives is pre-Harvey or post-Harvey. Which kind of sucks. I would say that the happiness is different because we’ve made friends with our neighbors in Woodland Hills. We just don’t see as many people as often. But we still have moderate “neighborhood-ness.” I would say we’re equally happy.

I can tell you that the six to twelve months after Harvey was very, very difficult. Probably the most trying time in my life and my husband’s. And my kids! My kids were thoroughly traumatized, to say the least.

Rehak: Your lives were turned upside down.

Parks: It’s hard when the kids say, “Hey Mom, do you have X? And I have to say, “I’m sorry. No, we won’t have that anymore.” 

The tree under which Parks got married with all their neighborhood friends. San Jacinto West Fork and US59 Bridge are in the background.

It’s little stuff like my daughter’s Build-a-Bear. And all their school supplies that were sitting on our kitchen table. We had to get new school supplies all over again; I had just bought them the week before Harvey. That was fun. (Rolling eyes.)

Rehak: Not easy on a young family’s salary.

Husband Forced into New Job That Takes Him Farther from Family

Parks: And my husband did private construction. All of his tools were in our living room. Before Harvey, we moved them up from the garage so they wouldn’t get flooded or stolen. Then our living room flooded. We didn’t just lose our house. My husband lost his job, too, because we couldn’t just go out and replace thousands of dollars in tools. So he ended up going back to the oil fields and travelling. It’s not so bad on me, but…it’s hard on the kids.

Rehak: When you saw those townhomes burn, did you still have an emotional attachment to them? 

July 4 Fire Triggered PTSD

Parks: I’m so ready for them to just be gone. I don’t even care how they go. I’m tired of the community badmouthing them; they were not bad places. But at the same time there’s some PTSD. Because of the 2016 fire, all that trauma comes back really fast when we see fire. 

We had so much fun there for so many years. Ironically, we had a big fire pit out front and we would burn whatever was laying around. It was right on the river. We had crawfish boils over there and now we’re like, “Oh my gosh! This place is gone.” In a not-so-comfortable way.

Parks: Adding insult to injury?

Parks: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. “Insult to injury.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 30, 2019

699 Days after Hurricane Harvey

What Rivers Looked Like Before the EPA Regulated Water Pollution

Something happened today that made me realize how, as a society, we are losing sight of the things that caused us to regulate the environment 50 years ago. As a result, some bad history could repeat itself

After seeing yesterday’s post about the West Fork mouth bar, a reader named Suzanne Kite sent me a link to an article on BusinessInsider.com. Little did she know that – for me – it would be a free ride on an emotional roller coaster in the wayback machine. The article talked about pollution of America’s rivers before the EPA…and focused on Cleveland, Ohio.

How Physical Landscape Shaped Political Landscape

About two thirds of Americans alive today had not yet been born when Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. So they have no memory of the event that helped give birth to the EPA.

The Cuyahoga River caught fire a total of 13 times dating back to 1868. It was one of the most polluted rivers in America. Photo: Cleveland State University Library.

I remember it vividly. I was born in Cleveland, not far from the Cuyahoga River. Some of my earliest and happiest memories of childhood revolved around clam bakes with my family in Lake Erie in the early 1950s. But then we had to stop. The clams, they said, were contaminated with pollution from the Cuyahoga.

When the Cuyahoga caught fire, it came to symbolize out-of-control pollution. It became the spark that led to the creation of the EPA.

Says Aylin Woodward, author of the BusinessInsider.com article, “The disaster prompted a public outcry that in part led to the formation of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. The EPA was charged with regulating the country’s polluted air and waterways…”

“Documerica” Photo Archives

She continued. “Soon after its founding, the agency dispatched 100 photographers to capture the US’ environmental issues as part of a photo project called Documerica. The photographers took about 81,000 images, more than 20,000 of which were archived. At least 15,000 have been digitized by the National Archives, and the images now function as a kind of time capsule…”

The archives actually show many photographs of pollution coming from sand and gravel mines.

If you like looking at old photos, you will find this collection fascinating. This BusinessInsider article shows how people and businesses back then used rivers as sewers. A separate article in the Smithsonian goes into even more detail on the Cuyahoga.

Environmental Degradation Preceded Population Loss

Cleveland was a once-proud and booming city that symbolized America’s industrial might. In 1950, it ranked as the seventh largest city in the country. Houston at the time ranked only 14th with a little more than half of Cleveland’s population. In the latest census (2010), however…

Cleveland ranked 45th and had lost more than half the population it had 60 years earlier. It continues to lose population at an alarming rate.

San Jacinto Problems Not New

An alarming number of readers who saw yesterday’s post about the San Jacinto West Fork mouth bar commented on the massive amount of sediment pollution. They believe that not enough is being done to reduce the amount of sediment coming downstream.

Mouth bar blocking the West Fork of the San Jacinto. Photographed from a drone operated by Franz Willette of BCAeronautics.

Not all, but much of that sediment, in my opinion, came from approximately 20 square miles of sand mines upstream that were inundated by three so-called 500-year storms in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The rate of deposition has increased exponentially as you can see in the graph below.

Sudden exponential growth in mouth bar volume. Graph compiled by RD Kissling from Google Earth historical satellite photos.

FEMA believes that at least 500,000 cubic yards of sediment came downstream during Harvey. The City of Houston believes the number is closer to 1.4 million cubic yards.

All of that sediment pollution threatens the main source of the City’s drinking water by reducing its capacity.

Let’s Learn from History

The point of all this: history is repeating itself.

In 2006, American Rivers named the San Jacinto one of the 10 most endangered rivers in America… because of sand mining. And it has only become worse since then.

These developments make me fearful of the future that my children and grandchildren will inherit. If you share these feelings, please continue to apply pressure on elected representatives to push sand mines further back from the river.

What good is cheap concrete if the environment has become so degraded that people move elsewhere?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/13/2019

684 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Second Fire in Week at Forest Cove Townhomes

Approximately 10 pieces of fire equipment as well as ambulances responded tonight to yet another fire at the Forest Cove Townhomes. This is the second fire this week and at least the third this year at a large complex that has been abandoned since it was engulfed by Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters.

Earlier this week, fire consumed another part of the complex on Aqua Vista Street. Tonight, it destroyed more townhomes in the same area between Timberline Court and Timberline Drive where the latter intersects Marina Drive.

I could not get close for safety reasons, but managed to capture the images below with a wide-aperture Nikon telephoto lens.

Abandoned townhomes on Timberline Drive, photographed from Marina Drive in Forest Cove.
Houston Fire Department was spraying water from this elevated position to suppress the fire. Additional units were spraying water on the flames from the ground as you can see in the next photo.
Fire equipment was dousing the flames from multiple angles to keep the fire from spreading.

Massive Fire Department Response

Fire equipment and ambulances lined up for four blocks. From Marina and Timberline, they went up to Hamblen. Additionally, equipment blocked half of Hamblen for another block.

Cause of the fire has not yet been determined. Nor is it known whether there were any injuries.

Need to Accelerate Buyouts and Plan Alternative Uses

This underscores the need to accelerate buyouts in this area and tear down these abandoned buildings. They have become a haven for drug dealers, squatters and vandals.

Ironically, I was responding to questions about my last post on this subject – i.e., what to do with this area – when readers alerted me to this new fire.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/5/2019

675 Days since Hurricane Harvey