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Flood Observations of Houston City Council District E Candidate Sam Cleveland

Sam Cleveland, a Houston Police Officer, started working in Kingwood the day Harvey made landfall two years ago. He is now running for City Council District E. Below are some of his observations on flooding, in part, based on his experience as a first responder.

The night of May 7th in Elm Grove Village

Reporting for Duty as Harvey Struck

Two years ago, almost to the day, I reported to Kingwood Police Station for duty at 07:00 am for my first day back after two days off.  That day was August 25, 2017, and it would become an event that would leave a lasting impact on our city. 

As we sat in roll call, we knew Hurricane Harvey would be making its appearance at some point during our shift. My day started off dry, then to light rain and eventually into heavy downpours.  As the day continued, I found myself increasingly active in rescue operations alongside other emergency responders and citizens alike. 

Lessons of Harvey

Over the next several days, it became painfully obvious that the city was not prepared to handle a disaster of this magnitude. To be honest, I’m not sure any amount of planning could have prepared us for what was coming. The issues we faced were far greater than what our current systems of flood control and emergency services were capable of handling. Harvey should have been a lesson to us all, and should have reminded us that nature is always in control. This catastrophic event should have also acted as an incentive to repair long neglected drainage systems throughout the city, find ways to increase detention systems and adjust current infrastructure to accommodate future needs.  

 Street Flooding on May 7th

On the evening of May 7th, I again found myself in a significant flood event that brought back memories of Harvey. I experienced the street flooding that made traveling impossible, the flooding of homes and asking myself, `What has changed since Harvey?’ As I was wading through thigh-high water, I noticed that water simply did not seem to be draining. I would expect to see some indication of a current flowing into the storm drains, but I saw nothing. As the water receded it became apparent that our existing infrastructure could not support the rainfall amounts that fell on that day. Roadways in Houston are essentially part of our drainage systems and should be viewed as such. When debris, organic or otherwise, falls into the roadway our drainage system runs the risk of backing up. Then, back up leads to flooding.    

Flooding a Multifaceted Problem

So what’s the point of this? Instead of looking at flooding as a singular issue, we should apply an objective view and find additional contributing factors that we can address through a more comprehensive proactive approach to flooding. Let’s look at flood control like a system and view everything as inter-related. Flooding involves more than just water, just as crime involves more than just an offender. Let’s look at what contributing factors are present in smaller flood events, just as much as we look at the conditions present in combating the catastrophic events. 

Contributing Factors to Street Flooding

In looking at the small rain events, we need to ask where our storm-drain backups come from. The answer might be more simplistic than we think. How often do we drive down a street in Kingwood and go to make a turn, only to be forced to creep out so we can see on-coming traffic? When was the last time you drove down the road and saw a dead tree toppled over or a yard crew blowing lawn clippings into a drain? Most importantly, prior to the May 7thfloods, when was the last time anyone of us saw basic service or maintenance being done to any of our rain water sewer systems?

Recommendations to Help Reduce Flooding

The catastrophic flooding that hit Kingwood during Harvey must be addressed by: adding gates to the dam on Lake Houston; dredging the river and mouth bar; and adding detention basins.  

I cannot help but wonder, however, about the condition of our drainage systems in this city. Are our drainage systems working as intended and designed? It has recently come to light that our sewage systems are in such poor condition that they are leaking raw sewage, leading to a consent decree that will ultimately cost the taxpayers around $2 billion. I question if our sewage lines are clogged or cracked, why should we not at least consider the possibility that our drainage system may be too?

We need to address the major issues: gates for Lake Houston, dredging of the lake, and additional detention basins.  The gates will allow for greater water flow, the dredging allows for proper conveyance and additional detention basins will help control run off and allow for our homes to stay dry during major flooding events. With that however, we must also focus ensuring our drainage systems work as intended.  This can be accomplished through regular and routine maintenance.

Need Greater Emphasis on Infrastructure, Maintenance

We need to face reality and that reality is that, for too long, we have ignored and neglected the infrastructure in this city.  We need to ask if the lack of investment into our infrastructure has led to a greater risk of flooding.  We need to focus on addressing those areas of neglect that have been allowed to increase the potential of significant flood events.

We need to focus on the neglect that impacts our ability to effectively and efficiently respond to significant flood events. We need to focus on keeping our medians and storm drains free from obstructions and ensure that proper and regular service is being given to the system that is designed to keep us dry. 

By Sam Cleveland, Candidate for Houston City Council District E

730 Days (2 years) since Hurricane Harvey inundated the Lake Houston Area