Tag Archive for: Harris County Engineering

After Quitting Time, Contractor Pumps Silty Stormwater into Street

1/31/24 – At 5:20 today, about the time government inspectors usually knock off work and the sun was setting, I got a tip from a reader. The reader alerted me to flooding on Kings Park Way near West Lake Houston Parkway, adjacent to a new Trammell-Crow apartment complex that Harris County Engineering had cited for stormwater violations. I hustled down there. Here is what I found.

One Lane Flooded

The contractors were pumping silty stormwater into the street and flooding one lane of the road.

The hose pumping the water into the street appeared to be at least 4 inches.

They had placed sand bags around one storm drain to help filter the silt.

But the silty stormwater was so deep, it flowed in both directions…

…straight into another unprotected City of Houston storm drain down the block.

Mud covered sidewalks ankle deep…

…while an excavator dug a trench to make more muck flow toward the pump.

From the wet marks on the pavement, it appeared that the discharge had covered the entire right lane at one point.

This is Phase II of an apartment complex development. The land you see is owned by Kingwood Residences HTX and HTX II LLC. Both LLCs are owned by High Street Residential, a wholly owned operating subsidiary of Trammell Crow Company in Dallas. Their local headquarters are on 2800 POST OAK BLVD STE 400, HOUSTON TX 77056-6169. In case you chose to write them.

Public-Safety Issue

According to one study, “Sediment pollution is the single most common source of pollution in U.S. waters. Approximately 30% is caused by natural erosion, and the remaining 70% is caused by human activity. Construction activity is the most common source of sediment pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agencysediment pollution causes approximately $16 billion in environmental damage annually.”

Clogged drains affect road safety. Clogged rivers affect flood safety.

After Hurricane Harvey, the Army Corps found that sediment had blocked 90% of the West Fork. Dredging cost hundreds of millions of dollars. And another email from a boater that I found waiting for me when I got home from the disaster site alerted me to the fact that sediment is building back in at an alarming rate.

Perhaps Mr. Crow could help with the next round of dredging. In 2020, Trammell Crow Holdings was worth an estimated $19.6 billion.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/31/24

2346 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.

Montgomery, Liberty Counties Still Have Not Adopted Minimum Drainage Recommendations

After Hurricane Harvey, Harris County Engineering examined regulations throughout the region and recommended minimum drainage standards to reduce future flooding in the region’s cities and counties. Harris County even offered to pay the cost of inventorying existing standards and having an engineering firm draft recommended revisions. But almost 2000 days after Harvey, only half of the area’s cities and counties have taken action. Among those not acting: Montgomery and Liberty Counties. Here’s a breakdown of who has done what as of January 18, 2023, according to Harris County.

Already Upgraded

Twenty took Harris County up on its offer. They have already successfully updated their drainage regulations. They include:

  • Cities of
    • Baytown
    • Bellaire
    • Bunker Hill Village
    • Deer Park
    • El Lago
    • Friendswood
    • Galena Park
    • Hilshire Village
    • Houston
    • Humble
    • Jersey Village
    • Katy
    • La Porte
    • Pasadena
    • Piney Point Village
    • Seabrook
    • Southside Place
    • Taylor Lake Village
    • Tomball
  • Waller County

Considered Updates But Haven’t Acted

Twelve had requested and received an analysis, but had not yet implemented recommendations. They include:

  • Cities of:
    • Hedwig Village
    • Jacinto City
    • League City
    • Missouri City
    • Nassau Bay
    • Pearland
    • Shoreacres
    • South Houston
    • Spring Valley
    • Webster
    • West University
  • Fort Bend County

Not Acting

Eight have not updated ordinances and regulations. These include communities that did not respond to and those that refused Harris County’s offer. They include:

  • Cities:
    • Hunter’s Creek Village
    • Morgan’s Point
    • Stafford
    • Waller
  • Counties:
    • Brazoria
    • Galveston
    • Liberty
    • Montgomery

In fairness, Montgomery County did hire a firm in August 2022 to update/revise its drainage criteria manual and subdivision rules. The scope of work included examining some of the recommendations below made by Harris County. But work was expected to take at least a year.

Recommendations for Minimum Drainage Standards

The minimum drainage standards recommended by Harris County included:

  • Use Atlas 14 rainfall rates for sizing storm water conveyance and detention systems.
  • Require a minimum detention rate of 0.55 acre feet per acre for any new development on tracts one acre or larger. However, single-family residential structures and accessory buildings on existing lots would be exempt.
  • Prohibit the use of hydrographic timing as a substitute for detention on any project, unless it directly outfalls into Galveston Bay.
  • Require “no net fill” in the current mapped 500-year flood plain, except in areas identified as coastal zones only.
  • Require minimum Finished Floor Elevation (FFE) of new habitable structures be established at or waterproofed to the 500-year flood elevation as shown on the effective Flood Insurance Study.

I would add one more to the list:

  • No clearing or grading before environmental and drainage studies are completed, and during grading, measures are taken to protect neighbors from runoff.

This seems to be particularly troublesome issue for those surrounding new developments.

Self Interest

Harris County Engineering originally positioned adoption of the minimum drainage standards as a condition for receiving partnership money from the 2018 flood bond.

Clearly, not everyone sees that has a powerful incentive. Those outside Harris County likely see little benefit, especially since the Equity Prioritization Framework has delayed funding in those areas.

Perhaps Harris County should have emphasized how adoption of the minimum standards could help reduce flooding for ALL people in the region – including those within Montgomery and Liberty Counties.

During heavy rains in late January, I received dozens of reports of flooding in Montgomery and Liberty Counties. As growth in surrounding areas explodes, lax regulations are starting to inflict suffering on those area’s own citizens.

They should adopt higher standards for their own benefit, not just Harris County’s.

Photo taken January 30, 2023 along Harris/MoCo border near San Jacinto West Fork after 1.32 inches of rain.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/5/23

1986 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.

Harris County Commissioners Reaffirm Need for Minimum Drainage Standards in Region

On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, Harris County Commissioners Court reaffirmed the need for minimum drainage standards in the region. The program called “Fix Flooding First,” was started in 2020 by the Harris County Engineering Department. It is designed to help prevent flooding, not just fix it. The idea: to bring all municipalities and other counties that drain into Harris County to adopt minimum drainage standards.

Big Box Stores in Humble opposite Deerbrook Mall along US59 during Harvey. 130,000 cubic feet per second came downstream from Montgomery County which has declined to work with Harris County in adopting minimum flood regulations.

Altogether, the West Fork and East Forks of the San Jacinto with Peach and Caney Creeks, all of which drain through rapidly developing Montgomery County sent 300,000 cubic feet per second into the Lake Houston Area during Harvey.

To see how many square miles are being drained upstream from you, consult this map. Almost half of the watersheds in Harris County originate outside the county.

watersheds in Harris and surrounding counties
Watersheds in Harris and surrounding counties.

Seeking Agreement on Five Measures

Five minimum measures, recommended by the Office of the County Engineer and Harris County Flood Control District, include:

1. Use Atlas 14 rainfall rates for sizing storm water conveyance and detention systems.
2. Require a minimum detention rate of 0.55 acre-feet per acre of detention for any new development on tracts one acre or larger. A single-family residential structure and accessory building proposed on an existing lot is exempt from providing detention.
3. Prohibit the use of hydrograph timing as a substitute for detention on any project, unless it directly outfalls into Galveston Bay.
4. Require “no net fill” in the current mapped 500-year floodplain, except in areas identified as coastal zones only.
5. Require the minimum Finished Flood Elevation of new habitable structures be established at or waterproofed to the 500-year flood elevation as shown on the effective Flood Insurance Study.

Harris County Has Little Leverage

Harris County doesn’t have much leverage in this request. It can’t force neighbors to do anything. Compliance more or less depends on good will and a recognition that flooding in Houston and Harris County can affect the whole region negatively. Working together ultimately benefits everyone.

However, Harris County does have two small carrots. The County hired a consultant to review existing flood regulations in neighboring jurisdictions and make recommendations to bring them up to minimum standards. The county also can approve (or reject) partnership projects with those neighbors.

Mixed Results; No Change Since January

As of the start of this year, the program had met with mixed success.

  • 16 municipalities (including Houston, Humble) and Waller County had successfully upgraded their regulations.
  • 14 municipalities and Fort Bend County had completed the analysis of the regulations but not fully upgraded them yet.
  • 8 (four municipalities and four counties) did not respond to the offer of the analysis, refused it, or refused to participate.

As of last Tuesday, those results had not changed since January when I last reported on this program. The same municipalities and counties were in each category. Liberty and Montgomery Counties both fall into the last category (did not respond or refused).

Compliance list from January has not changed as of April 5, 2022.

Establish Precedent for Regional Cooperation Now

Harris County can spend billions on flood mitigation, but if upstream communities keep sending more water downstream, we may never see improvement. 

Ironically, all the upstream communities will be downstream from other developing communities in the future and may be in the same position that Harris is in today. It would be good to establish precedent for regional cooperation now that they could use themselves in the future.

Studies show that for every dollar spent on flood prevention, they can save five dollars on flood mitigation. That’s money that could go into improving the quality of services and infrastructure in communities….without forcing people through the trauma of flooding!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/7/22

1682 Days since Hurricane Harvey