Tag Archive for: HCFCD

Woodridge Village Excavation Activity Almost Doubles

Compared to July, Woodridge Village excavation activity almost doubled in August.

As of close of business on September 6, 2023, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) contractor Sprint Sand and Clay has excavated 146,104 cubic yards of material to expand the stormwater detention basin capacity on Woodridge Village.

At the end of July, Sprint had excavated 135, 751 cubic yards. That means the company excavated another 10, 353 cubic yards in August, or 6.4 acre feet.

And that brought the total excavated to date up to 361.6 acre feet, or 94% of the Atlas 14 requirement.

Stepping Up Stormwater Detention Capacity

When Perry Homes sold the site to HCFCD and City of Houston, the site had five detention basins totaling 271 acre feet. The new basin has the potential to more than double that volume.

Think of the expansion of Woodridge Village stormwater-detention-basin capacity in four stages:

  • The starting point, i.e., what the site had when purchased from Perry Homes.
  • An additional amount that Sprint has excavated to date.
  • The Atlas-14 requirement.
  • The contract max (500,000 cubic yards).

Here’s how the various stages look in a table.

Acre Feet of Stormwater Detention% of Atlas-14 Requirement% of Ultimate
Site Had When Purchased from Perry Homes27170%47%
Has as of 9/6/23361.694%62.3%
Atlas 14 Requires385100%66%
If Sprint Excavates All 500K Cubic Feet580150%100%
As of 9/6/23.

I based all calculations on original construction plans, HCFCD monthly reports, Atlas-14 Requirements and Sprint’s contract.

Photos Taken 9/7/2023

Here’s how Woodridge Village excavation activity looks on the ground.

The site was busier today last month. Trucks constantly shuttled in and out.
Looking NE across the new basin and the main part of Woodridge Village
Looking SW toward site entrance, Kingwood Park HS and Woodland Hills Drive
Main thrust of work during August appears to be toward the east.
An excavator loaded several trucks while I watched.

Outline of Excavation

Harris County Commissioners Court approved the contract with Sprint Sand and Clay on July 20, 2021. It obligates Sprint to remove at least 5,000 cubic yards per month. Excavation started on January 27, 2022. 

Woodridge Village Excavation and Removal
Sprint can take material wherever it wants, but must excavate from within the red boundary line.

Sprint will make only $1,000 from its Woodridge Village excavation contract with HCFCD, but will make its profit by selling the dirt at market rates. An engineer familiar with HCFCD operations estimates that if HCFCD had to pay market rates to have that 146,000 cubic yards moved, it would have cost taxpayers between $1.46 million and $2.9 million. He based those numbers on recent bids.

So, the Sprint contract is a good deal for taxpayers, but it carries some uncertainty with it.

If the demand for dirt dries up, excavation could slow or stop.

Next Steps

But simply excavating the dirt isn’t the end of the job. Harris County still needs to slope the sides, plant grass, and tie the new basin into the site’s existing stormwater-detention-basin network. 

HCFCD awarded the engineering project for all that to Halff, based on the company’s qualifications. HCFCD is currently negotiating the scope of the project with Halff.

At the current rate of excavation, Sprint could reach Atlas 14 requirements by the end of the year. But the contractor is still less than a third of the way through its contract maximum of 500,000 cubic yards.

Construction of Taylor Gully conveyance improvements cannot move forward until the appropriate stormwater mitigation on Woodridge Village is in place first. Only one thing is certain at this point. That could still be awhile.

But there is good news. In the meantime, the extra Woodridge Village detention basin capacity will go a long way toward reducing flood risk for people downstream.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/7/23

2200 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Colony Ridge Buying Up Floodplain Land in Huffman

Colony Ridge Land, LLC, developer of the world’s largest trailer park in Liberty County, is buying up Harris County property in the floodplain of the East Fork San Jacinto. Since the property in the Cypress Point subdivision was originally platted, flood maps changed in 2001 and are in the process of changing again. Most of the properties face serious flood risk that the current flood maps may not communicate.

Land Remains Uncleared

Development has not yet started. The land is still heavily wooded…so much so, in fact, that dirt roads developed in the 1980s have become overtaken by trees and undergrowth. They are barely passable according to one person I talked to.

Colony Ridge has acquired at least 19 (but not all) properties within red area.
What the partially developed area looked like in 1988. Note unpaved roads nearest river.

Back in the late 1980s, the original developer cleared space for roads and platted the land going down to the East Fork. But today, paved roads stop about a quarter mile short of the river. From the air, those old dirt roads look like a slight indentation in the forest canopy.

Looking NE from over the utility corridor that forms the southern limit of the area. East Fork on right flows toward camera.
Looking NE from farther north. Old roadway appears as a crease in the jungle.
Still looking NE. Note how pavement on Birchwood Drive stops short of entering area.
Reverse angle looking S toward Lake Houston visible as blue streak below horizon in upper left. Lake Houston Park on right.

The Big Question

Why did the original developers stop short of paving roads all the way to the river? The answer likely has something to do with floodplains. Note in the image below how several of the lots border or lay within the floodway. Many more lay within the 100- and 500-year floodplains.

How Bad Could Flooding Be?

But those floodplain maps are outdated and can mislead. High-water marks established by HCFCD and contour maps by the U.S. Geological Survey suggest this property has flooded seriously at least 8 times in the last 20 years.

Elevation profile from USGS National Map

From the East Fork to the end of Oaknoll Drive, the elevation rises from approximately 42.5 feet to 67 feet. The 24.5-foot difference might sound like a lot. But consider this.

In 1994, the flood of record for the East Fork in this area (before Harvey), crested at 76.2 feet. That would have put the highest property near Oaknoll under 9 feet of water. The lowest property near the river would have been under 33.7 feet of water.

Then came Harvey. At the nearest gage, the East Fork crested at 81.2 feet.

That would have put the highest and lowest properties under 14.2 feet and 38.7 feet of water respectively.

All figures were computed using the elevation profile function in the USGS National Map, and cross referencing the results with the Harris County Flood Warning System gage at FM1485.

Even though most of the acquired properties are shown in the 500-year flood plain, most of them have been under water eight times in the 20 years since 1994.

Approximate high water marks from HarrisCountyFWS.org gage at FM1485 and East Fork.

In fact, most of the undeveloped lots likely flooded in an unnamed and already forgotten flood in April of this year.


Official Floodplains Expanding

Floodplains change with better understanding of the climate, upstream development, and better measurement technologies, such as LIDAR. Our current flood maps were developed after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. But we’ve gotten a lot smarter about flood mapping since then.

That’s why Harris County Flood Control District and FEMA are updating flood maps for this area. The floodplains you see above will likely expand by 50% to 100% according to preliminary guidance from Harris County Flood Control. FEMA is in the process of certifying revised maps and should release them later this year or early next for public comment.

From MAAPnext.org.

Are Readings from FM1485 Analogous to Cypress Point?

Give or take few feet, the flood depths cited above are probably in the ballpark. Even if the high-water marks at Cypress Point are a few feet lower, they still represent serious flooding.

HarrisCountyFEMT.org shows that the width of the floodplain at FM1485 and Cypress Point, lower left, does not vary significantly.

One of the region’s leading hydrologists who has studied this area extensively felt the flood heights at FM1485 would translate well to Cypress Point where Colony Ridge is acquiring property. Colony Ridge has purchased at least 19 properties in the affected area. The map below shows where they are.

Note how virtually all purchases happened after Imelda, which would have put even higher properties under almost six feet of water.

Another property valuation report shows how the land value decreased 73% after Imelda in 2019. Colony Ridge purchased most of the properties in 2020. Bargain hunting?

Homes on Stilts Likely Unaffordable for Colony Ridge Target Market

It’s not clear what Colony Ridge plans to build on this property. However, the company has a history of selling land to Hispanic immigrants, then letting them clear their own lots and bring in trailer homes.

Many may not have a firm grasp of English. Few likely understand flood risk, especially the nuances of flood maps in flux. And Colony Ridge typically “owner finances,” meaning buyers don’t go through banks which would require flood studies and flood insurance before making a mortgage loan.

Alleged abuses are so common that whole websites have been set up to chronicle them.

Under today’s guidelines for developing land in floodplains, especially this deep in floodplains, homebuilders would likely have to elevate homes on stilts. And elevating homes 35 feet high would likely make them cost prohibitive for most of Colony Ridge’s primary target market.

Watch this one closely to make sure that no rules get broken.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/4/23

2166 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.

Woodridge Village Excavation Slows in July

During July 2023, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) contractor Sprint Sand and Clay, LLC, excavated 5,754 cubic yards from a new Woodridge Village stormwater detention basin. That brought Sprints’ grand total up to 135, 751 cubic yards. 

5,764 cubic yards equals another 3.6 acre feet. The previous month, Sprint excavated 5 acre feet. So, excavation during July declined 28%. At the current rate, Sprint would take another 8 months to bring detention volume up to Atlas-14 requirements (see table below). 

At the end of July, excavation had reached 92.6% of Atlas-14 requirements, up slightly from June, when it had reached 92%. 

Why Atlas 14 is Important

Atlas-14 defines the current standard for safely containing a 100-year rainfall. The lack of detention basin capacity contributed to the flooding of hundreds of homes along Taylor Gully twice in 2019, after Perry contractors clearcut the property.

HCFCD and City of Houston purchased the property from Perry in March 2021. Excavation of additional stormwater detention capacity started in January 2022. At the time, it had only 70% of the required detention capacity under Atlas 14.

NOAA is already working on revising Atlas 14. Atlas 15 will incorporate predicted climate-change impacts and feature recurrence intervals up to 1000 years.

However, the good news is that Sprint’s contract could eventually take the site well beyond Atlas-14.

Before/After Photos Show July Progress

I took the first photo below on July 1, 2023.

Woodridge Village E&R as of July 1, 2023
Woodridge Village July 1, 2023, looking NE.

I took the other photos below at the end of July.

July 29, 2023. The big difference appears to be the area filled with water.

The outline has changed little. But additional water in the absence of rain and the presence of blistering heat suggests excavation may have reached the water table.

During the month of July, when temperatures pushed a 100 degrees every day, the nearest gage received only 2 inches of rain. And most of that was three weeks before the photo above.

HCFCD often prefers wet bottom retention basins because they reduce mowing costs, but the design of this basin is not yet complete.

Those circular patterns may indicate the use of scrapers to lower the bottom of the new basin gradually.
However, north (right) of the exposed water, contractors still seem to be using excavators to expand the edges of the area.

Under HCFCD Excavation and Removal contracts, contractors are free to excavate where they want within the provided footprint.

Rough layout for new Woodridge basin.
Green area indicates rough outline of new basin.

Where Does Woodridge Village Excavation Go From Here?

HCFCD’s Excavation and Removal contract with Sprint Sand & Clay calls for excavating up to 500,000 cubic yards. Sprint excavated approximately 8,000 cubic yards (5 acre feet) in June. 

Any excavation beyond Atlas-14 needs would create a safety hedge against future needs should they increase. 

NOAA is already working on updating the Atlas 14 requirements and should release Atlas 15 before the end of this decade.

Here’s how the various stages look in a table.

Acre Feet of Stormwater Detention% of Atlas-14 Requirement% of Ultimate
Site Had When Purchased from Perry Homes27170%47%
Has as of 8/1/23356.592.5%61.5%
Atlas 14 Requires385100%66%
If Sprint Excavates All 500K Cubic Feet580150%100%
Calculations based on original construction plans, HCFCD monthly reports, Atlas-14 Requirements and Sprint contract. Sprint could excavate down to or even slightly past the small grove of trees in the top center.

Sprint will make only $1,000 from its Woodridge Village excavation contract with HCFCD, but will make its profit by selling the dirt at market rates. It’s a good deal for taxpayers, but carries some uncertainty with it.

If the demand for dirt dries up, excavation could slow or stop.

But simply excavating the dirt isn’t the end of the job. Harris County still needs to slope the sides, plant grass, and tie the new basin into the site’s existing stormwater-detention-basin network. Engineers are reportedly working on plans for all that, according to HCFCD.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/1/2023

2163 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Northpark Drive Expansion Begins in Earnest

Note: This story was updated on 7/26/23 to include more information about phasing of the Northpark Drive expansion project.

After what turned out to be a ceremonial groundbreaking on 4/13/23, the Northpark Drive expansion project appears to have started in earnest on 7/25/2023. Northpark is a vital evacuation route for tens of thousands of Kingwood and Porter residents during floods.

Cones and Culvert Line Northpark Center Ditch

Traffic cones line the center ditch between Russell-Palmer and the Kingwood Diversion Ditch.

Looking west toward Russell-Palmer Road

Contractors have also stacked what looks like six-foot reinforced-concrete pipe on the edge of the Northpark Drive ditch where it enters the Kingwood Diversion Ditch.

Looking SE across Northpark from Fireworks Stand parking lot to Flowers of Kingwood.

They have also begun excavating the Northpark center ditch.

Looking E to Kingwood and City Limit (Green sign).

Project Partners

Project partners include:

  • Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority
  • City of Houston District E
  • Montgomery County Precinct 4
  • Texas Dept. of Transportation
  • Harris County Flood Control

Plan Vs. Execution

In general, the project partners plan to widen Northpark by a lane in each direction (toward the middle). But instead of taking land and parking from merchants, the project partners plan to replace the center ditch with culvert then pave over it.

Early plans indicated that the area between US59 and Russell-Palmer would be Phase One and that Russell-Palmer to the Diversion Ditch and eventually beyond Woodland Hills would follow.

However, Ralph Deleon, a TIRZ engineer/project manager indicated that contractors are taking pieces of the phases out of order. Why? Contractors are ready to go. But not all the right-of-way and utility issues have been resolved.

So they’re approaching drainage first and starting at the downstream end – a best practice. In coming days, we should see additional activity on other portions of Northpark Drive. But Deleon emphasized that the public should have two lanes of traffic in both directions at all times.

The Lake Houston Redevelopment Authority (TIRZ 10) website contains a number of videos and construction docs that detail the ultimate vision for the project as well as next steps.

Will Culvert Convey as Much as Ditch?

The first thing that popped into my mind when I looked at the size of the culvert and the size of the ditch was that the culvert could not possibly convey all the water that the ditch used to.

Google Earth shows width of v-shaped ditch is 50 feet. Circular pipe is 6 feet.

Then I read this letter from Harris County Flood Control to the engineering company. It states, “The proposed improvement includes enlarging the proposed storm sewer system to provide inline detention and modeling the restrictors needed to meet allowable outflow requirements for both outfalls.”

The pipes shown above would definitely act as restrictors. I sure hope they don’t back water up into the street.

Having worked near Northpark for 22 years, I’ve seen the ditch overflow on multiple occasions. I’ve seen cars plunge to the bottom, emergency rescues, and stalled vehicles.

Here is the engineering company’s drainage impact analysis. And this presentation provides a project overview for the pre–bid conference for the western portion of the project. It shows a 32-month construction schedule for the western portion alone – even with a six day work week.

More Info to Follow

The TIRZ docs for the eastern portion of the project (Russell-Palmer to Diversion Ditch, Woodland Hills and beyond) are less comprehensive.

I’m meeting with the engineers and contractors tomorrow to learn more. Check back for more news and analysis.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/25/2023 and updated on 7/26/23

2156 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Poor-Farm-Ditch Renovation Funding Finally Secured

On 6/28/23, civic leaders from all levels of government gathered to celebrate the acquisition of enough funding to finally begin renovating Poor-Farm Ditch.

Poor-Farm Ditch runs from Greenway Plaza on the north to Brays Bayou on the south between West University Place and South Side Place. Harris County Flood Control District started studying ditch improvements more than 20 years ago. The 70-year-old, crumbling concrete ditch carries stormwater runoff from 1,330 highly developed acres.

Numerous Problems Associated with Poor-Farm Ditch

Poor-Farm Ditch has several problems:

  • Pieces of the crumbling concrete periodically collapse into the ditch and block it, exacerbating flooding.
  • Erosion threatens homes and businesses, which crowd the ditch on either side.
  • Adjacent properties have been built up as much as five feet. The existing channel walls were not designed to support that much weight.
  • Railroad ties and other earth-retaining features (used to stabilize the extra fill) have failed and fallen into the ditch, reducing its hydraulic capacity by 50% in places.
  • The channel’s width varies along its length, creating choke points in some places. Parts can handle a 100-year rain with room to spare while others can only handle a 10-year rain.
  • Encroachments have been constructed within the Harris County Flood Control District’s (HCFCD) right of way.

Press Conference Celebrates Funding Success At Long Last

U.S. Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher who secured $9.9 million for the $30+ million project kicked off today’s press conference by thanking all the officials and staff members present.

Left to right: West University Place Mayor Susan Sample, U.S. Representative Lizzie Fletcher, Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis (speaking), Southside Place Mayor Andy Chan, District 134 State Rep. Ann Johnson, HCFCD Exec. Director Dr. Tina Petersen 

Goals of Renovation

According to the funding request filed by Congresswoman Fletcher, the primary goal of the project is to avoid a failure of the existing channel by constructing an entirely new channel structure in its place.

Channel rehabilitation will reduce flood risk by improving hydraulic capacity. It will also improve HCFCD’s ability to provide maintenance.

The construction project will include maintenance access ramps for HCFCD, and reinforced pavement for inspection and “maintenance by foot” on top of the channel banks.

Geographic scope of project. Source: Harris County Flood Control District

In total, the project will benefit 523 structures and 1,036 people.

On-Again, Off-Again Project Finally Finds Funding

As you can see from the pictures below, buildings on the banks of the ditch leave little room for expansion. The project was actually put on hold for two years by Harris County Commissioners Court given lack of funding and lack of consensus support for the improvements among local leaders and residents.

At the time, HCFCD said it would continue to perform spot repairs and debris clearing as needed.

Then in 2021, the project regained momentum. An engineering study concluded it would be necessary to mitigate the impacts of the proposed Poor-Farm Ditch improvements on Brays Bayou by providing 43 acre feet of stormwater detention along Brays Bayou. 

The pictures below illustrate just some of these problems. HCFCD started studying the ditch in 2002. But it has taken until 2023 to raise enough money to address these issues.

Note how close homes and businesses are to the ditch. This turned out to be THE key design constraint. As both Southside and West U policemen told me today, “No one wanted to give up property to improve the ditch.
Foliage over the ditch frequently forms log dams that can make flooding worse if not cleared promptly.
Aging concrete requires frequent repair but access is poor.

Funding Will Come from Five Different Sources

Funding breaks down as follows:

  • $5.7 million from the Harris County Flood Control District
  • $150,000 from the City of Southside Place
  • $150,000 from the City of West University Place
  • $16.9 million from State of Texas
  • $9.9 million from Federal government

That puts the total secured funding at $32.8 million, enough to begin final design, bidding and construction.

Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher secured a huge win in Fiscal Year 2023 when she obtained a $9.9 million earmark.

But according to inside sources, Southside Mayor Chan, working with State Representative Ann Johnson and State Senator Joan Huffman secured the final funding needed for the project – another $16.9 million. Remarkably, the state earmark wasn’t even in the original budget bill this year, but was added during the conference committee phase!  

Construction will not likely start until at least next year at the earliest according to Mayor Chan.

During the press conference, participants used the phrase “dogged determination” numerous times. To pull off a project like this requires committed partners to coordinate efforts and pursue funding relentlessly from municipal, county, state and federal governments.

Civic leaders from other areas could learn from this team.

How Ditch Got Its Name

The ditch gets its name from a Poor Farm established by Harris County Commissioners in 1894 in what is now West University Place.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/28/23

2129 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Approves $825 Million Flood-Mitigation Project List For HUD/GLO Funds

On June 6, 2023, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) recommended to Commissioners Court a flood-mitigation and disaster-relief project list totaling $825 million. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated the funds to Harris County via the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The projects will require another $145 million in local-match funds from the 2018 Flood Bond. Thus, the projects are worth close to a billion dollars.

Commissioners Court unanimously approved the project list with little discussion. Each precinct will receive a relatively equal amount of projects and funding, according to Commissioner Ramsey.

Two Buckets of Money

The money comes in two buckets: Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds totaling $322.5 million and hazard mitigation funds totaling $502.5 million. HCFCD intends to use both primarily for channel improvements and stormwater-detention-basin projects.

Further, HCFCD has divided its project list into primary and backup recommendations.

Factors Used to Determine Recommendations

HCFCD developed the project list with the following factors in mind:

HUD normally gives priority to projects that help minority and low-income areas. However, the two major buckets have different LMI requirements. They also have different deadlines.

HCFCD must spend 100% of the Disaster-Relief (DR) funds by August 2026. And they must benefit areas where 70% of the residents qualify as LMI (below the average income for the region).

The Mitigation funds have more time and a 50% LMI requirement. No less than 50% of the $750,000,000 – from which the $502.5 is carved – must be expended by January 12, 2027, with the full balance expended by January 12, 2032.

So the DR funds have more urgency attached to them and that list includes projects closest to “construction ready.”

Reason for Backup Projects

According to HCFCD, the project list will likely evolve based on review by GLO, project schedules and project costs. Budgets are estimates based upon today’s dollars. They will change as projects advance. 

Fatal flaws may also become visible as projects advance toward construction. So, HCFCD requested and received permission to substitute alternate projects as needed if the intended projects become non-viable.  

1 Recommended, 1 Alternate Project in Lake Houston Area

The “recommended” list includes one primary project in the Lake Houston Area: Taylor Gully Improvements.

It also includes one project on the alternate list: the Woodridge Village Stormwater Detention Basin, part of which is already under construction.

Locations of HCFCD Mitigation and Disaster-Relief project recommendations

9 Upstream Projects

HCFCD is also recommending nine upstream projects on tributaries that feed into Lake Houston.

Primary recommendations include:

  • Upper Cypress Creek Floodplain Preservation
  • Part 3 of the Kluge Stormwater Detention Basin on Little Cypress Creek
  • Rehabilitation of the Kickerillo Mischer Preserve Channel on Cypress Creek
  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Part 1 on Willow Creek
  • Channel Rehabilitation, Batch 5 on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • East and West TC Jester Detention Basins on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • Detention for Channel Rehabilitation on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek, Batch 5

Alternate recommendations include:

  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Phase II on Willow Creek
  • Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin on Cypress Creek

Click here to see the full list of projects.

Project-Specific Data Available Soon

The project list does not include information on how much these projects would contribute to flood reduction – either locally or downstream. However, HCFCD expects to post that information to its website before the projects go to the GLO for approval in the coming months.

Partnership-Funding Gap Affected

Likewise, HCFCD did not include with this list an estimate of how much it would affect the partner-funding gap.

Some time ago, HCFCD projected that it could finish all the projects in the flood bond using a combination of:

  • Taxpayer approved funds
  • Partner funds already committed
  • Harris County Toll Road Authority money allocated to the Flood Resilience Trust.

But to finish all the projects in the Flood Bond, HCFCD “phased” some projects. It knew it wouldn’t have enough money to complete 100% of some large projects. So, several phases might have been included and others deferred.

It appears that several projects on today’s list include some deferred phases. So the “partner-funding gap” may not be reduced as much as originally thought. Net: HCFCD may or may not have to look for additional funds. The District expects it will know more after GLO approves the list.

HCFCD must also come back to Commissioners Court by July 18 with an estimate for ongoing maintenance and land management costs for all the projects.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/6/2023

2107 Days since Hurricane Harvey

In May, Woodridge Village Excavation Total Reached Almost 124,000 Cubic Yards

Harris County Flood Control District’s (HCFCD) Woodridge Village Excavation and Removal contract for 500,000 cubic yards with Sprint Sand & Clay is almost one-quarter complete. Sprint excavated approximately another 9,000 cubic yards in May (5.8 acre feet). That’s almost double the monthly minimum and brings the total up to 123,882 cubic yards.

Stormwater from Woodridge Village flooded hundreds of homes twice in 2019. The excavation will provide additional stormwater detention capacity to reduce flood risk downstream in the future.

May/June Photos Show Progress

The first two photos below were taken at the beginning of May and June 2023.

Sprint Sand and Clay Excavation and Removal Contract work at Woodridge Village
Looking ENE. Extent of excavation on May 2, 2023
Looking ENE. Extent of Excavation on June 4, 2023

Up until now, Sprint has been excavating from west to east. Now, they seem to be excavating primarily from south to north.

HCFCD spokesperson Amy Crouser said that, “Essentially, the contractor is free to excavate where they want within the provided footprint.”

Looking east across new focus of excavation.

Where Does Woodridge Village Excavation Go From Here?

Sprint has excavated 76.8 acre feet so far. That brings the current detention capacity (old plus new) to 348 acre feet. That’s 90% of what Woodridge Village needs to meet Atlas-14 requirements.

If Sprint keeps excavating at the current rate, it could reach Atlas-14 requirements before the end of the year.

Here’s how all that looks in a table.

Acre Feet of Stormwater Detention% of Ultimate
Site Had When Purchased from Perry Homes27147%
Has as of 6/4/2334860%
Atlas 14 Requires38566%
If Sprint Excavates All 500K Cubic Feet580100%
Calculations based on original construction plans, HCFCD monthly reports, Atlas-14 Requirements and Sprint contract.

Sprint’s contract calls for excavating UP TO 500,000 cubic yards. Any excavation beyond Atlas-14 needs would create a safety hedge against future needs should they increase. 

Sprint will make only $1,000 from its Woodridge Village excavation contract, but will make its profit by selling the dirt at market rates. It’s a good deal for taxpayers, but carries some uncertainty with it.

A lot of flexibility exists for both parties in an E&R contract. If the demand for dirt dries up and excavation slows, HCFCD and Sprint could modify the E&R contract to complete a smaller detention basin sooner. But I assume it would still meet Atlas 14 requirements at a minimum.

But simply excavating the dirt isn’t the end of the job. Harris County still needs to slope the sides, plant grass, and tie the new basin into the site’s existing stormwater-detention-basin network. 

HCFCD and Harris County Purchasing are currently evaluating consultants’ bids to draw up the final construction plans.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/5/2023

2106 Days since Hurricane Harvey

HCFCD Could Get $322 Million in Redeployed Funds from GLO

The Texas General Land Office has posted Amendment 12 to the Hurricane Harvey State Action Plan for public comment. Among the highlights: If approved, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) could get $322 million in reallocated funding from underperforming and completed programs for infrastructure projects that protect residences and businesses. The proposed amendment also includes additional changes.

Almost six years after Hurricane Harvey, the Texas General Land Office hopes to reallocate funding from programs with below-expected participation to programs showing greater-than-expected need.

The goal is to use all the money before unused funds must be returned to HUD in 2026.

Brittany Eck, GLO spokesperson
Looking north along Kingwood Diversion Ditch where hundreds of homes flooded during Harvey. The Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis rated widening this ditch as one of the two most important projects in the Kingwood area.

Where Extra HCFCD Money Comes From

Funds redirected to HCFCD include:

  • $30 million EACH (total $60 million) from the City of Houston and Harris County administered disaster recovery programs that failed to meet program contract benchmarks
  • $83.9 million from the GLO administered City of Houston Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP)
  • $178.13 million from the GLO administered Harris County HAP.

How Money Can Be Used

The GLO’s Homeowner Assistance Programs are projected to serve all eligible applicants in Harris County and City of Houston and the remaining funds are available to be redirected toward other needs.

The HCFCD program will provide disaster relief, long-term recovery, and flood and drainage improvement for local communities within Harris County impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

It will also protect assets that have since been repaired from Hurricane Harvey.

Each project must demonstrate how it will contribute to the long-term recovery and restoration of housing.

Other Reallocations

Amendment 12 ensures the $2.46 billion in CDBG-DR funds originally allocated to Harris County and City of Houston will continue to address unmet recovery needs within those jurisdictions.

Review the full text of Amendment 12 at https://recovery.texas.gov/public-notices/index.html.

Highlights include the following changes:

  • Harris County Administered Disaster Recovery Program total decreased to $887,334,984.
  • Homeowner Assistance Program increased to $49,524,866.
  • Homeowner Reimbursement Program decreased to $46,845,332.
  • Affordable Rental Program increased to $252,888,178. 
  • Single Family New Construction Program decreased to $59,560,401.
  • Commercial Buyout Program increased to $18,294,906.
  • Method of Distribution (Local) increased to $129,934,907.
  • Competitive Request for Proposal Program decreased to $74,289,859.
  • City of Houston Administered Disaster Recovery Program total decreased to $664,157,590.
  • Multifamily Rental Program decreased to $370,855,752.
  • Small Rental Program increased to $13,424,373.
  • Homebuyer Assistance Program decreased to $18,016,785.
  • Public Service reduced to $17,851,394.
  • Economic Revitalization Program increased to $21,803,775.
  • Planning reduced to $22,217,000.
  • State Administered Disaster Recovery Program increased to $4,124,897,426.
  • Harris County Flood Control District Program created with $322,033,863.
  • Infrastructure Project Delivery increased to $29,585,390.
  • Harris County Homeowner Assistance Program decreased $108,214,125.
  • City of Houston Homeowner Assistance Program decreased to $481,698,301.
  • Homeowner Reimbursement Program (GLO program completed in January 2021, administered in the 48 eligible counties outside of Harris County and Houston) decreased to $102,951,722.
  • PREPS decreased to $22,587,890.70.

A spokesperson said that the GLO left enough money in the original programs to cover completion of work already started or approved.

How to Register Your Opinion

In my opinion, HCFCD sure could use the $322 million. Project overruns and inflation have eaten into the 2018 Flood Bond funds jeopardizing many projects at the bottom of the equity priority list.

To be considered, submit your comments to cdr@recovery.texas.gov by 5:00 p.m. on June 21, 2023.

Per federal requirements, the GLO must respond to public comments before the amendment can be sent to HUD for its 45-day final approval.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/22/2023 based on a press release by GLO

2092 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Flood Control, Other Harris County Departments Reorganized…Again

Almost all Harris County departments have reorganized several times under County Judge Lina Hidalgo. By my estimate, the County’s 24 departments have had a total of 47 leaders during her administration.

Revolving Door for Department Heads

Eleven leaders have turned over in the last year including five in the last month. The:

  • Office of the County Administrator has a new interim Executive Director.
  • Economic Equity and Opportunity Office has a new interim Executive Director.
  • Commissioners Court Analysts’ Office has had two interim Executive Directors in a matter of weeks.
  • Universal Services Department has a new interim Executive Director (effective 5/16/23).

All those “interims” hint at more changes to come. But the changes go even further down several organizational ladders.

Deeper Changes Affect Whole Departments

The new interim leader at Universal Services, Sindhu Menon, began making organizational changes one day after her appointment two days ago. The full scope has yet to be seen. So far, she has reportedly addressed some departmental cultural changes and instituted an open door policy, which employees say is a refreshing change from her predecessor.

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) also announced changes this week on 5/15/23. But the District’s head did not change. HCFCD changes are more structural than cultural.

Let’s dive into HCFCD’s latest reorg, look at how three previous reorgs under Hidalgo have affected operations, and then look at academic research on the impact of frequent reorganizations.

Latest Reorganization at Flood Control

County Commissioners appointed Dr. Tina Petersen, Executive Director of HCFCD, in January 2022. She is the department’s fourth leader under Hidalgo since Russ Poppe resigned in July 2021, less than 2 years ago. Peterson has reportedly been working on her department’s reorganization for approximately the last year.

Dr. Petersen says her goals include:

  • Enhancing operations
  • Reaffirming a commitment to administrative excellence
  • Efficient project delivery
  • Robust maintenance of infrastructure
  • Building dynamic partnerships. 

Dr. Petersen did not respond to a question about whether the recent, dramatic drop in HCFCD spending had anything to do with the timing of her reorganization. However, all of the announced goals seem generally designed to counter the downward trend below on the right.

HCFCD Spending by Year since 2000
Source: FOIA Requests to HCFCD.

After a steady increase following the passage of the flood bond in 2018, spending is now down to approximately the 2017 level (assuming Q1 rates hold). The decrease corresponds to the department’s frequent leadership changes.

HCFCD issued the new organizational chart below this week. It is designed to accomplish Dr. Petersen’s goals, which don’t specifically include speed.

HCFCD org chart 5/15/23
For a printable high-res PDF, click here.

The new org chart shows:

  • The creation of several new positions at the “chief” level
  • A curious multi-level relationship between the chiefs
  • Multiple open positions
  • A reshuffling of responsibilities under the chiefs
  • “Demotions” for many departments caused by one and sometimes two additional layers of management inserted between Petersen and people actually doing the work.

Extra layers of management have the potential to slow things down even more rather than speed them up.

Changes Compared to Previous Structure

For instance, Communications used to report to the Chief of Staff and then Dr. Petersen. Now, it reports to a Public Information Officer and an External Affairs division head before the Chief of Staff. See org chart above in the second column from the left.

HCFCD issued no public announcement explaining the changes. So, without a previous org chart, it’s hard to tell exactly what changed unless you are familiar with certain departments (as I was with communications).

The demotion of Communications is regrettable in my opinion. Communications have already slowed and this will slow them further. Consider two examples: flood-bond and website updates.

  • Already HCFCD has abandoned monthly flood-bond spending updates in favor of twice-yearly.
  • Many of the District’s web pages refer to upcoming meetings that happened years ago!
  • “Active Projects” have not been updated on the District’s website in five months, even though many projects have changed.
May 18th screen capture still shows active projects from January.

But the challenges don’t stop there.

Political Interference Has Slowed Flood-Risk Reduction

Irrespective of Dr. Petersen’s talents, she has little ability to control changing priorities above her pay grade. Consider these two examples.

Five items on the 5/16/23 Commissioners Court Agenda (256, 259, 260, 263 and 264) involved $250 million in grants for sediment removal awarded nearly 2 years ago. The projects were just approved THIS week.

A quarter billion dollars has been parked on the sidelines for almost two years.

Certainly, finalizing construction plans and bidding the jobs consumed part of that time. The reorg might help with those things.

But according to three sources who asked to remain anonymous, political interference from commissioners also delayed the projects. Certain commissioners reportedly didn’t think enough of the FEMA money was being spent in their precincts.

Then there’s the $750 million in HUD/GLO Harvey mitigation funds awarded to Harris County – also two years ago. Instead of asking Flood Control how it recommended spending the money, Commissioners gave that task to the Community Services Department (CSD) which still hasn’t developed a definitive list of projects. Perhaps that’s because CSD has had six changes of leadership under Hidalgo. But CSD did cut HCFCD’s share of the pie by almost a quarter billion dollars.

The parked FEMA and HUD funds represented chances for Hidalgo to reduce flood risk by a $1 billion.

And let’s not forget the annual changes of priorities in the County’s Equity Prioritization Framework that force HCFCD staff to constantly re-evaluate more than a hundred projects.

Common Pitfalls of Reorganizations in General

Many valid reasons exist to reorganize. Likewise, reorganizations also entail many pitfalls.

Frequent reorgs can wreak havoc on an organization’s productivity by demoralizing employees.

A McKinsey survey in the Harvard Business Review (Getting Reorgs Right) found that:

  • 80% of reorgs fail to deliver the hoped-for value in the time planned
  • 10% cause real damage
  • Reorgs—and the uncertainty they provoke—can cause greater stress and anxiety than layoffs
  • In about 60% of cases, reorgs reduce productivity for a period of time.

An article in Forbes, titled “Curse of the Reorg,” details some of reasons why. It claims, “When companies announce a ‘reorg,’ internal reactions often skew more concerned than excited.”

Forbes continues, “Employees may not perceive this news as a positive change when they’re consumed by questions like: Another reorg, really? What will happen to my job? How will my team change? Will the projects I’ve been working on for months (even years) go away?”

Another article, on LinkedIn, documented how productivity dropped 50% after a reorg because of issues like those above.

Many academic articles suggest that it takes six to nine months to get past the productivity dips associated with reorganizations. One can only wonder whether the leadership changes and reorganizations throughout Harris County are happening faster than productivity can recover from them.

Only commissioners have the power to fix this problem. But service delivery doesn’t seem to be the highest priority of many of them.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/18/2023

2088 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.

Lauder Basin Phase II on Greens Bayou Under Construction

The long-awaited Lauder Basin Phase II on Greens Bayou is now under construction. In May of last year, the Texas Water Development Board announced a $2.2 million grant to expand the basin.

Lauder Basin Phase II
HCFCD is expanding the basin into the old Castlewood Subdivision east of Aldine Westfield Road.

Then in September, HCFCD announced that construction would be starting “soon.” Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) estimated sometime in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Construction Photos Taken 5/7/23

A visit to the job site earlier this week showed that construction is now well underway. See the photos below.

Looking NW. Phase II of the Lauder Basin under construction. Greens Bayou is in upper right. Small creek in foreground is a tributary.

Looking West. Greens Bayou flows toward camera position from upper right to lower right.
Still looking west, but from closer position reveals that HCFCD is excavating area closest to Greens first.
Looking West from farther away reveals proximity of Phase II with two ponds built during Phase I. See diagram below.

Eventually, Phase 2 should have several compartments with water-quality plantings to help filter out pollutants, and a small stream connecting the ponds. This presentation is a bit dated, but shows HCFCD’s plans for the basin as they existed in 2020.

Artists rendering of Phases I and II of Lauder Basin. Plans for Phase II have reportedly changed slightly.

Project Scope

Together, Phases I and II should provide more than 1,200 acre-feet of stormwater storage. HCFCD designed them to fill up during storms to help reduce the risk of Greens from flooding local homes, businesses and schools. After a flood, the basins release excess water slowly when the channel can safely accept it.

Phase II (651 acre feet) will actually provide more stormwater storage than Phase I (588 acre feet).

HCFCD estimates total Phase II construction costs at $32 million and predicts construction could take 2.5 years.

Spending Comparison with Other Watersheds

Greens Bayou has received more than a quarter billion dollars of projects such as these since 2000. That’s more than any other watershed in Harris County with the exception of Brays Bayou – where Commissioner Rodney Ellis lives.

Data obtained from HCFCD by FOIA request. Includes all spending from 1/1/2000 through end of Q1 2023.

Greens Bayou is one of the few watersheds where HCFCD spending did not plummet last quarter. Even as spending decreased in 15 watersheds, it rose in Greens Bayou by almost $4.8 million. To put that in perspective, it increased 11 times more than the watershed with the second largest increase, White Oak, at $431,126.

Here are the actual numbers.

Data obtained from HCFCD via FOIA requests.

No doubt, the activity you see in the photos above had a lot to do with Greens’ ranking. So, does construction on Garners Bayou, a tributary of Greens farther downstream.

Stay tuned for more news as construction progresses.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/12/23

2082 Days since Hurricane Harvey