Tag Archive for: Kids in Action

Text of Ben’s Branch Agreement Between Bear Branch Trail Association, Friendswood and HCFCD

Rumors of a Ben’s Branch agreement between Bear Branch Trail Association, Friendswood and Harris County Flood Control District have circulated for weeks. On Wednesday, November 13, 2019, the deal became official when Diane Trautman, the Harris County Clerk, recorded the easement. Here is exactly what the easement does and doesn’t allow the various parties to do along Ben’s Branch.

Ben’s Branch below St. Martha’s Catholic School is characterized by hairpin turns and trees growing right down to and into the stream.

49-Page Ben’s Branch Easement Finally Signed

The easement is like a contract that spells out the rights, obligations and limitations of each party.

Here is the complete text of the 49-page document. Below is a summary.

Bear Branch Trail Association Rights and Obligations

This is an agreement between three parties that modifies the original deed of gift between Friendswood and the Bear Branch Trail Association (BBTA).


  • Gives Harris County Flood Control the right to operate in an area 100 feet wide, 50 feet on either side of the creek’s centerline.
  • Retains the right to maintain and operate existing trails, bridges, low water crossings.
  • May construct, install, maintain and operate new trails in the easement area as long as they don’t obstruct water flow, cause erosion or hinder HCFCD’s “de-snagging” efforts. De-snagging is the removal of trees that have fallen or are falling into the creek.
  • Must share plans for new trails, bridges, etc. with HCFCD and HCFCD must approve them before any construction begins.
  • Acknowledges that HCFCD equipment may damage trails and agrees not to hold HCFCD liable for repairs.
  • Remains solely responsible for the safe condition and maintenance within the easement area and for repairs to any damage.
This low water crossing north of Bear Branch Elementary may not be removed according to the terms of the easement. Some observers have noted trees “spearing” into the narrow culverts and backing water up. But HCFCD cuts trees into small enough sections to let them pass through such openings.

Harris County Flood Control Rights and Obligations

HCFCD may:

  • Perform de-snagging operations related to flood control and drainage.
  • Clear, cut, drop, stack and stockpile trees, shrubs, vines, and vegetation for the sole purpose of flood control.
  • Grade and stabilize banks to protect against erosion and maintain drainage.
  • Plant grass, or use rip rap or man-made materials to reduce bank erosion.
Trees constantly fall into Ben’s Branch because of bank erosion. When floating trees catch on other trees or roots during floods in the narrow channel, they can form “beaver dams” that back water up into adjoining streets, homes and businesses.

HCFCD can/will NOT:

  • Widen, deepen, enlarge, straighten or smooth the channel in such a way as to increase channel capacity.
  • Maintain or repair trails or bridges, but may repair erosion that threatens them.

HCFCD has no responsibility to repair or replace storm sewer outfalls or to repair erosion around them.

Friendswood Agrees to All of Above Plus…

Friendswood agrees to all of the above. Friendswood also agrees that the terms of the easement will not trigger the automatic reversion of ownership from BBTA to Friendswood that the original deed of gift specified.


John Hammond of Friendswood signed the easement on Monday, November 11, 2019.

Kathryn Palmer, president of BBTA signed it on Tuesday, November 12, 2019.

Diane Trautman, the Harris County Clerk signed and recorded it on November 13, 2019.

Roadblocks to Flood Control Maintenance Now Removed

This means that Flood Control can now begin de-snagging and other maintenance activities within 50 feet of either side of Ben’s Branch. The area affected lies between Woodland Hills Drive and Kingwood Drive.

Geographic Limitations

North Park, Woodland Hills, Kingwood Drive and West Lake Houston Parkway define the boundaries of BBTA.

Other community and commercial associations control the creek outside of those boundaries. But those areas are already channelized and maintained by HCFCD for the most part.

Note: Those who don’t live within these boundaries may be confused by the names. Ben’s Branch is the name of the creek that runs through Bear Branch Village, Kings Forest and Hunters Ridge. The Bear Branch Trail Association overlaps all three of the community associations, but technically has nothing to do with them. BBTA is solely responsible for the greenbelts and greenbelt trails. It has nothing to do with swimming pools or deed restrictions. This can differ in other parts of Kingwood.

Compromise Between Natural Aesthetics and Flood-Risk Reduction

Everyone should realize that this easement represents a compromise. Any loss of natural aesthetics is the price of reducing flood risk to their neighbors. The three parties worked on this for more than a year.

Parts of the greenbelt will be thinned out, but you shouldn’t see wholesale widening of the creek into a massive channel. As a consequence, people who live along the creek should realize that this doesn’t offer the highest degree of flood protection. But it does help protect both greenbelts and property owners much more than before.

St. Martha Catholic School, Kids In Action, and homes on either side of the creek that flooded should be optimistic about this agreement.

The densely forested nature of the preserve along each side of the creek will look less dense. However…

The Ben’s Branch greenbelt is a minimum of 300 feet wide. In most places, it’s 400-600 feet wide. And in some places, it measures as much as 800 feet wide. This agreement affects only 100-feet.

Thus, two-thirds to seven-eighths of the natural area will remain the way it looks now. That sounds like a reasonable price to pay for helping to protect neighbors and property values in the entire neighborhood.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/17/2019

810 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 59 since Imelda

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.

Two Inches of Rain Should Never Have Caused This

Today, we got two inches of rain between 1:30 and 3:20. That’s according to the closest official gage at US59 and the West Fork. See the graph below. Ben’s Branch came out of its banks almost immediately and nearly flooded St. Martha’s Catholic School and Kids in Action again.

Today’s Rainfall in 10-minute Increments

The closest gage at the West Fork and US59 registered a total of 2.08 inches for the event. In ten-minute increments, it looked like this. Source: HarrisCountyFWS.org.

The Result

St. Martha’s School after two inches of rain in a two hour period. This is what the parking lot of the school looked like 1.5 hours after the rain ended. The floodwaters came from Ben’s Branch which was at a virtual standstill in this area. Water under the Woodland Hills Bridge just south of Northpark Drive barely moved.

St. Martha’s has not yet finished repairs from Imelda. No floodwater actually got in the school today, but it came dangerously close for a rain that was not unusual for this area. The school is at least two feet above the hundred year flood plain and this was a one-year rain at best (see table below).

Across the creek, Heather Jensen at Kids In Action wrote, “We’re currently rebuilding Kids In Action for the second time since May. Can’t stomach a third.” Many people would agree with that!

Expect a Rainfall This Intense at Least Annually

The latest NOAA Atlas-14 rainfall chart for this area shows that we can expect a two-inch rain in two hours at least once a year. If you measure the 10-minute peak, it also works out to a one-year event. Which we’ve had several of this year.

I have lived in Kingwood for 35 years and used to own commercial property near St. Martha’s for twenty years. I have never seen Ben’s Branch do this on a rain like we had today.

During those 35 years, not much has changed along the creek. With few exceptions, the bridges, homes and businesses along this portion of Ben’s Branch have been there the entire time.

New Upstream Development is Major Change

However, new upstream development could be adding to the peaks. The City of Houston confirmed after Imelda that the western tail of Woodridge Village empties into the City storm drains. See two images below.

Photo taken 9/25/2019, looking east. North is left; south is right. The area labeled Woodridge Village in the middle of the shot drains into Ben’s Branch which is out of frame to the right (south).

The storm drains, which also empty Sherwood, in turn empty into Ben’s Branch. See image below.

Looking north along Woodland Hills Drive toward Kingwood Park High School, Sherwood Trails and Woodridge Village. The City says this drain helps empty Woodridge Village.

The shot above is looking north, parallel to Woodland Hills Drive. Below, you can see the reverse angle, looking south. The shot was taken from the second floor of Kids in Action on the north side of the creek. Notice how water from that drain is shooting across the creek, creating more turbulence than the flood itself.

Photo by Heather Jensen of Kids In Action just north of St. Martha’s.

Below St. Martha’s, A Different World

Compare the width of the Ben’s Branch channel in the photos above to the width in the photos below, where the stream goes through a natural area.

Upstream from St. Martha’s, Ben’s Branch is a wide channel. Downstream, shown here, it turns into a narrow, twisting, turning creek. Photo from 9/25/2019, courtesy of St. Martha’s.
Photo from 9/25/2019. Courtesy of St. Martha’s, showing trees encroaching on Ben’s Branch.
In the foreground, you can clearly see evidence of erosion from Imelda. This shot was taken on 9/25/2019. Note the fallen tree in the background. Such blockages create “beaver dams” during heavy rains when other debris catches on them. Photo courtesy of St. Martha’s.

Such obstructions, turns, tangles and narrow beds slow the velocity of the water, causing it to back up. No doubt, these factors play a role in the repetitive flooding, as does upstream development.

Political and Legal Obstructions Complicate Matters

Maintenance responsibilities for this portion of Ben’s Branch are in flux. That may be the kindest way to say it. Nothing has really changed since Harvey.

The Bear Branch Trail Association owns the property according to this deed and the Harris County Appraisal District.

However, from reading the deed, you can see that Friendswood still exercises deed restrictions on the property, especially those applying to drainage. When it comes to saying yea or nay to major changes that affect the character of the greenbelt on either side of Ben’s Branch, Friendswood appears to be in control to this day.

Major Friendswood deed restrictions include:

  • Friendswood reserves for itself multiple easements for drainage. (sec. 3)
  • BBTA must keep the area “healthful” (sec. 8)
  • BBTA may not remove any trees except those that are dead or dying (sec. 8)
  • BBTA may not transfer the land (with a few exceptions that don’t apply to this discussion) (sec. 9)
  • The deed restrictions do not have an expiration date like those for many HOAs.

What Next for Ben’s Branch

Last year, the City reportedly agreed with Harris County Flood Control to assume responsibility for all underground drainage in the county would assume responsibility for all above ground drainage. Since then, the two have been trying to sort out responsibilities.

Harris County Flood Control has sought an easement at least since January from Friendswood and Bear Branch Trail Association. Reportedly, they want to remove some trees, and widen and straighten the channel. However, according to a frustrated Houston City Council Member Dave Martin, no agreement has been reached.

Meanwhile the school for more than 500 children almost flooded for the third time in six months. It’s hard to imagine Kingwood without its largest parochial school or one of its most popular day care/after school facilities. It’s time for

Harris County Flood Control should be concluding a major study of all Kingwood drainage soon…including Ben’s Branch. Let’s hope that helps wake Friendswood up to some new realities.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/29/2019

792 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 40 since Imelda

Imelda Floods Ben’s Branch Schools, Homes at Three Choke Points

Disclaimer: I spent the better part of a day driving down every street that borders Ben’s Branch. I saw damage clustered in three areas. It’s possible other areas were affected but the City had removed trash before I got there.

At least two schools, 7 homes, and one business flooded along Ben’s Branch in Kingwood during Imelda. All were located near choke points along the creek. And massive recent upstream development likely played a role in each case. That new development also played a role in eroding the margin of safety between floodwaters and foundations all along the creek – even for homes and businesses that did not flood. Total damages will likely exceed $3 million along Ben’s Branch in Kingwood.

Three circles represent choke points where virtually all structural flooding happened on Ben’s Branch during Imelda. See discussion below.

Ben’s Branch Now and 10 Years Ago: Influence of Upstream Development

Area in white box is roughly 800 acres. Three quarters of it was not developed ten years ago (see below). Red line marks the course of Ben’s Branch through a series of retention ponds and new ditches that now contribute more water faster during heavy rains.
Same area in 2009, only ten years ago.. Neither Woodridge Forest, Woodridge Village, nor the Kroger Center at 59 had started development yet, though some areas had been cleared.

Imelda Tested Design Limits of Drainage Systems

Most drainage systems are designed to protect homes and businesses from a hundred-year flood. Imelda was a hundred year flood. The storm tested the design limits of flood infrastructure everywhere along Ben’s Branch in Kingwood.

Based on its peak intensity of 4.56 inches in one hour (as measured at the US59/West Fork gage), Imelda qualified as a 100-year storm. Streets, storm drains and ditches are designed to handle that much as an upper limit. And for the most part they did. Especially because builders usually elevate most structures at least two feet above the hundred-year flood plain.

Those extra two feet act as a margin of safety and as a hedge against future upstream development.

Limits Exceeded in Several Places During Imelda

In each case where homes, businesses or schools flooded along Ben’s Branch, unique circumstances eliminated that margin of error and resulted in flooded structures.

With the exception of one low-lying home I found in Hunter’s Ridge very close to the creek, all of the structural damage took place at three choke points along the creek.

Choke Point #1: Northpark and Ben’s Branch

Where Ben’s Branch crosses under Northpark Drive, two things happen. A ditch from the new Woodridge Forest subdivision joins it. And then all that water is forced into a culvert that crosses under Northpark Drive.

These two culverts constrained water flowing under Northpark Drive and backed it up past Hidden Pines at the stoplight in the background. When water started flowing over the road for approximately two blocks, this part of Kingwood was cut off.

To my knowledge, no one has ever upgraded that culvert despite significant upstream development. It backs water up for several blocks during heavy rains and forces water OVER Northpark Drive. This caused at least six homes near Aspen Glade west of Hidden Pines to flood.

When water backed up and flowed over Northpark, it cut off both inbound and outbound traffic. It also broke through the fences of homes that back up to Northpark.

East-West fences were pushed in from the north by water overflowing across Northpark Drive. This location is a block west of the culverts.
Looking north toward Northpark Drive at Hidden Pines. North-South Fences were pushed out to the East by water trying to return to Ben’s Branch across Hidden Pines to the right. Note the new fence. It had just been replaced after the May 7th flood.
The scene on Aspen Glade Drive in North Woodland Hills. These homes are west of Hidden Pines and back up to Northpark Drive.
A resident of Aspen Glade shows how high the water got in front of his house during Imelda.
A worried Lela Yorba wonders how her family will ever recover from the second flood in four months, and whether she should even try. Despite living on Aspen Glade for decades, her home had never flooded before May of this year.
The interior of Yorba’s flooded home during Imelda. Image courtesy of Lela Yorba.
Yorba’s garage during the peak of Imelda. Image courtesy of Lela Yorba.
Floodwaters crept up to the foundations on the far side of the street but did not enter homes according to Yorba. Image courtesy of Lela Yorba.
One week after Imelda, Yorba tries to turn wet walls back into dry walls.

Impact of New Development

Net: the flooding of homes on Aspen Glade was likely caused by an undersized culvert at North Park that could not convey all the water coming from hundreds of acres of new development. When the water backed up, it rushed over North Park for approximately two blocks. Eyewitness reports and FaceBook videos peg the height at a foot above the roadway.

In the last 10 years, more than 600 acres have been developed north of North Park between 59 and Woodland Hills. More new homes are being built every day.

Much of the drainage from the new development joined Ben’s Branch just before it reached the culverts.

This drainage ditch from many of those new homes in Woodridge Forest joins Ben’s Branch east of Hidden Pines in the background where multiple homes flooded. This is additional drainage coming into the creek at a point where part of it can not be siphoned off into the diversion ditch that runs down the west side of the villages of North and South Woodland Hills.

Choke Point #2: Woodland Hills Drive and Ben’s Branch

About two or three blocks east of the culverts under Northpark, between St. Martha Catholic School and Kids in Action, Ben’s Branch narrows down again. It quickly funnels from a wide, excavated ditch to a narrow stream cutting through dense forest. See photo below.

Hovering over Woodland Hills Drive in a helicopter looking east. Ben’s Branch narrows between Kids in Action on the left and St. Martha’s school (out of frame on the right). Both flooded. Note how the fence was pushed in by the force of the water.

At this choke point, both the school and Kids in Action, flooded. Repairing the school after the May flood cost St. Martha $900,000. Repairing Kids in Action cost $500,000. This time it will cost each even more.

Behind St. Martha’s, Ben’s Branch becomes a narrow creek filled with trees. This further slows water down and backs it up. It remains like this most of the way to Kingwood Drive. Image courtesy of Father TJ Dolce.
The natural creek also makes many tight turns. Here, it makes a 150 degree turn followed by a 90 degree turn. Image courtesy of Father TJ Dolce.

The results were costly. St. Martha’s lost two classroom buildings plus its playground.

One of the two St. Martha School buildings flooded by Imelda.
Flooded corridor.
Flooded classroom.

Until the school buildings can be dried, disinfected and rebuilt, classes are being held on upper floors and in other parish buildings. No children were ever endangered by the flood. Parish personnel started evacuations to higher buildings as soon was water started coming into the parking lot, the lowest point on the campus.

Across the creek, Kids in Action, one of Kingwood’s most popular day care and after school facilities, had its own problems.

A distraught Diane Havens, owner of Kids in Action, tries to keep a brave face after she loses the use of her beautiful facilities for the second time in four months.
Hand sanitizer is the second thing you see in the reception area now.
Havens is bringing in four of these mobile units to hold classes until the first floor of Kids in Action can be restored again.

Haven’s spent $500,000 repairing her facilities after the May 7th flood. That’s a lot for a small business. She’s determined to weather this storm, too. But she worries that some of her clients may grow impatient in the inconvenience during repairs.

Choke Point #3: Kingwood Drive and Ben’s Branch

As Ben’s Branch approaches Kingwood Drive from the northwest, it spreads out into a 100+ acre forested area that includes the Creekwood Nature Center. But just before it crosses under Kingwood Drive, Ben’s Branch’s flood plain funnels down between Kingwood High School and the old H-E-B shopping center. At that point, a second branch of the stream joins it from the north. After crossing under Kingwood Drive, it is further constricted on the east side by commercial development. This represents another choke point.

The Kingwood High School Gym and Natatorium (bottom left) took on floodwater during Imelda.

The Kingwood High School gym and natatorium took on several inches of water during Imelda when drains and/or Ben’s Branch backed up. Merchants in the old H-E-B shopping center also report being stranded in their stores for two hours at the peak of Imelda as water from Ben’s Branch raced through the parking lot. Merchants said the water was inches from coming in their stores.

While many of the businesses south of Kingwood Drive in Town Center and Kings Harbor reported having water lapping at their foundations, I found none that reported flood damage.

No Simple Fix

I can’t think of a simple fix to all of three of these problems. Fixing one could compound the others. For instance, it would be simple to replace the culverts under Northpark with a bridge when the street is widened. However, that would just increase the volume of water backing up where the creek narrows between St. Martha’s School and Kids in Action. That would likely flood them even worse.

Channelizing the creek all the way to Kingwood Drive would likely be unpalatable from a political point of view. Four reasons: Few people in that area were affected. They all love their greenbelts. And the costs would be high. That would make the Benefit/Cost ratio of the project a non-starter.

One Possible Solution

One possible solution: convert the unused land around St. Martha’s new church north of Northpark Drive to additional detention. That’s valuable land and detention is expensive, but it may be a better alternative than losing the school which was just expanded in 2008. Father TJ Dolce is pitching that idea and hopes the Archdiocese would approve the use of their vacant land for detention. The big question: Would it be enough to make a difference.

Drainage Study Already Under Way

Thankfully, Harris County Flood Control is conducting a Kingwood-wide drainage study right now. They are studying Ben’s Branch. Hopefully, their talented engineers will be able to find the optimum solution that protects everyone. I sure hope they find it soon because these people are every bit as desperate as the people who flooded twice in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest.

Ben’s Branch may affect fewer structures. But it probably affects more people when you add up enrolled students and their families.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/1/2019 with help from Father TJ Dolce, Diane Havens, Lela Yorba, Daryl Palmer and National Helicopter Service.

763 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 12 since Imelda

Maintenance and Construction Work Beginning on Bens Branch

Here’s some much needed good news regarding Bens Branch. One small maintenance project began last week and an even bigger one should kick off within the next two weeks. Bens Branch cuts diagonally through Kingwood and drains a major portion of the community.

Bens Branch Between North Park and St. Martha Started Last Week

Last week, Harris County Flood Control crews began excavating Bens Branch from North Park to below the old St. Martha’s church. In recent years, the creek had become badly silted and overgrown with vegetation. When the May 7th rains hit, several local businesses flooded including the St. Martha Catholic School and Kids in Action. County maintenance should soon restore normal conveyance through this area. These photos taken last Friday by Thomas Blailock, a Bear Branch resident, show how badly the creek had become constricted.

Photo of Bens Branch taken from Woodland Hills Bridge on Friday, 6/28/2019. Kids in Action is in background. St. Martha is out of frame on the right. Courtesy of Thomas Blailock.
Another photo courtesy of Thomas Blailock showing how badly Bens Branch was constricted in this area.
Note how shallow the ditch has become. Only the bottom tread of the excavator was visible in this standing water.

Bens Branch South of Kingwood Drive Starts Next Month

For the last two months, Harris County Flood Control has also been compiling specs, soliciting vendors and receiving bids for the excavation of Bens Branch between Kingwood Drive and about 1000 feet north of the West Fork San Jacinto River. That area has also become badly silted.

Scope of new Bens Branch excavation project
Bens Branch at West Lake Houston Parkway immediately south of Amegy Bank.

Excavation of approximately 80,000 cubic yards of sediment should begin in July and last for several months. Prepare for dump trucks on the road for the next few months. It will be inconvenient and dirty, but that’s the price of restoring the conveyance of the creek.

This portion of Bens Branch contributed to the flooding of Town Center, The Enclave, Kingwood Village Estates, Kingwood Greens, the YMCA and Kings Harbor and five apartment complexes. Twelve people in Kingwood Village Estates died as a result of injuring sustained during the evacuation or the stress of losing their homes when they returned.

Jason Krahn, the project manager at Harris County Flood Control said last Friday that, “A recommendation to award Project ID # G103-33-00-X004 – Conveyance Restoration on Bens Branch to Solid Bridge Construction, LLC, has been made, and that recommendation to award is scheduled to be on the Harris County Commissioners Court (HCCC) Agenda for HCCC approval of the recommendation to award on July 9, 2019.”  

Once the award has been officially voted on and approved by the Commissioners Court, the Harris County Purchasing Agent’s office will work to obtain the executed contract, and the necessary bonds from the  Contractor so that the project can move forward to construction.  Expect to see about 40 dump trucks per day (8600 loads in total) on the streets of Kingwood.

Money for both of these projects does not come out of the flood bond. It comes from the Harris County Flood Control District Maintenance Budget.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/30/19

670 Days since Hurricane Harvey