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County Position on More Detention, Dredging and Gates for Flood Bond

Today, I received feedback from Harris County on adding “more detention, dredging and gates” (Plea for DDG) to the upcoming flood bond referendum. The good news: Additional dredging, detention and gates will be achievable within the bond. The bad news: based on the feedback, there is still one hurdle to clear: finding partners to share dredging costs.

The mouth bar where the West Fork meets Lake Houston. Fosters Mill and King’s Point are in the background.

Background on Plea for DDG: Detention, Dredging and Gates

You may recall that RecoverLakeHouston, the Lake Houston Area Chamber, and the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative (as well as I) all lined up to support the Plea for DDG. The idea: during floods, more detention, dredging and gates would reduce input, increase throughput and speed up output.

Giant Turnout

The community turned out in force to support the initiative. The response literally overwhelmed county officials at the meeting. Seven to eight hundred people attended, making it the most attended of all the watershed meetings to date. Typically, meetings have been drawing one to two hundred people according to those who have attended multiple meetings.

Because of the large number of attendees in Kingwood and the open house format, many people felt the meeting was somewhat chaotic. Worse, some attendees received feedback from a small number of the county employees who mistakenly told them that dredging was NOT possible under the bond.

Clearing up the Confusion

I received this email from the county today. It clarifies their position on all three requests:

Thank you for your input in support of #PleaForDDG for the San Jacinto River watershed.  Your submission has been recorded and considered by the Harris County Flood Control District staff.

With regard to drainage improvements for the the San Jacinto River watershed, the Flood Control District is partnering with Montgomery County, the City of Houston and the San Jacinto River Authority to determine short-term and long-term improvements, such as:

  • Expanding the Flood Warning System (http://www.harriscountyfws.org) into Montgomery County to include new rainfall and stream level gages
  • Improved coordination between the two county Offices of Emergency Management during disasters
  • A vegetation and sediment management plan with the goal to reduce the amount of silt and sand eroding into the river
  • Regional mitigation projects such as river dredging, buyouts and detention basins

Dredging to restore the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston

On July 6, 2018, the US Army Corps of Engineers awarded a contract to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, in the amount of $69,814,060 to remove sediment and debris resulting from Hurricane Harvey from the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. The Bond Program does include funding that could provide a portion of the cost share for any future dredging work on the East Fork/West Fork/Lake Houston area. Any future dredging project would have to be a collaborative effort between the City of Houston, the Coastal Water Authority, and possibly the State of Texas. At this time, no details have been worked out on future dredging. The Flood Control District will update the Bond Program maps to indicate another Partnership Project (green cross symbol) within the San Jacinto River watershed exhibit noting East Fork/West Fork/Lake Houston Dredging. The description will be “Potential Partnership Project with the City of Houston, Coastal Water Authority, and the State of Texas to permit, design, and complete dredging of the East Fork/West Fork/Lake Houston area waterways to reduce flooding risks.” The dollar amount will be shown as $50M from Harris County Flood Control District and TBD (to be determined) for the City of Houston, the Coastal Water Authority, and the State of Texas. The Flood Control District cannot commit nor obligate other agencies to allocate funding due to the fact that there is no agreement in place for the dredging project.

Detention/Sediment Basins West and North of Highway 59

These improvements are included in the list of potential projects within the bond program (see local projects F-88, F-14, and F-15 which will be used for Planning, Right-Of-Way Acquisition, Design and Construction of General Drainage Improvement along the San Jacinto River and Cypress Creek west of Highway 59). For drainage improvements north of Highway 59, the Flood Control District is coordinating with Montgomery County on a watershed study to investigate flooding problems and identify where detention basins could best serve to reduce flooding risks along the San Jacinto River.

Tainter Gates on Lake Houston Dam

On July 10, 2018, as a result of the community input process, the Flood Control District has added a Partnership Project (green cross symbol) to the list of potential projects within the bond program for the design and construction of additional gates. The partners would be the City of Houston and the Coastal Water Authority since they are the entities that have jurisdiction over the lake and the dam structure; our agency does not. The Bond Program could, however, provide partial funding of up to $20M for this effort.

When considering project ideas suggested by the community, the Flood Control District will prioritize projects that meet its mission to provide flood damage reduction projects that work, with appropriate regard for community and natural values. You can learn more about the project ranking criteria on our website: https://www.hcfcd.org/bond-program/community-input/

Thank you again for sharing your input. The bond election will be held on August 25 with early voting on August 8.

After reading this, I emailed Harris County Flood Control for one more clarification. Was spending $50 million on dredging contingent upon finding partners to share the cost? The answer: Yes. Fifty million, they say, is not sufficient by itself to do the dredging necessary.

So Where Does that Leave Us?

Additional gates for Lake Houston seem to be within scope and well supported.

More upstream detention seems to be within scope and also well supported. However, before any action can take place, the San Jacinto Watershed study must be completed. It is rumored to cost around $2 million and has been awaiting funding since late March. Presumably, the County’s share of the funding would come from this bond if it passes. The study would take a year or more to complete.

No one can say at this time what the study’s recommendations would be. So there is some uncertainty surrounding the request for more upstream detention. Please note, however, that other groups further upstream, for instance on Cypress Creek, are also requesting more upstream detention. My feeling? If the bond passes, more upstream detention is very likely. However, of all the projects, detention would take the longest to complete because it involves identifying and acquiring land.

Finally, additional dredging is also within scope and well supported. However, dredging has the highest degree of uncertainty associated with it because it will require partners who have not been approached and who have not committed any dollars.

To reduce uncertainty surrounding dredging before the bond, we would likely have to obtain commitments from one or more other stakeholders who are mentioned in the email above.

Recommended Next Steps

Before the bond referendum, area leaders need to actively seek support from those other stakeholders and communicate the outcome so that voters can make informed decisions about their votes. Of all three measures, dredging could be implemented the quickest.

In the meantime, residents should continue to submit their requests for more detention, dredging and gates. A groundswell of support will help send a message to the county’s potential partners.

Posted July 17, 2018 by Bob Rehak

322 Days since Hurricane Harvey