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.
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.
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.
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
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