Tag Archive for: upstream development

Harris County To Reconsider Colony Ridge Impacts

On Tuesday, 1/9/24, Harris County Commissioners court will consider a motion by Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey, P.E. to monitor the potential flooding, housing, and environmental impacts of Colony Ridge on Harris County. (See Item 282 on the Agenda.)

Ramsey submitted a similar item for the 10/10/23 session of Commissioners Court. The Court took no action at that time, but agreed to revisit the issue. Now is that time. And the political landscape has changed.

How Tuesday’s Discussion Will Differ from October’s

The discussion on Tuesday will probably differ radically from October’s.

First, Tuesday’s agenda item is broader; it includes housing and environmental impacts, not just flooding.

Second, in October, the discussion quickly devolved into an argument about the credibility of media allegations that triggered a special session of the State Legislature. Among other things, the media allegations concerned illegal immigration. At the time, County Judge Lina Hidalgo characterized them as “conspiracy theories.” Things went downhill from there.

Ultimately, the State Legislature decided not to do anything about Colony Ridge except build a DPS substation there to beef up law enforcement.

But since then, things have changed.

DOJ/CFPB Lawsuit Changes Political Landscape

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have filed a lawsuit against the developer for predatory lending practices targeted mainly at Hispanics.

The 45-page lawsuit alleges that the developer violated the:

  • Fair Housing Act
  • Consumer Financial Protection Act
  • Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act
  • Equal Credit Opportunity Act

It also offers specific examples of alleged abuses, including:

  • Sky-high interest rates
  • Untrue statements in marketing materials
  • Omitting material facts
  • Failing to provide required accurate translations
  • Failing to report and disclose other required information
  • Marketing in Spanish but providing legal documents that buyers couldn’t understand in English
  • Foreclosing on properties multiple times

The inclusion of housing issues in Tuesday’s agenda may broaden the base of support for action re: Colony Ridge. Suddenly, we’re talking about people allegedly abusing Lina Hidalgo’s, Lesley Briones’ and Adrian Garcia’s core constituents. All three are Hispanic.

The lawsuit has already motivated LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens) to join the fight. The headline of this press release on their website says, “LULAC SUPPORTS FEDERAL ACTION IN MASSIVE REAL ESTATE FRAUD CASE THAT TARGETED LATINOS IN TEXAS.” As a result…

Commissioners may now see Colony Ridge as abusing immigrants, not helping them achieve the American Dream.

Plus, Colony Ridge is expanding into Harris County. That brings the issue much closer to home for Commissioners. We could soon be talking about how the Colony Ridge developer affects voters in Harris County, not voters in Liberty county.

Putting a Finer Point on Upstream Flooding Study

Even though Commissioner’s Court did not approve Ramsey’s Colony Ridge motion last October, the other commissioners didn’t totally ignore him. Commissioner Rodney Ellis also expressed concern about flooding issues originating outside Harris County.

On December 5, 2023, Commissioners Court approved a study of several watersheds including the East Fork San Jacinto River, which drains Colony Ridge. The purpose: to identify potential flood impacts due to unmitigated flows coming into Harris County from upstream counties and to evaluate the impacts of the increased flows on erosion and sedimentation issues.

If approved, Ramsey’s agenda item for next Tuesday, could put a much finer point on that. Instead of looking at flooding issues that originate in surrounding counties in general, it would specifically look at erosion issues originating in Colony Ridge. That could potentially lead to more legal action against Colony Ridge depending on what they find.

At a minimum, I hope it stimulates a discussion about two things:

In regard to the latter, I would point out that Harris and Liberty Counties have almost identical regulations for construction of drainage ditches. However, we get very different results.

The image on the right was taken over Colony Ridge. Such erosion contributes to the buildup of sediment that reduces the conveyance of rivers and streams, contributing to flooding.

For more information and issues relating to Colony Ridge, see this post.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/5/2024

2320 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.

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

Upstream Development Should Not Affect Kingwood Like It Affected Bellaire, But…

Two new subdivisions, Northpark Woods and Woodridge Village, made me worry about the impact of upstream development on Kingwood and the rest of the Lake Houston area. Could these developments overwhelm the capacity of our drainage ditches? Could they increase our chances of flooding? The consensus among flood professionals: It’s not likely. But they also qualify their answers. Here’s why.

Clear-cut area for new Northpark Woods development in Porter. This 90-acre area will contain hundreds of starter homes in the flood plain of the West Fork (background), ranging from 1200 to 2400SF.

Changes in Detention Requirements Over Time

In the past, upstream development definitely contributed to downstream flooding in places like Bellaire and Meyerland. But that was back before regulations in most cities and counties required detention ponds in new developments. In many cases, no detention was provided for a development because it simply wasn’t part of the requirements of the time.

It’s different now for places like Kingwood because much of the upstream development has required and continues to require detention.

I found that very comforting. However, we also have some challenges ahead to reduce flood risk.

Not All Counties Have Fill Requirements As Stringent as Harris’

As we’ve seen with the Romerica development, Harris County has stringent requirements about filling in floodplains. Not all surrounding counties have those same restrictions. Can we do anything about that?

Kingwood can certainly advocate among all areas upstream that drain to Lake Houston. For instance, take Montgomery County, Waller County, Grimes County, Walker County, San Jacinto County, and Liberty County. Those and associated incorporated areas (e.g., City of Conroe) should not only require detention for new developments, they should adopt drainage criteria and regulations similar to Harris County.  

This would mean that new developments would have to mitigate not only for the increased stormwater runoff, but for any fill they add to the floodplain. 

Problems in Harmonizing Flood Plain Regulations

This is a big ask for many areas that are looking to attract development and growth. The problem: Many places on the fringes of the City see lax regulations (or a reputation for lax enforcement) as a way to attract growth. The implied pitch to developers is, “Your costs will be lower here.”

Complicating matters, many residents of those counties moved away from the City because they like the freedom. You just have fewer people telling you what to do out in the country.

So expect political pushback.

Consider as Part of First Statewide Flood Plan?

Even right here in the Lake Houston area, we have widely varying flood plain regulations.

Fortunately, we have a forum to debate this: the new statewide flood plan authorized by SB8 this year. Harmonizing flood-plain regulations should be part of our first-ever statewide flood plan. The lack of harmony certainly contributed to many of our woes during Harvey – especially when it comes to flood plain developments like Northpark Woods.

Statewide Flood Plan Meetings Coming Up

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is inviting interested Texans to attend one of 13 flood outreach meetings during the first two weeks of August. They will solicit comments on the new state and regional flood planning process and the new flood financing program, both established during the 2019 legislative session under SB8 and SB500.

Texans are beginning the first stages in the development of a first-ever statewide flood plan.

Jeff Walker, Executive Administrator of the TWDB says the group is holding these meetings prior to the required formal rulemaking process to help ensure that the new programs meet the needs of Texas communities.

The flood planning program will result in regional flood plans in 2023 and the first state flood plan in September 2024. Intended to make drainage and flood projects more affordable for Texas communities, the flood financing program will be funded through a $793 million transfer from the Rainy Day Fund and will become available in 2020.

The 13 meetings are widely scattered throughout the state. The closest to the Houston area is in Tomball.

  • Beckendorf Conference Center at Lone Star College–Tomball
  • 30555 Tomball Pkwy. 
  • Tomball, TX 77375
  • 9:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Friday, August 9

Sign up for more information about these meetings and other flood information at the TWDB’s website.

Said Walker, “Your comments will help us craft programs that reflect the diversity and magnitude of the flood needs in Texas. We hope we will see you in August.”

Monitor Master Watershed Study

Additionally, the Kingwood area should closely monitor the San Jacinto River Watershed Master Drainage Plan currently underway.  This study will be the critical document that guides future decisions (and funding) for large flood damage reduction projects upstream of Kingwood. 

That includes more upstream detention like the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. Additional detention was one of three critical remediation measures to help improve flood safety in the Lake Houston Area (detention, dredging and gates for Lake Houston – DDG).

Already some areas have been ruled out for additional detention because of new developments going in upstream. The study began last March after Houston, Harris County, Montgomery County and the SJRA obtained FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 23, 2019

693 Days since Hurricane Harvey