Tag Archive for: vera

Life at Ground Zero in Elm Grove

Nancy Vera and Edythe Cogdill live across the street from each other at the northern end of Village Springs. They moved to Elm Grove to build an idyllic life for themselves and their families. For years, it was a quiet, peaceful neighborhood filled with friends and block parties. Kids played in the streets and rode their bikes to schools on greenbelts. From their front porches, they could look north across the Montgomery County line and see forest laced with streams and trails. Then the bulldozers came. And spring rains. Suddenly, they found themselves at ground zero in a battle with Mother Nature, corporate giants, and a neighboring county that cared more about development than protecting downstream residents from flooding. Each woman flooded twice last year. As I interviewed them together, they shared their thoughts on every aspect of the experience.

Cogdill and Vera live at the tip of this 268-acre clear-cut funnel created by Perry Homes. See white dot for approximate location. Perry still has yet to install 75% of the promised detention.

Rehak: How badly did you flood in May and September?

Cogdill: We had about nine, 10 inches, in May. And 22 inches outside the fence during Imelda, but only 12 or 13 inches in the house. Our fence deflected a lot of water. 

Edythe Cogdill looks with worry at Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village. Her home and camper are behind her. Her home flooded twice last year from Woodridge. She captured the harrowing ordeals on video to share with the world.

Rehak: And Nancy, in May, how much did you get?

Vera: We got two feet.

Rehak: And in Imelda? 

Vera: Three.

Impact of Flooding on Neighborhood and Home Values

Rehak: We walked your block and discussed each house. All but one flooded. And you are the only two original families left. It’s like you’re living at ground zero.

Vera (left) and Cogdill (right) fret about the impact of renters on their once idyllic neighborhood.

Cogdill: Yes.

Rehak: Most of these other houses have sold to investors?

Cogdill: All with the exception of the one that has a brother living in it now. That family has to keep the house because they just bought it last year; they can’t afford to sell. 

Rehak: Talk to me about property values in the neighborhood. 

Cogdill: The house next door sold for $93,000. Our appraisal last year was $214,000.

Rehak: So it went for about half?

Cogdill: Another sold for $105,000. 

Vera: It was appraised before the floods at over $200,000.

Rehak: Again, about 50 percent. Would that be a fair estimate for these others up and down the block?

Vera: That’s what I’ve been hearing. My son’s friend’s house sold for eighty. That’s on the next street over.

Vera: Most people are getting $80,000 to $100,000 now.

Homes on their block seem to have been in a perpetual state of repair since last May.

Rehak: And what would that one have gone for before?

Vera: $160,000 to $200,000 depending on square footage.

Rehak: Still, about 50 percent. 

Vera: Yes. 

Remodeling Right Before Flood

Cogdill: We totally remodeled our house in March of 2018, a year before the flood. All new paint inside and out. Totally gutted the bathroom and redid it. Added a very expensive back porch. And then it flooded. 

Rehak: Did you have flood insurance?

Cogdill: We did.

Rehak: You did, too? (To Vera)

Vera: We did not have flood insurance in May. But I got flood insurance within a week after the first flood. 

Vera’s living room has been reduced to “life with lawn furniture.” She has lived this way for almost a year. She and her husband have so little faith in Perry’s promises to fix Woodridge that they postponed repairs until after hurricane season.

Flood Insurance Experiences in Back-to-Back Floods

Rehak: Talk to me about your flood insurance experiences. You said one of your neighbors had a problem. Even though most of the house was rebuilt after the first flood, they didn’t get credit for that?

Cogdill: The adjuster merged the claims because they did not have their inspection complete before the second flood. They were going to get something out of the second flood, but it didn’t nearly cover the loss. They had to redo everything. And they weren’t reimbursed for everything. 

After the second flood in five months and hassles with insurance adjusters, Vera’s neighbors gave up. An investor bought their headaches for 50 cents on the dollar.

And then they took a $10,000 loss on their camper. They bought the camper to live in after the May flood. They were days away from moving back into their house. And then everything – house AND camper – flooded again in September. So they were upside down. Her insurance gave them $10,000 less than what they owed on it. 

Never-ending Parade of Contractors

Vera: I just want to get everybody out of my house, because every day, every day, every day, somebody is there.

Rehak: You have no privacy anymore?

Cogdill: You have contractors that say, “We’ll be there at 7:00 a.m.” And then they don’t come. Or you might take off work to let someone in and they don’t show. 

Vera: And I had to buy cameras to put in my house, so I can see them. 

Cogdill: The lady with the camper worked from home. And they would pound on her  door every time, “Well, we’re here.” And she would be on a conference call. She just said, “I can’t do this anymore.” They’re gone now.

Managing Repairs and Full-Time Jobs

Rehak: I hadn’t really considered the “time off from work” aspect of all this. Nancy, you and your husband both work.

Vera: He can’t really take off because he’s overseeing a massive construction project. So I’m doing all the taking off.

Rehak: Where do you work?

Vera: I work for an insurance company. We handle benefits for school systems that we sell insurance to.

Cogdill: I was the construction manager on our rebuild. We were completely done with the remodel from the first flood.

Rehak: How long did it take you?

Finishing First Repairs Then Flooding Again

Cogdill: We finished two weeks before the September flood.

Rehak: How did that feel?

Cogdill: I sat down and I cried. It was exactly like the May flood. I was home alone and calling my husband every ten minutes, and then … then when it came in the back door, I just started bawling. And nobody could get home until right before dark. It started like eight o’clock in the morning.

Home Alone in Rising Waters

Rehak: What does it feel like when the water is coming up? 

Cogdill: Everybody’s telling me on the phone, “Do this and do that. Put this up and get the dogs. Be sure you get your medicines. And I’m just looking around like, wow, OK, the dogs are walking through puddles … in the house. We lost our car in the first flood. It was in the driveway.

Postponing Rebuild and Wondering

Rehak: Nancy, after the May flood, you were a little skeptical about what Perry was  going to do. So, you didn’t rebuild immediately. 

Vera: We lived in a house with no walls, nothing all summer. We put up that Tyvek paper on all the walls. So that kinda helped. My house never got too hot. We were lucky; our air conditioning was brand new. It held up when everybody else was losing theirs.

Rehak: So, when the second flood came, you didn’t have demo to worry about? 

The Vera kitchen after two floods, the first without insurance.

Vera: Partially. We had more damage the second time. A lot more.

Rehak: That’s right. You said it went up another foot. When did you make the decision to renovate and why?

Vera: We waited until hurricane season was over. And we said we would try to get it done as soon as possible. I was my own project manager to save money. We’re still on the fence as to whether we should sell and walk out.

I Bought This To Be My LIFE

Rehak: Let’s talk about that. Do you think Perry will sort this out?

Vera: You want to have hope.

Cogdill: You hope that they’re human. You want to keep your home.

Vera: This is my home. It’s not an investment. I bought this to be my LIFE. 

Cogdill: This is where I wanted to raise our kids. That’s the reason I live here. 

Vera: I don’t want to give up hope because in my gut I don’t want to sell my house. But then do you trust that they can fix it after you flooded twice … and you see that they’re not actually out there doing ANYTHING to problem solve?

The Cogdill and Vera families fret over the Perry detention pond that seems to be under perpetual construction. Building additional detention capacity that might help prevent future flooding does not seem to be a high priority for Perry. Meanwhile, they live in a state of perpetual fear.

Cogdill: It’s fixin’ to be, you know, flood season and all that. Why have they not been doing anything? 

Rehak: What would you like to see done out there now?

Cogdill: This is such a hard question because there have been so many things out there that people have said could happen, may happen. The most recent one is to make a 300-acre lake out of it if Harris County Flood Control takes over. But I have worries with that, too. Look at all the places that flood in Harris County.

Vera: Right now, we’re very gun shy about anything. We don’t have the correct answer either, because we’re not experts. All we know is that we don’t want to flood again.

Biggest Fear for Neighborhood

Rehak: Beyond flooding again, what’s your biggest fear for the neighborhood? 

Cogdill: Renters won’t take care of property as much as homeowners. They’re not going to keep up their yards. They’re not going to care about landscaping.

Rehak: Beyond your block, how many homes in this area have flipped or are up for sale.

Vera: Close to a hundred.

Ten homes in a row for lease in North Kingwood Forest by the same company. These are directly across Taylor Gully from Vera and Cogdill.

Cogdill: I would say 40 percent. 

Rehak: How many more homes do you think flooded the second time than the first? 

Vera: About 200 flooded the first time. At least 400 the second.

Living in a State of High Alert

Rehak: What would make you happy at this point?

Cogdill: We just want things back to normal.

Rehak: What do you consider normal? 

Cogdill: Not living with the fear. To have everybody’s homes that have been destroyed fixed, repaired, restored back to the original. 

Cogdill can never escape the fear of living with the development in the background. She worries about flooding a third time before someone fixes the problem.

Vera: Not to worry every time there’s a storm coming. We were up all night last night, even though we were told we were not going to flood again. But everybody was still glued to the TV, because we’re always on high alert. We ARE going to flood again because nobody has solved this problem. What do I want? To NOT live with anxiety all the time. But it’s always there.

Cogdill: I want to get back to a place where everybody is not whining, complaining, or scared. I want everybody’s homes fixed and to say, “Hey, we’re having a block party this month.” I just want to live in a normal community that’s not consumed with fear. 

Accountability and Oversight

Rehak: What role do you see Montgomery County Government playing in all of this?

Cogdill: Montgomery County should be liable. City of Houston should be liable. And once these people start being held liable over this stuff, maybe they’ll stop letting it slip through the cracks. You know, it’s just somebody somewhere along the way pushed a bunch of stuff under the rug. And all of them shut their eyes to it. They all should have been involved. But my understanding is that Montgomery County won’t come inspect it. They have a job. And they should do it. 

Vera: My biggest concern is that I don’t know what we can do about it. And we get a lot of spring rain.  

Running Out of Hope

Rehak: Have you considered raising your foundation?

Vera: It was going to be like close to a hundred thousand dollars to do it.

A never-ending story: Once immaculate lawns and proudly maintained homes have given way to trash piles.

Rehak: Last question. What do you feel about the way Perry Homes has handled this?

Vera: I think they’re sick. 

Such is life at ground zero in the flood zone.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/4/2020 with thanks to Nancy Vera and Edythe Cogdill for sharing their experience

890 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 139 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.

Elm Grove Has 2-3X More Damage Than After May 7th, Much of It Foreseeable and Preventable

Many homes flooded in Elm Grove this week that did not flood on May 7th, or ever before. Estimates from the homeowner’s association range from 2 to 3 times the number that flooded on May 7th. The shocking part: most of the flooding was preventable.

History of Problems with Woodridge Village

On May 7th, floodwater from a new development in Montgomery County contributed to the flooding of almost 200 homes in Elm Grove Village.

On May 8th, Montgomery County Commissioners should have known they had a problem with the development (Woodridge Village). What did they do? They let the developer’s engineering company (LJA Engineering) investigate itself.

The basic problem: Perry Homes, its subsidiaries and contractors had clearcut approximately 268 acres. They filled in natural streams and wetlands without installing needed detention ponds. Runoff from the development then went straight into Elm Grove.

In the weeks that followed, hundreds of Elm Grove residents filed lawsuits against the developer and contractors. In the months that followed:

The Perry gang, managed to complete less than 25% of the needed detention pond capacity, despite ideal construction weather, and then they apparently stopped work altogether.

They finished only two ponds on the southern section and ignored three on the northern. Work came to a virtual standstill almost three weeks ago.

For a breakdown on detention pond capacity and how much had been built before Imelda, click here.

Drone Footage Shows Huge Clearcut Area Where Three Detention Ponds Should Have Been

As work came to a standstill, residents became concerned. Last Sunday, Matt Swint flew his drone over the development to document the status of work on detention ponds. Just four days later, Imelda struck.

Swint captured all three of the images immediately below on 9/15/2019. They show that no progress was made on ANY of the detention ponds planned for the northern section.

Woodridge N1 Detention Pond should have gone here.
Woodridge N2 Detention Pond should have gone here. It was supposed to be the largest pond on the site, but the only work done on it was between 2006 and 2008 by Montgomery County.
N3 Pond should have gone here.

No Work Ever Done on Northern Detention Ponds Despite Area Having Been Clearcut for Months

They could have hired extra crews to build those northern detention ponds. But no. Why be aggressive when you’re months behind schedule and have ideal construction weather?

Their lawyers were, however, working overtime, blocking discovery in the court case against the developer and contractors.

A judge failed to recognize the dire threat that Elm Grove residents still lived under. She may have unwittingly contributed to this mess. With no sense of urgency, she tolerated deliberate delays and set a trial date a year away.

Meanwhile, at an August 27th meeting, MoCo commissioners considered a motion to close a loophole that allowed developers to get away without installing detention ponds. Commissioners chose to table the motion. They insisted that Montgomery County didn’t have a flooding problem. They worried that closing the loophole could change the economics of work in progress and harm developers.

Then came Imelda. The storm dumped almost 12 inches of rain on a development that was designed to retain exactly 12 inches of rain (see page ES-1). But because less than a quarter of the planned detention pond capacity was functional, the plans failed.

The Harris County Flood Warning System shows that the USGS gage at US59 recorded 11.56 inches of rain on 9/19/19, most of it during the late morning.

Second Verse, Worse than the First

On September 19, Elm Grove flooded again. Worse than on May 7th. Much worse. Beth Guide of the Elm Grove Homeowners Association and numerous homeowners estimate that the water was at least a foot to eighteen inches deeper. The additional water involved twice as many streets, and affected as many as two to three times more homeowners. Now they, too, get to join the lawsuit and battle institutional indifference. (Note: many streets are so congested that it is virtually impossible to get an exact count at this time. That number could change.)

Scenes from Elm Grove, One Day after Second Flood in Four Months

Today, I:

  • Witnessed men and women weeping openly as they hauled belongings to the curb for the second time in four months.
  • Watched kids discarding Christmas and birthday presents in trash piles that sometimes reached rafters.
  • Talked with a family that had just finished installing replacement cabinets from the May 7th flood.
  • Saw desperation in the eyes of young couples who feared bankruptcy.
  • Met the grown children of elderly people there to help salvage what they could for parents.

Defendants’ Responses to Plaintiffs’ Questions

As this tsunami of heartbreak unfolded in front of me, I could not get the defendants’ responses to the plaintiffs’ simple requests out of my mind.

For instance:

  • Request: Identify the entity or individual in charge on May 7, 2019.
  • Response: “Defendant objects to this Request for Production on the grounds it is vague, ambiguous, unclear and overly broad with respect to the requesting party’s use of the phrase ‘in charge…'”

Or how about this one:

  • Request: Identify the person in charge of permit compliance.
  • Response: “Defendant objects to this Request for Production on the grounds that such Request is vague, overly broad, and fails to specify and/or describe with reasonable particularity – as is required by Rule 196.1(b) of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure — the documents and/or things to be produced. Defendant further objects to this Request for Production on the grounds that such Request is argumentative and assumes the truth of matters which are not in evidence, and which may be in dispute, to the extent that such Request suggests and/or assumes that one specific individual was “… in charge of compliance …” by this Defendant as to the terms and conditions of TPDES General Permit TXR150000.”

Whew! That lawyer must be getting paid by the word. I know some people that could have communicated the same meaning with a finger gesture.

The defendants produced 61 pages of such responses. If you ever need to boil your blood, read it. They use the word “vague” 27 times in response to clear and pointed questions,.

Hearing on Monday

The judge in this case will hear a motion to compel responses on Monday, September 23rd in the 234th Judicial District Court of Harris County. I hope she puts a stop to this nonsense. It’s time somebody did…with the rain train spread out across the Atlantic during the worst part of hurricane season.

What 23% Retention Contributed To

This video shows what the people of Elm Grove faced during Imelda from Woodridge Village and what they will continue to face. With only 23% of the detention capacity in place, it overflowed when the design limits were tested. See video below.

On September 19, 2019, Woodridge Village detention pond S2 overflowed directly into Village Springs in Elm Grove. This matches the video shot by Edy Cogdill from the same location on May 7. Video shot by Allyssa Harris, a resident on Village Springs.

It’s kind of like expecting a car with one tire to work as well as a car with four.

At 10:10:09 a.m. on 9/19/19, Jeff Miller’s security camera captured a cloud of silty water invading clear rain water that had been filling Forest Springs Drive (four blocks west of Taylor Gully) all morning. Miller believes that Woodridge Village’s S2 detention pond overflowed minutes earlier. See photo below.

One Day After the Latest Storm

Silt fence pushed toward Taylor Gully adjacent to Woodridge S2 detention pond. This indicates two things: There was not enough detention capacity; it overflowed. And water from the development did not follow the route it should have, i.e., through the outflow control device to the left. Photo by Jeff Miller.
Bent silt fencing above Village Springs Drive failed to stop the flow of sediment toward Elm Grove.
Abel and Nancy Vera burned out two power washers trying to get Woodridge muck off their driveway after Imelda.
Abel Vera had to grab his car to avoid slipping in slippery, ankle-deep sediment on Village Springs. Rainwater alone would not have deposited so much muck.
Nancy Vera says that her home had more than a foot of water in it before Taylor Gully overflowed. The water contained thick sediment from Woodridge just north of her house. It made a dangerous, syrupy mess.
Flood debris lodged in the wheel well of Allyssa Harris’ vehicle which took on water up to the door handles despite being parked in her drive on higher ground.
Bill King, candidate for Mayor of Houston, spent the day after Imelda investigating the causes of Elm Grove flooding. Woodridge is in the background.
King also visited with homeowners who lost everything for the second time in four months.
Another Elm Grove debris pile from Imelda flood. There are hundreds of similar piles.
The joys and fun of children were dragged to the curb, too.
New furniture. Old Story. Another Imelda debris pile in Elm Grove.
For block after block, people were tossing flooded items.
A masking-tape sign on a discarded headboard on Shady Maple in Elm Grove provided the only ray of hope.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/20/2019, with images from Matt Swint, Allyssa Harris, Jeff Miller

752 Days after Harvey and One Day after Imelda

All thoughts expressed in this post are my opinions on matters of public opinion and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.

Video shows Taylor Gully Restoration Reaching County Line; Giant Berm Now Separating Elm Grove and Woodridge

Elm Grove resident Jeff Miller submitted two more videos and a still photo today. They show:

Harris County Flood Control crews restoring conveyance of Taylor Gully near Harris/Montgomery County line. Video courtesy of Jeff Miller.
Woodridge S2 Detention Pond, immediately upstream from Elm Grove on Taylor Gully. Video courtesy of Jeff Miller.

More than 200 homes flooded near Taylor Gully on May 7th that had never flooded before. The ditch winds through Porter, Woodridge Village, Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest. Homes on all four sides of the new development flooded after contractors altered drainage when clearing the land.

LJA Surveyors Worked over Weekend in Elm Grove

Additional still photos taken last Sunday by Nancy Vera also show LJA Surveying the streets of Elm Grove. Vera asked them what they were doing and the surveyors professed (or feigned) ignorance. They said the reason they were there was “above our pay grade,” according to Vera.

LJA Surveying crew working in Elm Grove on Saturday, July 13, 2019. LJA Surveying is a subsidiary of LJA Engineers, the company hired by the developer of Woodridge Village. Note dumpster in background. Families are still repairing homes more than two months after the May 7th flood. Image courtesy of Nancy Vera.
LJA Surveying Truck in Elm Grove. Note: glare caused by shooting photo through windshield. Image courtesy of Nancy Vera.

I’m not sure what’s going on here. It may have something to do with the countersuit by the subsidiaries of Perry Homes. They allege, in part, that the flooding on May 7th is not their fault “because Plaintiffs assumed the risk that resulted in Plaintiffs’ alleged damages.” (See Point #10, page 5). However, their lawsuit does not specify what they mean by that.

I’m going to take a wild guess and assume that they’re going to claim that some of the homes were in the 100- and 500-year flood plains. Of course, that ignores the fact that none of those homes had every flooded before, not even in Harvey.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/17/2019 with contributions from Jeff Miller and Nancy Vera

687 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Law on “Overflow Caused by Diversion of Water” and Photographic Analysis of Recent Elm Grove Flood

As I interviewed flood victims in Elm Grove last week, I constantly heard different versions of the same story. “We never flooded before. Then they changed the drainage on that land to the north of us and we flooded.” Another common theme: “Water was flowing right out of the new subdivision through our street.”

“You Can’t Flood Neighbors”

An acquaintance at Harris County Flood Control told me that its a basic tenet of Texas law that you can’t flood your neighbors. I asked him for a legal reference. He said, “Check the Texas State Water Code.” I did. It’s more than 2200 pages long. Just as I was falling asleep reading the requirements for inter-basin transfers, I stumbled on Sec. 11.086. Quite interesting, that section! It reads (in part):


(a) No person may divert or impound the natural flow of surface waters in this state, or permit a diversion or impounding by him to continue, in a manner that damages the property of another by the overflow of the water diverted or impounded.

(b) A person whose property is injured by an overflow of water caused by an unlawful diversion or impounding has remedies at law and in equity and may recover damages occasioned by the overflow.

(c) The prohibition of Subsection (a) of this section does not in any way affect the construction and maintenance of levees and other improvements to control floods, overflows, and freshets in rivers, creeks, and streams or the construction of canals for conveying water for irrigation or other purposes authorized by this code. However, this subsection does not authorize any person to construct a canal, lateral canal, or ditch that obstructs a river, creek, bayou, gully, slough, ditch, or other well-defined natural drainage.

(d) (Not applicable to Elm Grove)

Amended by Acts 1977, 65th Leg., p. 2207, ch. 870, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1977.

In Plain Language

I’m not a lawyer and I don’t offer legal advice, but it sounds to me as if the law says:

(a) You can’t divert water in a way that damages others.

(b) Someone whose property is harmed by an overflow may recover damages.

(c) People (such as developers) can make improvements in drainage to control flooding. However, they can’t make improvements that obstruct well-defined natural drainage features such as creeks, gullies or ditches.

That last point is crucial because the developer north of Elm Grove (Figure Four Partners, LTD), reportedly filled in natural ditches or streams that worked well for generations. The replacements? Those didn’t work out so well in heavy rains last week.

A Photographic Examination of Flood Pathways

Abel Vera, the resident closest to the new development on Village Springs Drive was flooded from the street, not Taylor Gully. How can you be sure? Compare these two pictures on the inside and outside of the fence between his house and Taylor Gully.

Inside back yard fence, facing Village Springs Drive. Taylor Gully is on the other side. Photo taken on 4/8/19, two days after flood.
Outside of same fence facing gully shows no debris line. Grass is standing tall, not matted down by flood waters. These two photos in combination suggest that the primary direction of flow came from the street, not the drainage ditch.
Warning sign at end of Village Springs Drive caught flood debris rushing down the street from developer’s property. This was not just a case of water backing up from storm drains.
Vera’s vehicle was parked high on his driveway. This side faced water flowing out of the new development. The side facing away from the new development did not trap any debris. This indicates flow came from the new development. The flood was not simply from water rising in the street. It was from water flowing from the developer’s property where changes to drainage had been made.
Vera’s house is behind the trees on the right. Notice how much higher the developer’s new culvert is compared to the land around it. The height and the constriction diverted water toward Vera’s house on the right behind the trees and down Village Springs Drive.

Where Did The Water Come From?

I believe the floodwater came from rainfall on approximately 267 acres being clear cut by the developer. Had a foot of rain fallen on Vera’s property, with none coming from anywhere else, the water level would not have risen past the bottom of his driveway. His home would likely be whole today.

However, clear cutting, filling in old channels, constricting new channels and changing the slope of the land on those 267 acres all appear to have diverted water. Below is a satellite image showing the outlines of the developer’s property.

Approximate outline of land owned by Figure Four Partners LTD. This satellite image is dated 2/23/19. More land has been clear cut since then.

Let’s zoom in on the area above the culvert where the drainage ditch coming down the east side of the property makes a 120-degree turn, just above Same Way and Right Way.

Use the image below to understand the location of the images that follow.

The photo below compared to the satellite image above shows that the developer appears to have extended the ditch straight up. However, the ditch extension also appears to be clogged with debris from the clear cutting. Whether the developer stacked it there or the storm swept it there is unknown.

Facing north. The main ditch makes a 120-degree turn by the tire. You can see what appears to be a new ditch that helps drain the northern section of land in the upper right.
Here’s a telephoto shot showing the same blockage in the ditch.
Immediately to the left of the shot above, you can see how far clear cutting has progressed toward the ditch.
Turning 180 degrees and looking the other way down the ditch, toward Taylor Gully, you can see that it dead-ends halfway down the eastern boundary of the property.
At the end of the shot above, this is what you find. The entire flow of the ditch must go through what appears to be a 2-foot pipe covered with debris..

Compared to the volume of the ditch, that two-foot pipe will not carry much water in a flood. It may have been adequate when surrounded by woodlands and wetlands to sponge up any overflow. Right now though, it doesn’t feel up to the task of draining hundreds of acres of clear-cut land.

Shot while standing on edge of ditch above the pipe entrance, looking south and a little west. When water came out of the ditch above, it headed back west toward the Vera House on Village Springs Drive to find another way out.
Here you can see the force of large volume of water came out of the ditch above the pipe during the flood.


This sequence of pictures suggests that a large volume of water coming down from the clear-cut parcel to the north, wound up being channeled back across the southern parcel and into Elm Grove. A portion of the flood also channeled through the subdivision to the east. Restrictions in both outflow channels forced water into streets and homes.

Here’s what Abel Vera’s home looked like yesterday.

There are 400 more just like it in Elm Grove.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/13/2019

622 Days since Hurricane Harvey

All thoughts above are opinions regarding matters of public policy and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.

Elm Grove Looks for Answers and Doesn’t Have to Look Far

The hardest hit area from Tuesday’s storm seemed to be one that never flooded before: Elm Grove Village. Media have reported as many as 400 homes flooded there. As I drove down Elm Grove streets near the Harris/Montgomery County line, home after home had waterlogged trash, carpet, mattresses and furniture piled in front. Suddenly, I had eerie flashbacks to Harvey. Clusters of people in the street trading horror stories. Service trucks everywhere. Residents gaping at damage, consoling each other. People crying as they threw out prized belongings. Shock, sympathy, anger, fear all rolled into thousand-yard stares. Wondering what would come next with 8-12 more inches of rain on the way. But most of all, they were asking “Why?”


Here’s what I’ve been able to learn.

  • According to the residents I talked to, this area never flooded before…even during Harvey.
  • The storm drains were clear. City Councilman Dave Martin who was onsite this morning coordinating the City’s response showed me fiber optic video of clear storm sewers. Public Works could find no blockages near the flooded homes in Elm Grove.
  • Drone footage (below) shows there were no blockages in the ditch that services the area.
  • The rainfall intensity and duration on Tuesday both played a roll.
  • According to Martin, storm drains in this area are designed to handle 1/2 inch of rain per hour. However, Elm Grove received close to 10 inches during a 5 hour period on Tuesday.
  • A complicating factor was a new subdivision being built in Montgomery County (by a subsidiary of Perry Homes, Figure Four Partners LTD) that butts up to Elm Grove.
  • The developer clear-cut 92 acres and slanted drainage toward Elm Grove.
  • No detention ponds, silt fences, berms, sand bags, or filter socks had been installed to retain water that I could see. Also, with the exception of one or two small groves of trees, no vegetation remained to slow or absorb runoff.
  • The developer covered up an existing stream/ditch according to residents.
  • Near the end of a long, severely eroded drainage ditch, the developer installed a box culvert that couldn’t handle the volume from this storm. It backed water up and flooded the site according to residents.
  • The overflow then went into Elm Grove.
  • According to residents, construction employees routinely access the site from Elm Grove streets. Their trucks created ruts that channeled water into the streets.
  • Because the storm drain capacity could not keep up with the rainfall rate and the water flowing from the development, water rose in the streets and flooded homes. Most people I talked to had 12-18 inches of water in their homes.

The Difference? The New Development

Storms as intense as Tuesday’s have happened before without flooding in Elm Grove. Heck, not even Harvey flooded the area. No blockage existed in the sewer or the existing drainage ditches in Elm Grove. Clearly, the one thing that’s different in this equation is the new development.

Arrow represents direction of drainage in the clearcut area. Developer funneled water toward the L-shaped ditch. However, the water started flowing through streets and homes instead. Worst damage was in oval which is approximate in size and shape. Not all homes in oval flooded.
No blockages downstream in ditch. So ditch blockage was ruled out as contributing factor.

Drone Stills from Jim Zura

Drainage on site seems to funnel water toward Elm Grove and then down toward the culvert shown below. However, it appears that rain overwhelmed the drainage capacity and the lack of vegetation accelerated runoff.
If dirt piled along tree line was supposed to represent a berm, it certainly wasn’t continuous. Water flowed through openings according to residents, for instance, where men are standing in lower left.
Looking West toward K-Park HS. Elm Grove is out of frame on the left. Note how pools of water are larger on the left than right indicating that runoff is flowing towards Elm Grove.

View from the Ground

Shot taken on 5/7/19 from Woodland Hills Drive in front of Kingwood Park High School, looking southeast toward Sherwood Trails.
Sewers had not yet been installed as of 5/7/19.
On 5/7/19, the entire site was a mass of muck.
A drainage ditch or linear pond in-the-making shows signs of severe erosion. This ditch carried water toward the homes in Elm Grove that flooded.
Wider shot of same area. Not a blade of grass in sight. Rivers of mud everywhere.

Life Disrupted

A life on the curb.
A home in ruins.
Contractors were swarming the neighborhood one day after the flood.
Home after home. Street after street. Shattered lives. Few people in this neighborhood had flood insurance because it had never flooded.
The transition between Village Springs Drive in Elm Grove and the new development in Montgomery County. You can tell from the mud in the streets where the water came from. Residents report water rising in the street before it rose in the drainage ditch that bisects the neighborhood.

Family Closest to the Problem

Abel Vera, homeowner on Village Springs Drive, adjacent to the new development. The following pictures are from his home and used with his permission. His beautiful pool is filled with muddy flood water. The heavy stone pots and patio furniture were lifted by the flood and slammed into the fence.
Vera’s back fence shows how high the water reached in his yard.
The “upstream” side of Vera’s car, parked in his driveway during the flood. The wheel was facing the new development.
Vera points to the waterline on his kitchen cabinets. He spent five hours vacuuming water from the recessed hardwood floor in his kitchen.
Newly installed hardwood floors will need to be replaced.
Culvert at the end of the ditch reportedly backed water up. Water then moved toward upper right, the Vera home.

Within the next day or two, I hope to edit the drone footage with the talented Jim Zura who shot it. As I post this, I hear thunder outside from yet another round of storms. And I’m praying for the people of Elm Grove.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/9/19

618 Days since Hurricane Harvey