Officials plan to widen a tributary in the Clear Lake area, but some residents aren’t on board.

Horsepen Bayou is a tributary in the Armand Bayou Watershed. Both Horsepen Bayou and Armand Bayou flow southeast toward Clear Lake, which flows into Galveston Bay and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

During Hurricane Harvey, several homes near Horsepen Bayou took on 20 to 30 inches of water, said Jeremy Ratcliff, Harris County Flood Control District coordinator for Precinct 2.

In response to the storm, Harris County officials in 2018 proposed flood mitigation projects in the form of a $2.5 billion bond, which voters overwhelmingly approved. One such project, budgeted at $12.5 million, was widening Horsepen Bayou, Ratcliff said.

The project includes widening the channel. Unlike some other flood projects, the plan doesn’t include a detention pond, meaning the channel has to be widened farther than it otherwise would be to compensate, officials said.

“By providing more capacity in Horsepen Bayou, the area storm sewer and tributary system will function more efficiently,” HCFCD Communications Lead Sheldra Brigham said.

The details

The project would widen 3 miles of Horsepen Bayou by an average of over 20 feet. Originally this was less but had to increase to avoid disturbing nearby wetlands, Brigham said.

Ratcliff said the project was chosen for two main reasons:
  • It provides flood reduction in the area by increasing the channel’s capacity.
  • The project is in HCFCD’s right of way.
“We don’t really like displacing people if we don’t have to,” Ratcliff said.
Those opposed

Those in the Bay Oaks community have expressed that the channel widening is not the project they want.

Ratcliff said many residents in the area have yards with fences that abut Horsepen Bayou. Those fences, which are on county property, would have to be taken down and moved back to accommodate the channel widening, he said.

Additionally, some residents have expressed concerns about the loss of trees and other natural beauty with channel widening and instead would prefer a detention pond.

“All the other [considered] projects are upstream detention ... in vacant fields that would not have disturbed residents in their neighborhoods or altered the natural habitat of the bayou, and they would provide substantially more relief,” resident Yee Leng Toh wrote in a letter to county officials.

However, Ratcliff said a detention pond isn’t feasible due to the area’s proximity to Ellington Airport. Detention ponds attract birds, which are dangerous near active runways.

What’s next

HCFCD officials said they are taking another look at what the final project might look like.

For instance, HCFCD officials said they are analyzing the possibility of including in the project a detention pond—which would reduce the required amount of channel widening—despite the proximity of Ellington Airport.