Bay Area residents prepare for future flooding

Image description
Proposed flood-prevention projects
Image description
Proposed flood-prevention projects
Image description
Proposed flood-prevention projects

Two days after Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast, Peggy Zahler’s League City home along Clear Creek started taking in water.


The streets were not drivable. Neighbors in her subdivision already had to be evacuated from their rooftops. Until she started flooding, Zahler had considered herself lucky.


“I honestly thought I had dodged a bullet,” Zahler said.


Her home took in only a few inches at first, but later, it got worse. Water started coming in so fast that Zahler was not sure she was safe even on the second floor.


“It was terrifying,” she said.


On Aug. 25, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast, Clear Lake residents will have the opportunity to vote in a Harris County bond election that could bring millions in flood-prevention projects to the Bay Area.


While Zahler is a Galveston County resident, planned projects go beyond Harris County borders. Harris County plans to pour hundreds of millions into improving Clear Creek, which could reduce flooding for those outside the county.


“We have to do something,” Houston City Council Member Dave Martin said of the bond. “I think we’re all smart enough to realize we need to do things differently. ...”


The $2.5 billion bond will allow officials to address more than 150 flood-prevention projects across the county with the hopes of saving lives and property should another Harvey-caliber storm ever strike the Greater Houston area again.


“I’ve told people that it’s one of the most important elections in our lifetimes,” Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman said. “We have to be proactive.”


Despite flooding concerns across the county and beyond, addressing issues near Clear Lake is particularly important. Stormwater flows through the area on its way to Clear Lake, Galveston Bay and eventually the Gulf of Mexico, and officials do not want the area to become a choke point during heavy rainfall.


“It all flows through [Harris County] Precinct 2, and it all flows through the Bay Area,” Morman said.



Bay Area projects


Of the $2.5 billion worth of proposed Harris County flood-control projects, about $148.9 million is set aside for the Clear Lake area—about $124.3 million for the Clear Creek Watershed and $24.6 million for the Armand Bayou Watershed, according to preliminary Harris County Flood Control District documents.

However, the benefit for Clear Lake residents would far exceed $148.9 million; several projects come with matching funds from other entities, such as the Army Corps of Engineers, totaling up to $222.1 million.

The biggest potential project in either watershed is flood risk management along Clear Creek. The project includes channel and drainage improvements along the creek, which makes up the border of Harris and Galveston counties.

If the bond passes the county would pay for $70 million of the more than $200 million project, and the Army Corps of Engineers would pay the rest, according to the documents.

Once completed, the project would likely protect 2,100-2,300 homes from flooding during a 100-year flood event, said Dave Walden, Morman’s chief of staff.

A nearly $16 million project to complement the Clear Creek improvements would create a stormwater detention basin and water conveyance improvements along Halls Ditch Road. Several other projects would complement the planned Clear Creek work.

A bit farther downstream, planned subdivision drainage improvements would cost $12 million and could protect more than 900 homes from taking on water during 100-year floods, according to the documents.

The district also wants to spend $9.7 million to buy about 170 buildings prone to flooding. Another $29.1 million in matching funds from partners would fund $38.8 million in buyouts.

In the Armand Bayou Watershed, it is challenging to address flooding problems because the watershed includes the environmentally sensitive Armand Bayou Nature Center, Walden said.

“You can’t go in there and put a concrete channel in there,” he said.

One $15 million project would create a stormwater detention pond near Red Bluff Road and Armand Bayou. A $2.5 million project would allow for conveyance improvements along Horsepen Bayou, according to the documents.

Many projects are necessary after ignoring concerns for far too long, Martin said.

“We reap what we sow, which is years of neglect that has caused us this trouble,” he said.

Early voting runs through Aug. 21. For polling locations, visit www.harrisvotes.com.

Regional solutions


Many officials believe it will take regional solutions to combat flooding.

If water backs up in Clear Lake, it backs up to the north, too. Flooding issues ignored or improperly addressed in one watershed could affect neighboring areas, League City Mayor Pat Hallisey said.

“We’re all in it together,” Hallisey said.

U.S. Rep.  John Culberson, R-Houston, announced in July that Harris County had secured $4.5 billion in federal funds to pay for flood-prevention projects across the county. About $4 billion will go toward a coastal storm risk-management and ecosystem restoration project from Galveston Bay to Sabine Pass, but about $295 million is set aside for Clear Creek.

Harris County Flood Control District and other officials said it is unclear at this point if the federal money will offset how much the county plans to put toward projects if the bond passes, but officials agreed the  $2.5 billion is not enough.

“The amount we’re asking for in the bond isn’t enough to do everything that needs to be done. The reality is if we had to do everything necessary to make our county resilient … it’d be a great magnitude more than $2.5 billion,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said at a July press conference.

Martin agreed.

“You’re gonna have more projects than available dollars,” he said. “That’s for sure.”

Zahler was recently appointed to the Clear Creek Watershed Steering Committee to seek regional solutions.

“That’s the only thing that makes any sense,” she said. “It’s bigger than one city, it’s very complex, and we need to move the ball forward.”

Residents seem to agree. Officials have heard positive feedback from Harris County residents and believe the bond has a great chance of passing.

If the bond passes, the average homeowner would pay just under $5 a year extra in taxes in 2020, rising to about $60 a year by 2035. Those 65 and older with a house worth $200,000 or less would not pay any extra taxes.

Exploration Green


It is not just the county looking for solutions; at least one local entity is getting creative, finding inventive ways to combat flooding.

The Clear Lake City Water Authority—an entity responsible for water, sewage and drainage in Clear Lake City and surrounding areas before Houston annexed the municipality—has already seen results from a $30.5 million project it set in motion in 2011.

“Because we’re small, we can do a lot of things big entities can’t do or won’t do,” authority board President John Branch said.

Once a golf course, Exploration Green—which is located between El Camino Real, Bay Area Boulevard and Space Center Boulevard—is now a detention pond that water drains into during storms, helping to protect an estimated 150 homes from flooding during Harvey, Branch said.

“We’re already seeing the benefits,” he said.

And that is only with a fraction of the project complete. Once all five phases are finished in 2021, Exploration Green will hold 500 million gallons of water and protect 2,000 to 3,000 homes from flooding.

The project won a 2018 Excellence in Green Infrastructure award through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies partnership program, according to a press release.

Exploration Green has hiking and biking trails. Wetland grasses and trees are being planted to beautify the area and make it more than a place where stormwater sits.

“It’s like you’re living next to a lake,” Branch said.

Officials were considering a 20-year timeline to complete Exploration Green, but after seeing how well it worked during Harvey, the deadline was pushed up to 2021. Public reception to the project shifted after it helped save homes from flooding and residents realized its potential to save more, project engineer Kelly Shipley said.

The community has pitched in to volunteer and make Exploration Green a reality.

“... If we didn’t have the community’s support, we wouldn’t be able to do all this because it’d just be too expensive,” Branch said.
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.

<

MOST RECENT

The Texas Workforce Commission's phone and online systems have been overwhelmed as measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus continue to have a crippling effect on the economy. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
More Texans have filed for unemployment in past three weeks than in all of 2019

For the second week in a row, more than 6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, according to federal data.

Hospitals in the Greater Houston area are adapting to accommodate a surge of coronavirus cases. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Report offers first glimpse at hospital readiness across Houston area

Hospitals within the Texas Medical Center system in the Greater Houston area have plans in place to increase the number of ICU beds available by as much as 80%.

Dr. Campbell talks about the effect of the coronavirus on mental health.(Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Q&A: Kelsey-Seybold doctor talks about mental health amid the coronavirus pandemic

Dr. Stefanie Campbell discusses the coronavirus’ effect on mental illness.

Texas Central claims the $12 billion construction process would be privately funded, and the train would transport 6 million annual riders by 2029. (Courtesy Texas Central Partners/Community Impact Newspaper)
State legislators request federal officials halt activity on Texas Central's high-speed rail project

Dozens of elected officials representing Texas requested the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao put an end to activity related to Texas Central’s high-speed rail project between Dallas and Houston.

Those anxiously awaiting the end of stay-at-home orders have another thing to look forward to: progress on several transportation projects around Clear Lake and League City. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Despite pandemic, Bay Area transportation projects making progress

Those anxiously awaiting the end of stay-at-home orders have another thing to look forward to: progress on several transportation projects around Clear Lake and League City.

The amicus brief is in support of an April 7 lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party seeking legislative action to allow voters who fear exposure to the coronavirus to vote via mail-in ballot. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Harris County Attorney's Office authorized to file amicus brief supporting mail-in ballots amid coronavirus outbreak

The amicus brief is in support of an April 7 lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party seeking legislative action to allow voters who fear exposure to the coronavirus to vote via mail-in ballot.

Graphic by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper
Harris County in ‘standoff’ over proposed inmate release to curb coronavirus spread

Hidalgo said the county is now at a crossroads having to weigh the lesser of two evils: releasing nonviolent inmates back into society or risking coronavirus spreading rampant through the county jail and filling the county’s hospital beds.

The $48,000 deal with the Cambria Hotel in downtown Houston will provide up to 400 rooms over the course of the month. (Screenshot via Google Earth)
Houston leases additional 400 hotel rooms for first responder quarantine

The city secured an agreement with a downtown hotel to provide up to 400 rooms throughout the month of April.

Katy ISD is serving free meals for children at select campuses during its temporary closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Katy ISD)
ROUNDUP: The latest coronavirus coverage for South Houston readers

Here are some coronavirus developments South Houston readers may have missed.

Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi is the associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. (Courtesy Baylor College of Medicine)
Q&A: Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi discusses vaccine development

Dr. Bottazzi is the associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

This collaborative effort, known as H-Force, is meant to bring together resources, technologies and expertise to address the Houston area’s growing needs amid the global pandemic, according to a release from HCC. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Houston Community College forms partnership to address protective gear shortage

This collaborative effort, known as H-Force, is meant to bring together resources, technologies and expertise to address the Houston area’s growing needs amid the global pandemic, according to a release from HCC.

On April 9, the Galveston County Health District will open in Texas City its first free COVID-19 drive-thru testing site for high-risk people who meet specific screening criteria. (Courtesy city of League City)
Galveston County to open first drive-thru coronavirus testing site

On April 9, the Galveston County Health District will open in Texas City its first free COVID-19 drive-thru testing site for high-risk people who meet specific screening criteria.