Hundreds of residents along Cypress Creek gathered at the Raveneaux Country Club in Spring on June 15 to provide feedback to Harris County officials on how to tackle flooding in the watershed.
The event was one of 23 meetings that have been scheduled across the county as flood control officials try to finalize a list of projects that would be funded by a proposed $2.5 billion bond referendum. County residents will vote on the bond Aug. 25, and officials said they hope to have a final list of projects—which will be shaped in part with feedback gathered at these meetings—by Aug. 1.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett spoke briefly at the event, commenting on the need to give more attention to Cypress Creek given the rapid population growth in the watershed.
“We have hundreds of thousands of people living here who didn’t live here when these [flood control]plans were drawn,” he said. “We’re not going to prevent flooding, but what we need to do is prevent the impact of flooding.”
The meeting itself was open to the greater public, but was geared toward the Cypress Creek watershed. Poster boards and large maps were set up around the room displaying potential projects, and residents were asked to fill out comment forms with suggestions for what should be added or prioritized. Flood control officials were also on hand to answer questions.
“There was tremendous participation,” Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said. “People came up with some very good ideas and some very good questions. It’s been very successful.”
Priorities in Cypress Creek include home buyouts and right-of-way acquisition along the creek. Buying homes and land inside the 100-year floodplain would allow the county to restore the land to its natural floodplain state and ensure that future development cannot take place there.
Radack said the buyouts are a priority that, once completed, would give the county a better idea of where it stands with regard to its other needs.
“It will be a dynamic process,” he said. “Buying out some areas would help with some of our other problems by correcting problems we have now and identifying what future needs will be, which is challenging. This is going to be a long-term process.”
Other proposed projects include tributary improvements, drainage improvements at various subdivisions, removing silt from the creek and building new detention basins.
Residents attended the meeting from all over the watershed and beyond, and their concerns ranged from particular areas being neglected to an overall lack of support for Cypress Creek. However, several residents who expressed concerns said they will still support the bond in August.
“Time is of the essence,” said Victor Vanis, a Spring resident who was recently elected to the Cypress Forest Utility District’s board of directors. “We have to trust our leaders to do what’s right and to get moving on the process and hopefully spend the money right.”
Vanis said he was disappointed to learn that flood control officials determined it would not be cost-effective to channelize the creek, an effort that would involve widening and/or deepening the creek starting where it dumps into Spring Creek at Hwy. 59 and working upstream. He also pointed out the apparent disconnect between the size of the Cypress Creek watershed and the percentage of the flood control district’s budget that historically has been used for projects within it.
“The concern is that the Cypress Creek watershed is very large, and the percentage of money spent by Harris County proportionally is minuscule,” Vanis said. “That’s a concern of many residents.”
His concerns were echoed by Carmela Simmons, a Cypress resident who lives in Enchanted Valley. Simmons said her house was built in 1969, but it only experienced flooding for the first time during the Tax Day Flood in 2016, and then again during Hurricane Harvey.
Simmons said she is concerned about the lack of projects along the back end of Cypress Creek that stretches from the Harris County line through to Hwy. 290. She said she still supports the bond, but is not certain that other residents will.
“Anything we do is going to help, but I know a lot of people who are saying ‘if there’s nothing for us, I’m voting no,'” she said.
Other residents, like John Zarafonetis of Bammle Forest, said they are mainly concerned with the trend of allowing developers to build in places that are known to flood. He said he would like to see the county find a way to prevent developers from building on property that would otherwise qualify for buyouts.
Zarafonetis, who said he is leaning toward supporting the bond but has not yet decided, said he also wants to see projects start to move forward as soon as possible.
“I don’t want any more studies,” he said. “I want something done.”
Cypress Creek residents who missed the meeting can still submit feedback online by going to the Harris County Flood Control District website.