While several big-picture projects have kicked off in the past year with the intention of removing stretches of territory from the flood plain, county officials also spent the month of January hosting meetings to discuss stormwater drainage at the neighborhood level.
More than 100 subdivisions were targeted for drainage improvements in Harris County as part of a broader plan to spend $2.5 billion in bond funding approved by voters in August 2018.
Roughly 30 Cy-Fair-area communities were identified for improvements across portions of Cypress Creek, White Oak Bayou and Addicks Reservoir watersheds. Residents of three White Oak Bayou communities—Barwood, Tower Oaks Meadows and Bernadine Estates—attended a community meeting Jan. 30 to provide input on the preliminary plans, which include various combinations of installing wider pipes, new inlets and detention basins.
"We’ve engaged qualified drainage consultants to take a look at each of these neighborhoods and come back and tell us what they believe is the very best solution," said Reid Mrsny, manager of design services with the Harris County Public Infrastructure Department. "That can be a variety of things."
When identifying target neighborhoods, Mrsny said officials looked for places where correcting the drainage infrastructure would lead to reduced flooding and ponding.
"For example, if I have a community that floods because of its location in the flood plain, no matter how much I do to correct the infrastructure … I’m not going to eliminate that flood risk," he said. "So we’re concentrating on the neighborhoods where the improvements help get the water to the appropriate channels and then out of the subdivision."
Matt Zeve, deputy executive director with the Harris County Flood Control District, said the projects target communities in unincorporated parts of Harris County that lack a dedicated fund for drainage projects. He cited the drainage-use fee paid by residents in the city of Houston, which helps fund drainage work there.
"There is no equivalent of that in unincorporated Harris County," he said. "The bond gave us the opportunity to do similar drainage improvement projects in unincorporated areas."
The drainage improvements are a key part of reducing flood damage and work in concert with larger capital improvement projects, Zeve said, such as the White Oak Bayou widening project that will kick off this year. He said drainage work is designed to prevent nuisance flooding and ponding that can occur during short, intense rainstorms.
"Some of these neighborhoods were built in the ’60s and ’70s," he said. "The drainage standards, the engineering standards were different. We’re not surprised that the need is great."
Future Cy-Fair-area meetings will be held for residents in Wortham Estates, Tower Oaks Plaza, Cypress Crossing Mobile Home Park, Ravensway and Westgate, among other communities. Harris County commissioners approved preliminary engineering work at a Jan. 29 meeting for drainage projects in Aberdeen Green, Longwood Village, Prado Woods, Copperfield Southdown Village, Hearthstone Green, Hearthstone Meadows, Rock Creek and a portion of the Tall Pines community.
Updates concerning future meetings can be found on the HCFCD website.
With the Jan. 30 meeting complete, officials will now review public input from residents at the three communities before finalizing the planning study, Mrsny said. Plans would then be presented to Harris County Precinct 3 officials for approval before a detailed analysis and design is launched.
When construction could begin depends on several factors, including federal grant funding, Mrsny said. Some Harris County neighborhoods could see construction begin in 6-8 months, while for others it could be a year or more, he said.
Zeve said close to $1 billion in Community Development Block Grant funding will be made available to Harris County around the beginning of 2020 for infrastructure projects. In the meantime, he said the county can use bond funding to help advance some of the design and planning work.