As hurricane season nears, the Harris County Flood Control District is making progress on stormwater detention basins planned for the Cypress Creek watershed.

The 2021 Cypress Creek Implementation Plan recommended 22 basins as a flood risk reduction strategy. While the $1.4 million study was covered by the $2.5 billion HCFCD bond voters approved in 2018, the projects recommended were not.

Construction is underway on basins in the eastern part of the watershed near I-45, but the HCFCD must secure funding before others break ground.

“We’ve been able to get started on a few of those, but the reality is there’s not funding to do all of those,” HCFCD Grants Administrator Jonathan St. Romain said.

The big picture

Building stormwater detention basins includes a feasibility study; preliminary engineering; right-of-way acquisition and utility relocation; design; and construction. Funding procurement happens through each step, HCFCD officials said.

“Unfortunately, once you identify a project, it takes many years from the time you say ‘we want to do a project’ until you get it funded, until you get it studied, until you get it refined, until you get it put in the ground,” Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey said.

Projects in the plan are prioritized based on land acquisition, potential flood risk reduction and available funding, St. Romain said.

Engineering and consulting firm Michael Baker International released the Cypress Creek Watershed Major Tributaries Regional Drainage Plan in February 2020, which recommended 56,500 acre-feet, or 18.41 billion gallons, of stormwater detention to mitigate flooding from Little Cypress Creek and Cypress Creek.

The Cypress Creek Implementation Plan, which was released in November 2021, identified specific projects that could bring 14,000 acre-feet, or 4.56 billion gallons, of stormwater storage volume to the Cypress Creek watershed—about 25% of what was recommended. According to the study, this would remove 19% of structures from the watershed’s 100-year flood plain and cost nearly $600 million.

Alan Black formerly worked for the HCFCD and is now vice president of Quiddity Engineering, the firm that conducted the implementation plan. He said, since 1937, the HCFCD has excavated about 63,000 acre-feet countywide.

“It will take decades to get to that 19%,” he said at the Cypress Creek Drainage Improvement District’s April 16 town hall meeting.

While construction has begun on some downstream projects in the Spring area, the following Cy-Fair projects are now moving into the preliminary engineering phase. Funding has not yet been acquired for construction costs, but once completed, more than 2,200 Cy-Fair structures will be removed from the 100-year flood plain.

1. Four basins at Cypresswood Drive and Jones Road
  • Basin volume: 346M gallons
  • Cost: $56.5 million
  • Structures affected: 737
2. Cypress Park basin extension
  • Basin volume: 1.5B gallons
  • Cost: $185.5 million
  • Structures affected: 868
3. Basin at Telge Road and Pleasant Grove Road
  • Basin volume: 95M gallons
  • Cost: $15.98 million
  • Structures affected: 634

Funding the project

HCFCD officials said the 2018 bond program included $60 million for maintenance work along Cypress Creek and $100 million for land acquisition and flood plain preservation. This funding has been used to purchase property for some stormwater detention basins, including the Cypress Park basin extension off North Eldridge Parkway and the Mercer basin off the Hardy Toll Road and FM 1960 in the Spring area.

However, the district is seeking additional funding sources, such as state and federal grants, local partnerships and federal allocations, to continue this work. Each funding program comes with its own unique set of challenges, such as environmental studies, socioeconomic factors and expiration dates, St. Romain said.

“The 2018 bond program was designed to be a starting point for broader flood resilience efforts, and we acknowledged from the outset that it would not cover all needs,” St. Romain said.

Ramsey’s office approved the use of bond funds for the preliminary engineering phase of the Cy-Fair-area projects, which include four new detention basins near Cypresswood Drive and Jones Road, the extension of an existing detention basin at Cypress Park off North Eldridge Parkway, and a new detention basin at Telge and Pleasant Grove roads. Construction costs, which amount to about $258 million in total, are not covered by these funds and still need to be acquired, officials said.

“Although we don’t currently have funding to move the projects into final design and construction, we know that partnership funding often requires a level of readiness that a preliminary engineering report can provide, which is why it’s important to move forward with these since we also already own the necessary right of way,” St. Romain said.

Since the 2018 bond program was approved:
  • $156 million has been spent on Cypress Creek projects.
  • $92 million has been spent on Little Cypress Creek projects.
  • 175 voluntary home buyouts have been completed in the Cypress Creek watershed.
  • 22 detention basins have been recommended for the watershed for more than $597 million.
What to expect

The HCFCD is in the preliminary stages of scoping a new study—Solutions for Adaptive Flood Mitigation Equitably Empowering Resilient Communities, or SAFER—which will help officials understand the feasibility and impacts of underground stormwater tunnels across the county, potentially including in the Cypress Creek watershed.

Precinct 3 in April began excavating land at Cypress Park and will install solar-powered water valves to lower the pond before storms by early 2025. The $6.7 million project will add 120 acre-feet, or 39 million gallons, of detention volume. Meanwhile, the flood control district is focused on completing the 2018 bond program and administering more than $825 million in federal grant funding, officials said. This funding, along with future partnership funds, will be spent on projects over the next several years.

“I think most everybody agrees that [HCFCD] projects to build detention basins—that was a good first step. Harris County owned a lot of the land along the creek where you could build these detention basins ... and clearly one of the key strategies of mitigating flooding is to add temporary storage where we can put the water,” said Calvin Cobb, president of the Cypress Creek Drainage Improvement District. “But everybody also recognizes that will not solve all of the problems.”