As Houston region debates regional flood control, Katy moves ahead with drainage plans

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With a new $203,000 study of the city’s and region’s vulnerabilities largely complete, Katy plans to revamp its drainage network and coordinate with neighboring entities for more comprehensive flood control efforts.

Having now suffered three consecutive flooding events in as many years, Katy is examining options both within its incorporated limits as well as along Cypress Creek north of the city. Katy commissioned Houston engineering company Costello Inc. to study the effects of the 2016 Tax Day Floods, but final results were delayed until October to include some analysis from Tropical Storm Harvey, when 40 inches of rain fell in the city.

“We found some shortcomings and we’re going to correct those. What we can’t do, we cannot manage [waterways]above us,” Katy Mayor Chuck Brawner said. “That outside water coming in, we have no control over.”

A city drainage bond could help Katy fund projects locally, but any meaningful regional flood control would require outside help, he said. The city spoke with developers, the Brookshire-Katy Drainage District to the west, Harris County and Fort Bend County about coordinating efforts.

Katy is echoing calls for a third reservoir to be built along Cypress Creek to take pressure off the overburdened Addicks and Barker reservoirs in West Houston and reduce downstream overflow into Katy.

But advocates of the project—including Katy-area U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, R-10—say it would take significant federal funding and potentially several years to build the reservoir.

“What we want is to get started right now though. I don’t want to wait any longer to get this flood mitigation in Cypress,” he said. “We can’t afford to wait any longer on that one.”

Drainage weaknesses identified

Costello recommended improved drainage ditches in the Pine Forest neighborhood, near Fortuna and Patna drives, and around First Street. The company also recommended drainage improvements along Morton Road and an expanded detention pond at Katy Town Park, which are done or begun.

A shared detention pond with the Cane Island along Cane Island Branch has also been discussed between Katy and the master-planned community’s developer, Rise Communities.

Brawner said it is likely Katy will call for a May bond election to fund such projects; however, final cost estimates are not complete. He did not expect a tax increase to fund the bond.

“We can’t let the cost stall our plans,” he said. “Our citizens expect us to do something about the drainage, and we’re doing it.”

A community committee for the city reviewed the findings. Committee member Bill Callegari, a former state representative and retired civil engineer, said increased detention is useless without improvements to also channel water toward Galveston Bay.

Expanding and paving the ditches around the Pine Forest subdivision with concrete, expanding Buffalo Bayou, and upgrading the Barker and Addicks reservoirs were among the committee’s suggestions, he said.

“If you look 30 years ago, we had maybe half as many people as we have now,” Callegari said. “We’ve done some things to help [with]flooding, but we’ve done very little to improve the conveyance.”

Possible rule change

The public has questioned Katy’s and Houston’s development practices following Harvey. As for Katy, Brawner said he already wants to add a new stipulation for incoming construction.

Developers must submit an engineer-reviewed drainage plan to the city indicating their projects would have a net-zero effect on surrounding properties. But Brawner said he would also like to keep Costello under contract to review the plans.

“It’s not an ordinance; it’s a procedure,” he said. “If they want to hire another engineering company to do it, that’s fine, but our separate set of eyes of Costello is going to tell us whether it’s going to work or not.”

Costello also recommended coordinating with the Brookshire-Katy Drainage District for more consistent development criteria between it and the city of Katy. Most of that area is undeveloped, and district Assistant Superintendent Stan Kitzman said talks with Katy are only preliminary at this point.

Meanwhile, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said at the annual State of the County Address on Nov. 28 the Commissioners Court favors a bond referendum in 2018 for more than $1 billion to fund regional flood control. However, county spokesperson Joe Steinbaker said he was unsure when that would likely occur.

The Harris County Commissioners Court also voted Dec. 5 to require that starting Jan. 1, new structures built within the unincorporated county’s 100-year flood plain must be 2 feet above the 500-year flood plain to reduce flooding.

“After the regulation we adopted today, Harris County will have the stiffest building code regulations in the country,” Emmett said. “So if those [flood plain]maps are wrong, we need to err on the side of caution going forward.”

Purse strings

Aside from projects in Katy city limits, Costello recommends following through on a proposed third reservoir for Houston built along Cypress Creek. Harris County leaders along with a group of area business and engineering professionals have also backed the idea.

That group, which includes the Katy Area Economic Development Council, is advocating for $370 million for the project while McCaul said his latest construction estimate was closer to $600 million. As a member of the group, Auggie Campbell, president of the West Houston Association, said based on the time needed to secure federal and state funding, perform environmental studies, issue permits, complete designs, acquire land and complete construction, the reservoir would likely be finished in 2027.

More than $50 billion has been approved for federal hurricane-related disaster recovery in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico to date. On Nov. 17, the White House asked Congress for an additional $44 billion in recovery.

To help offset the funding, the Office of Management and Budget asked to cut about $730 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—the agency that manages the existing reservoirs and would so a third.

Texas representatives called the $44 billion request inadequate.

“Having said that, our delegation has been working pretty closely with leadership along with the Florida delegation,” McCaul said. “We have enough votes with the delegations combined to bring down an appropriations bill if it’s not what we want.”

McCaul said Texas lawmakers are angling for $12 billion more as well as USACE funding for mitigation projects. The fiscal year 2017-18 federal budget was not finalized as of press time.

McCaul said at a minimum, the state would have to fund 10 percent of the reservoir. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s prohibition on “duplication of programs” is an issue.

The agency’s guidelines state it will not use disaster funding for a structural flood risk reduction project similar to one already being done by the USACE in the same area. McCaul said he wants to include language in disaster appropriations overriding that rule.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to expedite the whole process,” he said. “And remember, once they start building this construction, retention points—they will already start acting like a reservoir.”

Additional reporting by Chris Shelton

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Amelia Brust

Amelia joined Community Impact Newspaper in November 2015 after working for the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She previously wrote for CI’s Sugar Land/Missouri City paper and now leads the Katy edition. A graduate of Temple University, Amelia is also a proud Marylander with very specific opinions about eating crabs.

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