Preparing the Lake Houston area for the next Harvey

City, county and national officials are searching for solutions to flooding in the Lake Houston area.

City, county and national officials are searching for solutions to flooding in the Lake Houston area.

Image description
LHK_2018_01-16-1
Image description
LHK_2018_01-16-2
Image description
LHK_2018_01-17-1
After thousands of homes and businesses were damaged across the region during Hurricane Harvey, local, state and regional officials are working to secure billions of dollars to pay for mitigation projects.

The officials have also stressed a sense of urgency as the next hurricane season is only a few months away.

Harris County is preparing for a bond referendum in 2018 that could exceed $1 billion, while Lake Houston area officials and legislators pursue state and national funding for projects that could also limit flooding. A bond of this size could cause property tax rates to increase, County Judge Ed Emmett said.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, said he believes it is necessary to take action before the next devastating flood. Brady’s district includes the Montgomery County portion of Kingwood.

“Our community has seen three ‘500-year floods’ in the last three years alone,” Brady said. “It’s not a question of if we face another storm like Harvey or the Tax Day flood but when.”

San Jacinto River Improvements


Local legislators and officials launched Recover Lake Houston—a campaign that lobbies for funding and awareness for projects that could reduce flooding in the Lake Houston area—in early December, said Jenna Armstrong, CEO of the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Forty-four percent of businesses in the Lake Houston area—we have 7,500 businesses, so nearly half of our businesses—sustained some type of damage [during Harvey],” Armstrong said.

The initiative calls for two remediation projects along the San Jacinto River: state funding to study and dredge the San Jacinto River of the sand and debris that limits its capacity, and an enforcement of regulations on illegal sand mining operations, said state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston.

Houston City Council Member Dave Martin said he believes the sand deposits in the San Jacinto River may have been directly responsible for flooding during Harvey in the Fosters Mill subdivision in Kingwood, which does not typically flood.

“If you look at the sand bars in the middle of the river that formed over the last few years, we’ve lost a tremendous amount of water capacity,” Martin said.

The campaign also calls on the San Jacinto River Authority to reduce the Lake Conroe pooling level—the state-mandated desired water level—by 3 feet, Martin said. The SJRA maintains water in the Lake Conroe dam at
201 feet. Lowering the pooling level to 198 feet will allow 3 additional feet of capacity before a water release is necessary, Martin said.

However, SJRA General Manager Jace Houston said he believes lowering pooling levels may not make a significant difference during large rain events.

“In Harvey, we passed 15 feet of lake level through the gates,” Houston said. “So if we had started that event 3 feet lower, it really doesn’t change—it would delay the release of water. I don’t know by how much, but you’ve still got 12 feet of water that you’ve got to deal with.”

Billion-dollar bond


Emmett and county commissioners expect to call the $1 billion bond referendum in May or November, he said.

However, the size and scope will be determined by the amount of state and federal funding the area receives, county spokesperson Joe Steinbaker said.

The projects in the referendum could include the Houston area’s third reservoir along Cypress Creek, which flows in to Spring Creek and eventually into Lake Houston. It could also feature the dredging of Lake Houston—which has lost several feet of capacity—and funding for an expanded home buyout program, Emmett said.

“We have Lake Houston, which needs to be dredged—it’s probably half the capacity it used to be,” Emmett said. “We’ve got all kinds of projects along Spring Creek and Cypress Creek.”

Accomplishing many of the projects will require state funding, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said. For instance, there are $850 million worth of home buyouts that need to be done countywide that would be tough for the county to fund, Cagle said.

Cagle said he hopes the state uses $2.5 billion of its reserves to help fund the mitigation projects.

“Our region generates more than a quarter of the revenue for the state,” he said. “And nowhere near that amount of revenue gets spent back into our region.”

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said he expects the state’s Rainy Day Fund will be used for flood mitigation, but he is not sure how much.

“There’s no question that we’ll have to tap the Rainy Day Fund,” Bettencourt said. “The eight senators that were in flood-damaged areas—we’re all going to be pushing for this. ”

The U.S. House passed an $81 billion  disaster assistance package for recent hurricanes and the 2017 wildfires in December. It provides funding to the Army Corp. of Engineers, which will distribute the funds to local municipalities, Brady said. The bill must be approved by the Senate in January.

Flowing into Lake Houston


Meanwhile, Montgomery County is working on two studies and has requested $100 million in federal dollars to combat flooding throughout the county, Judge Craig Doyal said.

The county is seeking funding for a $1.2 million study to determine the feasibility of putting detention ponds on Spring, Caney, Peach and Lake creeks—all of which flow into Lake Houston.

Montgomery County is also working on Phase 2 of the Flood Protection Planning Project, a joint study conducted by the county and the SJRA, Doyal said.

Phase 1 focused on technical modeling of the Lake Conroe watershed to update the topography and the hydrologic models for rainfall and runoff, Houston said. It will provide information about where water flows and how deep it gets in the Lake Conroe watershed, Houston said. Phase 2 will study all of the county’s watersheds, Doyal said.

However, despite the studies and plans, Doyal said he believes a large event like Hurricane Harvey will always be a challenge.

“No design engineer, no contractor can develop anything to accommodate for 50 inches of rain,” he said.

This story is one update from The January Issue. View the full list of Top 7 stories to follow in 2018 here.


MOST RECENT

Houston City Council passed a tax rate Oct. 21 of $0.56184 per $100 valuation for fiscal year 2020-21, a 1.07% reduction from the previous year’s tax rate of $0.56792 per $100 valuation. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Houston approves lower tax rate for fiscal year 2020-21 amid calls for further reductions

The rate may still result in an increase for some taxpayers with the average homestead property value rising about 4%.

The Harris County Flood Control District hosted a virtual public meeting on Oct. 20 to outline the findings from its $700,000 Kingwood Drainage Analysis. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Study: Kingwood Diversion Ditch, Taylor Gully projects could remove 449 structures from flow paths of 100-year storm

All nine projects would cost roughly $148.35 million for construction, detention and land acquisition.

Target has built out its new store at 2075 Westheimer Road, Houston. (Matt Dulin/Community Impact Newspaper)
Target to open fourth Inner Loop location and more Houston-area business, community news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

Baylor College of Medicine is seeking volunteers for a COVID-19 study looking to determine the prevalence of the viral disease in the Houston area. (Courtesy Baylor College of Medicine)
Baylor College of Medicine recruiting participants for COVID-19 prevalence study

The study will collect samples from 70,000 individuals nationwide.

Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston region in 2017. (Vanessa Holt/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Houston hydrologist explains climate change’s role in intensified flooding, importance of planning for future storms

“We’re looking at more intense and more frequent storms, and so, as a region, we’re going to need to think about that when we’re planning. We need to plan for that worst-case climate change [scenario].”

Some Harris County residents could be eligible for free workforce training. (Courtesy Lone Star College System)
Harris County partners with Lone Star College to offer free workforce training this fall

Furloughed, unemployed and underemployed Harris County residents could be eligible for one of 17 training programs.

University of St. Thomas President Richard Ludwick cuts the ribbon for the new microcampus Oct. 20. (Eva Vigh/Community Impact Newspaper)
University of St. Thomas celebrates grand opening of microcampus in Conroe

The center is named after St. Maximilian Kolbe, who is often referred to as the patron saint of innovation.

(Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Greater Houston region faces glut of industrial, commercial space and multifamily housing

While the Greater Houston area has seen a glut of office space for the last six years, Patrick Jankowski said the industrial buildup has happened more in the past year and a half.

The North Houston Highway Improvement Project proposes rerouting I-45 through the East End and Fifth Ward and expanding it through the Northside. (Nathan Colbert/Community Impact Newspaper)
Houston-Galveston Area Council seeking feedback on I-45 project plans

Regional leaders are accepting feedback on which projects to fund alongside the I-45 overhaul.

New Caney ISD welcomed 600 students who were previously learning remotely to campus after fall break. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
About 600 New Caney ISD students switch to on-campus instruction at end of 9 weeks

As New Caney ISD returns to school after fall break, about 600 students have switched from remote learning to on campus, according to Executive Director of Instruction Kristi Shofner.

Mickey Deison speaks at a city event. (Courtesy Larry Foerster)
Community remembers legacy of Mickey Deison, former Conroe mayor and Montgomery County judge

“He did what was needed to be done, not for any self-glory,” Larry Foerster said.

Montgomery County's COVID-19 recoveries sit at 8,403, according to the county health department. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
See Montgomery County's weekly COVID-19 case count for Oct. 13-19

The county has made progress on its backlog of cases initially reported to the Texas Department of State Health Services by health care providers.