Summerwood residents worry Northeast Water Purification Plant construction could cause flooding

The city of Houston, the North Harris County Regional Water Authority and other area water agencies are continuing to expand the Northeast Water Purification Plant, the city’s major surface water treatment project.

Meanwhile, nearby residents who live in the master-planned community of Summerwood have expressed concerns over noise and potential flood risks from the project.

Project Director Ravi Kaleyatodi spoke at a community meeting Oct. 15, where he updated Summerwood residents on the status of the nearly $1.77 billion expansion project. He said the project is necessary to meet regulatory mandates that address groundwater conservation and subsidence—or the lowering of the ground due to groundwater usage—in the Greater Houston area.

“It [the ground] basically starts sinking. When it starts sinking, it affects your foundations; it affects the infrastructure in general—the roads, bridges and all those,” Kaleyatodi said. “Also, it increases the potential for flooding when the ground subsides.”

Per groundwater requirements set by the Houston-Galveston Subsidence District, all groundwater users in north Harris County must switch to using 80% surface water and 20% groundwater by 2035.

This plant expansion, which began in fall 2017, will increase the number of gallons the plant can pump to 400 million per day by 2025. Phase 1 will be substantially complete no later than Dec. 31, 2022, while Phase 2 will be substantially complete no later than June 30, 2025. Phases 1 and 2 will increase production by 320 million gallons of water per day.

The brunt of the current ongoing construction is happening west of West Lake Houston Parkway, where large pipelines are being installed to carry the water from the intake pump station at Lake Houston to the existing plant site at 12630 Water Works Way, Humble.

Construction on the pipes began in March 2018, and that portion of the project is set to be completed in January 2020, Kaleyatodi said.

However, residents who live south of the construction site said at the meeting that not only are they burdened by loud noises from the construction site, but a close call from Tropical Storm Imelda’s floodwaters has also caused some to question the effects the construction could have on flooding on their community.

Jerry Gann, who lives on Cambridge Eagle Drive, said Water Works Way has been raised during construction, essentially creating a dam north of his street. Gann said he believes the road's increased elevation kept water from running north into a drainage ditch and instead allowed the water to enter his garage during Tropical Depression Imelda on Sept. 19.

“We have never seen water at the levels that came up in the last rainstorm that includes [Hurricane] Harvey, [Tropical Storm] Allison that sat on top of us,” Gann said. “In 15 years, it has not come anywhere near close to being in our yard.”

Kaleyatodi said engineers will study whether the construction exacerbated flooding in the Summerwood area and examine the drainage conditions of Jack’s Ditch, a drainage ditch adjacent to the construction, during Imelda. He said he should be able to provide more information on the study's findings in a few months.

Project adviser Paul Walker said the contractors intend to clean out Jack's Ditch and install permanent drainage pipes through the new road.

"We're going to go back ... and check our modeling," Walker said. "We're going to go walk the alignment and make sure that there's not some obstructions keeping water from running there, and then we'll check it relative to Imelda and check the capacity relative to that. If we have to make some adjustments we will."
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