The cities of Houston and Humble and Harris and Montgomery counties are brainstorming potential solutions and assisting with cleanup efforts after the storm caused flooding in hundreds of Lake Houston area homes and businesses and more than $50 million in damage to local schools and colleges.
The rebuilding process for the Lake Houston area will be arduous, Houston City Council Member Dave Martin said.
"I remember Katrina—I’m from New Orleans," Martin said. "I remember like it was yesterday my dad looking at me in the face and saying ‘David I’m 75 years old. Most of my life has already been lived. What do you mean rebuild?' My biggest fear is a lot of people giving up."
State and local officials are also calling for an investigation into the San Jacinto River Authority’s release of water from the Lake Conroe dam during Harvey, a move that Martin said he believes may have exacerbated flooding in the Lake Houston area.
Making landfall on the Texas coast on Aug. 25, Harvey dropped more than 1 trillion gallons of water on Harris County—including more than 30 inches of rain to parts of the Lake Houston area in four days.
The storm caused extensive flooding across Humble, Kingwood and Atascocita, which are flanked by Lake Houston, the West Fork San Jacinto River, Spring Creek and several bayous.
In Humble, about 370 homes and more than 40 businesses were flooded, Humble Mayor Merle Aaron said.
With several businesses needing to shut down temporarily, the flooding is expected to cost the city of Humble about $500,000 in sales tax revenue in 2017, City Manager Darrell Boeske said. This comes a year after Humble lost $300,000 in sales tax revenue due to flooding events in 2016, he said.
The cities of Houston and Humble are proposing property tax rate increases to pay for the recovery and cleanup efforts and replace losses in sales tax revenue.
While Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner proposed a 3.6 percent tax rate increase to fund cleanup efforts, Humble officials proposed a 1 cent per $100 valuation increase to 22.5 cents.
For Humble, which receives a significant portion of its revenue from sales tax, Boeske said the flooding will have a large effect on its economy.
“Everyone likes to shop online, including me, but if you have a choice, go help these people out by going to their business once they get up and running,” Humble Council Member David Ray Pierce said. “It’s a feel-good thing, but it also helps our [sales] tax dollars.”
The storm was also damaging for Kingwood businesses, residents and schools, Martin said.
Several Kingwood neighborhoods, such as Kingwood Greens Village, Barrington and Fosters Mill, received water damage in more than 80 percent of the homes, Martin said. Businesses located within mixed-use developments Main Street Kingwood, Kings Harbor and Town Center, such as Torchy’s Tacos, Sharky’s and H-E-B, received water damage as well.
The water also enveloped the first floor of Kingwood High School and rose as much as 6 inches into the second floor, Humble ISD Assistant Superintendent Trey Kreamer said.
“It’s an event that we’ll never forget,” Martin said. “It’s an event that could change what Kingwood looks like in the future. I hope retailers come back, and I hope people come back, but a lot of businesses are going to have to look at it and say ‘Does it make sense for me to make a big investment when you don’t know what’s going to happen next year?’”
Education campuses damaged
When HISD officials entered Kingwood High School they said the doors had swelled up so much it took crowbars and sledgehammers to open them. The special education classrooms, administrative offices, fine arts and almost all of the district’s athletic equipment were recorded as a total loss.
“The gym floors are gone; the weight room is gone; all of our fine arts areas that are down in that area are gone,” Kraemer said. “And when I say gone, it’s a complete and total remodel. The gym floor floated up 4 feet.”
The damage was so extensive that KHS students could be displaced for the entire school year.
The district expects to spend $3 million after insurance payments cover at least $40 million in damage to KHS, HISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said. The district will pay the $3 million with reserves earmarked for natural disasters, Kraemer said.
No other schools received major damage, he said.
In early September, the district approved a plan to send KHS students to Summer Creek High School.
SCHS students meet for classes from 7-11:19 a.m., while KHS meets from 12:11-4:30 p.m. The approved plan eliminates homeroom and makes lunch an optional period from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
“This was the best of only bad options,” Kraemer said.
Although all Lone Star College System campuses sustained some minor damage due to Hurricane Harvey—like roof leaks—the LSC-Kingwood campus was hit hardest, taking on water in six buildings, two parking structures and three sports field areas, LSC-Kingwood President Katherine Persson said.
The campus was also inundated with raw sewage from a nearby water treatment facility, she said.
It could take more than 12 months for LSC-Kingwood to become fully operational again, and the cost of systemwide damages is estimated at $25 million-$30 million, LSCS Chief Financial Officer Jennifer Olenick said.
LSC-Kingwood, which has 12,860 students enrolled, reopened
Sept. 25 after renovations. About 900 students will be shifted to online classes or classes that meet partially in-person and online.
“We’re trying to make things workable for students so there’s as little disruption for students in their lives in terms of trying to get on with their education,” Persson said.
Martin said he believes some of the flooding in Kingwood and Humble could have been prevented with a different response from the SJRA.
During Hurricane Harvey, water levels in the Lake Conroe watershed reached a record peak rate of 206.2 feet above average sea level, according to news release from the SJRA.
As water rushed in and pushed the Lake Conroe watershed to its brim, SJRA officials said water was released to relieve pressure on the dam and prevent a potential breach. Water from Lake Conroe flows into the San Jacinto River before arriving in Lake Houston.
With unparalleled amounts of water released from the dam—roughly 79,000 cubic feet of water per second—homes and businesses downstream along the San Jacinto River were damaged.
State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and Martin have called for an investigation from the governor’s office into whether the river authority should have released water in the days before, since heavy rainfall totals were already projected, Martin said.
It would also study whether the SJRA released too much water at one time and if residents and officials received enough warning that a release of this magnitude was on the way, Martin said.
“I want answers,” Martin said. “And, hey, if they’re legitimate answers I think we can all walk away and say, ‘What do we need to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?’”
However, SJRA officials said the release was necessary due to the unprecedented rainfall levels, and some of the flooding in the Lake Houston area was caused by the other water bodies that flow into the San Jacinto River.
“There is no question that the flows from this event were unprecedented and were highly damaging,” SJRA General Manager Jace Houston said. “Yes, homes were destroyed by the powerful force of the high flows in the river. However, only 20 percent of the water flowing into Lake Houston originated from Lake Conroe. In addition, it takes over 24 hours for water released from Lake Conroe to reach Lake Houston.”
As of press time, no investigation of the SJRA has been initiated by the governor’s office.
Cleanup efforts, next steps
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the county is working with DRC Emergency Services for debris removal in unincorporated areas. The cities of Houston and Humble are handling debris pickup in Humble and Kingwood.
DRC will make three passes in front of each property before depositing it in landfills, he said.
After the cleanup, Emmett said long-term solutions need to be discussed. The county is considering building a third reservoir along Cypress Creek, upgrading current reservoirs, redefining the 100-year and 500-year floodplains and assessing whether the rules and regulations for development are adequate.
“That’s all long-term, but I think those things will happen,” Emmett said. “I don’t think there is any question that everybody believes flood control is the most important thing for our region.”
In addition, the county is preparing an increased home buyout program.
Homes that have flood insurance and homes that are located within a 100-year floodplain and have experienced flood damage in the past have a good chance of being purchased, said Russ Poppe, Harris County Flood Control District Director. The county has received more than 3,000 buyout requests since the storm, Poppe said.
“Even if the actual buyout doesn’t occur for six months, as long as that person knows not to concern themselves with rebuilding, because they are going to get bought out, that is a much more acceptable approach,” Emmett said.
Additional reporting by Beth Marshall and Zac Ezzone