Officials say the Clear Creek watershed will see renewed focus and energy in 2019, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers moving forward on a decades-old $295 million project and Harris County voters approving another $113 million in drainage improvements in the November bond election.
“This will be one of those years where we will be aggressively working under the surface,” said Shakhar D. Misir, a project manager with the Army Corps. “The results of this will bloom in 2020. It will not take years; it will start to happen very quickly.”
The first signs of construction could come in October to address Mud Gully, one of the tributaries that feed Clear Creek. However, this and all other aspects of the project are under intense scrutiny before moving forward, including hydrologic and hydraulic models that ensure each project does not result in worse flooding, Misir said.
“We will not move forward until we are comfortable,” he said.
This also includes any environmental mitigation—meaning if 10 acres of wetlands are removed to create new detention, for example, then 10 new acres of wetlands must be created elsewhere to offset the change.
There are also utility and water line relocations that must occur before any drainage project can move forward. For Turkey’s Creek, for example, 34 various pipes must be moved, Misir said.
Meanwhile, the Harris County Flood Control District, which is the local partner on the federal project, is pursuing an aggressive $2.5 billion flood mitigation agenda approved by voters in that county.
Of that total, over $113 million addresses the Clear Creek watershed, including four new detention basins: one near Hughes Road in Friendswood, one near Cullen Boulevard and Beltway 8, one near FM 528 and Dixie Farm Road in Friendswood, and a third phase to the South Belt detention project north of Friendswood.
Many of these efforts are in the design and engineering phase, said Gary Zika, federal projects manager for the flood control district, but construction on the South Belt project could begin in April.
“Some of these projects came from our community input meetings, so we have yet to fully study them and see if they make sense economically,” Zika said.
However, Harris County is also taking the lead on acquiring right of way and has requested to be the lead agency on the entire project, which would allow it to oversee construction and be reimbursed with federal funds. A similar arrangement was approved Dec. 18 for the Brays Bayou federal project.
“We believe we have the resources and local presence to manage it more effectively,” Zika said. “But there can’t be letting of any construction contracts until there’s a deal with the corps.”
The attention being paid to Clear Creek in Harris and Brazoria counties is going to benefit downstream despite Galveston County being cut from the original federal plan, Zika said.
“Some people think there’s no benefit or it’s going to be worse for them. That’s not the case. The [hydrologic and hydraulic model]shows it’s helping,” Zika said.
According to Army Corps estimates, some 2,100 homes in the watershed could be removed from the flood plain as a result of the project.
As these efforts get underway, both Friendswood and Pearland leaders are also looking at additional locally funded projects to address flood mitigation in their communities. Pearland’s master drainage plan is still being developed, but city officials have identified several projects in its upcoming bond proposal.
Friendswood’s drainage subcommittee is expected to put forward project recommendations in March. In addition to collecting rainfall data and visually surveying Clear Creek in the city, the committee has also enlisted a Rice University professor to model the effects of potential drainage projects.
In a presentation to City Council on Dec. 3, Lee Coggins, a retired NASA engineer and member of the committee, said the group is now in the analysis phase before recommending projects.
“Once we get some analysis done … we’re going to use and test and validate and verify … to come up with sound solutions,” Coggins said.
That said, the pressure is on to get something done.
“All the development that has taken place over 30 years, and the development to come—just look at the [Interstate] 45 corridor. … We’ve got to get ahead on this game,” Coggins told the council.