UPDATE: Drainage projects to cost Friendswood $32 million, committee presents projects after months of research

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This article has been updated to state that the city’s grant application to buyout the Frenchman’s Creek subdivision is still pending.

The city-appointed drainage committee’s recommendations presented would take 15 years to get started, with Friendswood contributing roughly $32 million, an amount the city does not have in its general fund.

The committee gathered data, observations and recommendations on how to solve the city’s drainage problems. The committee presented the information at the April 1 city council meeting.

“It’s a complex issue, and I think that will be the hardest part about selling this. It’s making sure that everyone is going to vote for it,” said James Stahl, a Friendswood resident and a drainage committee member who presented the committee’s findings at the April 1 meeting. If some of the proposed changes had been in place during Hurricane Harvey, 850 homes would have flooded as opposed to the 2,830 that did flood, said Lee Coggins, a Friendswood resident and drainage committee member who presented the committee’s findings alongside Stahl.

The funding will be included in the city’s bond, which will likely be on the November ballot. Council Member John Scott said he is not worried about citizens voting for the drainage resolutions on the November bond.

“I am all for taking it to the citizens advisory committee and having the citizens vote on the bond to approve funding,” Scott said.

The overall cost of projects will be roughly $173 million. Because of this, the projects will require regional help as well as a lot of time, city officials said.

“Friendswood can’t go at it alone. Projects will benefit all parties, everyone in the watershed, but the dollar amount that we are talking about far exceeds the city’s operations budget, and it far exceeds our obligations as a city,” City Manager Morad Kabiri said. “That being said, we realize it is important and are happy to lead the charge. We are going to need partners.”

A history of flooding
The drainage committee took an approach which included observations, data gathering, analysis over a nine-month period. The data ranged from what kind of storms hit and hurt the city as well as a list of projects that could mitigate flooding, Council Member and drainage committee member Steve Rockey said.

“One of the things we found when we studied other places is it takes a long time, and there is not an easy fix,” Rockey said.

The major waterway through Friendswood is Clear Creek, which originates northwest of the city and flows through, meaning Friendswood takes in water from the downstream flow as well as rainwater.

“Clear Creek starts in Fort Bend [County] and meanders its way to us. The water that hits Friendswood is only about 40 percent of water we get in Friendswood,” Rockey said. “Friendswood happens to be where seven creeks meet. Our calculations are that when Harvey happened, only 7 percent actually fell on Friendswood, and 93 percent fell somewhere else and came towards us.”

Because of this, one of the biggest things the drainage committee had to consider is the city is dealing with the effects of storms as that trickles down to Friendswood.

The committee determined flooding is essentially caused by an inability to drain water as fast as it is coming in. While the committee cannot control the water that drains into Friendswood either from the creek or a storm, the city can control the rate the water leaves the city as well as the amount of water the creek can store to an extent which would be done by de-snagging and terracing, Stahl said.

“The Army Corps of Engineers stated in June 2016 that if we [de-snagged] 20 feet up to the water line, we could reduce damages by 30 percent. We could do that in a matter of months,” Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark said.

The resolutions
The committee presented five resolutions, ranging from asking council to approve the work the committee has done to presenting options on how to clear the creek. The committee worked with Rice University professor Philip Bedient to determine the best possible combination to decrease flooding in the area and lessen the effects of flooding downstream from the city.

While the committee has presented potential resolutions, this does not mean any will take effect immediately. In May, council will vote on a resolution to approve the work the committee has done so far and end the existing committee’s work, leaving the remaining work in the hands of city staff.

The citizens advisory committee for the bond will put together individual drainage propositions based on the recommendations the committee gave. The bond committee will be in charge of deciding the drainage projects included in the bond as well as the cost. De-snagging the creek, terracing the creek and raising the bridge at FM 2351 would lessen the effects of flooding at the creek for Friendswood without affecting downstream cities, including League City, Coggins said.

Coggins reported this combination would have decreased flooding during Harvey by 3.5 feet.

“We saw that there was no negative effect for residents downstream,” Coggins said. “That is very important to realize.”

De-snagging the creek consists of removing the vegetation around the creek. Terracing cutting a notch out on either side of the creek at the top, effectively creating a channel. This leaves more room for the water to travel or be stored.

“That appears to be the low-hanging fruit that really seems to really get some things done, from Bay Area Boulevard to 528 bridge or at least to Whispering Pines bridge,” Council Member Robert Griffon said.

Before any of this is accomplished, the city will have to buy out property along Clear Creek.

“Without the properties, none of these projects are feasible,” Kabiri said.

The city will conduct buyouts as the grant money comes available, as it hopes to for Frenchman’s Creek, Kabiri said.

Potential challenges
While the drainage committee has presented the resolutions, there are still things that need to be done for the projects to be completed successfully, with funding being one of the biggest hurdles to jump, Kabiri said.

“We need to know that [residents]are committed to funding this. Long-term challenges are going to be that of a constancy of purpose,” Kabiri said.

Even if the bond is passed in November to partially fund drainage projects, the projects will be far from completed, he said.

“I know immediately after Harvey, there was a desire to fix everything quickly,” Kabiri said. “Obviously the nature of this problem far exceeds a quick solution, and we’re grateful to come to the point where we are right now, but our work is not done by any stretch of the imagination.”

The city needs to have a constancy of purpose or a knowledge of why the city is doing a project for the duration of it, Rockey said. The projects that have been the most successful in surrounding regions have been ones with this, he said.

“These undertakings are those that last from anywhere from 10-20 years, and those depend on outside agencies such as the state and federal government participating with us,” Kabiri said. “Due to the regional impact, we will have to go at this for quite a number of years and continue to pursue and maintain the same level of intensity throughout the entire process.”

The committee proposed the city hire someone to manage draining and related projects long-term. This will ensure the committee’s contributions become a living, breathing document, Kabiri said.

Even with a bond, the city would be unable to entirely fund the whole number of projects. Because of this, both the construction and the expense of larger projects could be shared by different cities and counties, Clark said.

“This is going to take regional cooperation because the last thing we want to do is move the flooding from one community to another community,” Clark said. “We need to come up with an approach to solve the flooding, which is going to take all communities.”

National funding is also a possibility, but the number of stipulations attached to the money makes it harder to use, Clark said.

After a 60-year study, the Army Corps of Engineers allocated money dedicated to fixing Clear Creek, as Community Impact Newspaper previously reported. However, the Army Corps and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development both require that areas using money meet certain low-to-moderate income thresholds, which Friendswood does not necessarily meet.

“One type of challenge is that any type of drainage costs money to do, so we are going to have to come up with the money for that,” Clark said. “Coming up with solutions is a good first step, but we are going to have to come up a funding mechanism as well as ways to address this problem.”

Shared funding will be mandatory for the larger projects, Rockey said.

“The reality is that to enact the projects we think are important is $180 million worth of projects. We do not have that money. But we do need to put up some of our own money to entice the state, regional or national sources,” Rockey said.

The long-term projects could take decades once funded. However, the result could be less flooding for more residents in and out of Friendswood.

“In terms of order of magnitude, this would be one of the most impactful undertakings Friendswood has ever done in its history,” Kabiri said.

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Haley Morrison
Haley Morrison came to Community Impact Newspaper in 2017 after graduating from Baylor University. In her tenure as a reporter, she has primarily written about education, health care and transportation.
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