After experiencing two major historic flooding events last April and May, communities in south Montgomery County are taking further precautions and planning initiatives to prepare for flood season.
Officials in The Woodlands, Oak Ridge North and Shenandoah all have specific projects underway, including drainage improvements and rescue vehicle purchases to address future flood control issues.
“This is a very hot topic because look at what happened in the Cypress Creek and Spring Creek watershed last spring,” said Jill Boullian, Bayou Land Conservancy executive director. “So many people flooded that had never flooded before. People are upset and want to see the community and our elected officials come together and talk about it.”
Flood mitigation projects
Last spring, when as much as 16 inches of rain fell across the county in both April and May flooding events, 150 roads were submerged underwater and there were 400 high-water rescues countywide, according to county officials.
Jim Stinson, general manager for The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency, said after the record flooding events in 2016, several projects needed to reduce flooding effects on roads and residents were identified by local officials.
“We’ve reviewed concerns, and we’ve got quite a few project[s] under review or under construction,” he said.
One of these projects, a storm drainage improvement project at Lakeside Boulevard and Lake Woodlands Drive, has a 45-day construction schedule and started in March.
Stinson said the $220,000 project was developed following the extreme storm events last April and May and is a joint effort by Montgomery County Municipal Utility District No. 7 and Montgomery County Precinct 3.
During past rain events, stormwater caused traffic delays and flooding concerns. The improvements are intended to reduce roadway ponding under similar events, Stinson said.
Vicky Rudy, Oak Ridge North city manager, said the city is working to improve flood mitigation through a series of projects after numerous homes flooded last year.
“During the last floods, we had 17 houses that had serious water,” Rudy said. “Some made claims to the [Federal Emergency Management Agency], and we also had road and channel damages that [were] covered by FEMA and the state. We’ve found out good information and identified projects for the next 10 to 20 years.”
The Oak Ridge North Hillside Drive storm drain improvement project is one ongoing initiative the city hopes will reduce area flooding. The design phase of the project will be complete in May.
The southeast side of Hillside Drive, from Maplewood to Westwood drives, has railroad ties acting as retaining walls. This project will enclose the ditch and remove the railroad ties, allowing for residential front yards to slope to the road, Rudy said. The total basic engineering cost for the project is $70,000.
In Shenandoah, City Administrator Greg Smith said the city has completed a number of projects for increased drainage capacity. One project that is currently being discussed is the east side relief pond.
“That project will add some extra capacity for runoff during major rain events and act as an amenity pond,” Smith said. “It will assist the east [side] and west side of the city but it’s a complicated project. It will be a multiyear project.”
Smith said the project will be located near the large body of water behind the Sam Moon Shopping Center on the east side of I-45. No cost or timeline has been determined yet for the project.
Meanwhile, Alan Benson, fire chief of The Woodlands Fire Department, said the department is planning for the upcoming flood season by focusing on water rescue efforts. The department has plans to purchase a boat and a high-profile vehicle to get into heavily-flooded areas when needed.
“We wouldn’t be able to get to people to evacuate them before, and now we can get in to more areas,” Benson said. “We’re in the planning stages for that now and are obtaining quotes, so we hope to get everything by June.”
Benson said most concerns in the past were due to water getting in houses.
“In Creekside Park Village, we didn’t have a good history,” he said. “There was 14 inches of rain in a 24-hour period [last spring]. Problem spots over the years have also been the entrance of Grogans Mill Road and Sawdust Road as well as Kuykendahl [Road leading] into Creekside.”
Although the creation of a Montgomery County Flood Control District has been discussed in the past, County Judge Craig Doyal said he does not think voters would approve one today.
“I would think there’s probably a better opportunity in creating some local drainage districts, which we have several of here in the county,” he said. “Trying to create another level of bureaucracy where people who don’t have flooding issues would be voting to fund a mechanism for flood control [with tax dollars] would be tough to get passed.”
Doyal said there are no plans within the county to pursue a flood control district. However, Montgomery County—in partnership with the city of Conroe and the San Jacinto River Authority—began work on a countywide flood mitigation study earlier this year and are expected to complete the study by June 2018.
Partially funded by a $460,000 grant from the Texas Water Development Board, Phase 1 of the study is examining the Lake Conroe watershed and the Upper West Fork of the San Jacinto River. Future phases of the study will cover additional watersheds in the county, according to officials with the SJRA, a government agency that manages the water resources of the San Jacinto River basin.
Jeff Taebel, director of community and environmental planning for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, said allowing natural systems like the Spring Creek Greenway to act as a flood prevention effort is a helpful tactic when preparing for floods as well.
The Spring Creek Greenway acts as a large natural flood plain that prohibits development in order to keep flood damage to a minimum. The greenway connects and protects up to 12,000 acres of forest on both sides of the creek.
“We’re forecasting a lot of growth for the county in the coming decade,” Taebel said. “The local area getting infrastructure is important. When looking at a flood plain, it’s OK to keep water there and make it a water feature. It’s better than flooding houses.We’ve also been advocating for low-impact development.”
Although entities are planning for future flooding events, Stinson said he believes it is important to put these events into perspective.
“They are rare but there is a heightened concern,” he said.
Additional reporting by Anna Dembowski and Julie Butterfield.