Stories to follow in 2018: #1. Local, county agencies seek flood mitigation projects

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Local, county agencies seek flood mitigation projects
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Local, county agencies seek flood mitigation projects
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Local, county agencies seek flood mitigation projects
We’re counting down the top ten stories residents of The Woodlands area should follow in 2018.

No. 1 on our list examines flood mitigation efforts in Montgomery County:

In response to three historic flooding events that have damaged homes and businesses in the last two years, officials in Montgomery County and The Woodlands are seeking funding for flood mitigation studies and projects.

Local, county, state and federal officials are now working together in search of projects and funding to better prepare the Greater Houston area for future flooding events.

While funding for local projects has not yet been secured, officials hope the projects could be funded through federal aid or local bond referendums passed by voters.

“Our community has seen three 500-year floods in the last three years alone. It’s not a question of if we face another storm like [Hurricane] Harvey or the Tax Day floods, but a question of when,” said U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands. “We can either address this issue now or face the consequences for years to come.”

Finding regional solutions

Just more than a year after the Tax Day and Memorial Day floods in 2016, Hurricane Harvey dropped nearly 30 inches of rain on The Woodlands area in late August, damaging approximately 4,793 homes countywide and numerous businesses, according to the Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

As Bear Branch, Panther Branch and Spring Creek all reached historic levels during Harvey, some of the most affected areas of South Montgomery County included Timarron Lakes, Grogan’s Point, High Oaks,  The Reserve, Timber Lakes-Timber Ridge and the Rayford Road corridor, according to county officials.

Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal said in a statement Oct. 10 that Montgomery County would seek federal funding for a flood mitigation study and potential reservoir projects, which could reduce flooding downstream of Lake Conroe.

According to the statement, a proposal by engineering firm Huitt-Zollars estimates the study could cost $1.25 million in addition to $95.5 million for flood mitigation projects.

However, Doyal said costs could exceed the initial estimate.

“[Brady] has suggested we look into the possibility of putting detention ponds on Spring Creek, Caney Creek, Peach Creek, maybe Lake Creek, and other areas that have an impact like [Lake Conroe] would in retaining water in all areas, which makes perfectly good sense to me,” Doyal said.

In mid-December, the House passed House Resolution 4667 to provide
$81 billion in disaster funding for areas affected by Harvey as well as hurricanes Irma and Maria and wildfires in 2017, according to the bill.

If passed in the Senate, HR 4667 will be added to the national budget Jan. 19.

Officials from The Woodlands are expected to travel to Washington, D.C. in mid-January to advocate for a portion of the funding to be allocated to Montgomery County.

State Rep. Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, said the state’s Committee on Natural Resources has also been discussing and working on flood mitigation initiatives; however, no specific funding has been

The majority of Montgomery County’s flooding occurred near lakes Conroe and Houston, according to The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency. However, in The Woodlands, flooding along Spring Creek—located in Montgomery, Harris, Grimes and Waller counties—also proved to be damaging, sparking the need for a more regional approach.

“We know the rising water from Spring Creek created most of the flooding that occurred [here],” WJPA General Manager James Stinson said. “So, to come up with an improvement plan that would truly help folks in an event like Harvey is going to be a regional effort.”

In late November, Harris County officials announced preliminary plans for a 2018 bond referendum for regional flood mitigation projects. The bond could exceed $1 billion.

Judge Ed Emmett said the bond could include projects, like a third Houston area reservoir in the Cypress Creek watershed. However, specific bond-funded projects along Spring Creek have not been announced.

The Woodlands Township has ramped up efforts to bring multiple entities from Harris and Montgomery counties—including village associations, municipal utility districts, the WJPA and the San Jacinto River Authority—together with its Storm Drainage Task Force. Township Director Bruce Rieser said the task force has more than 30 members to date working to identify issues on a regional level.

A countywide flood control district, similar to the one in Harris County, could also be on the horizon for Montgomery County, officials said. Doyal said a flood control district would enable the county to clear drainage issues along creeks; however, it would be an additional taxing entity to residents.

“There may be more interest in a [Montgomery County] Flood Control District now than there has been in the past because of the impact Harvey had on even those who didn’t get water in their homes,” Doyal said. “So, it’s something that we may need to consider … but no one is leading the charge for it at this time.”

The next storm

With multiple floods in the past three years, officials agree the likes of Harvey—or worse—could be seen again in the future.

“We’ve seen that with [Hurricane] Ike, with the April and May events, and we’ve seen it with Harvey,” Stinson said. “We just didn’t anticipate that they would be this close together with one exceeding the other.”

To help prepare the area for future flood events, local entities are working to find solutions through computer models and programing.

Both The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency and Municipal Utility District No. 386—which encompasses neighborhoods in Village of Creekside Park that flooded during Harvey—are each working to build models to replicate the storm and see why flooding occurred.

Stinson said the models will help officials determine where more drainage is needed and what can be done locally.

“Once you get the model built, then you can say, ‘What if we built a diversion berm here? Or what if we did a bigger ditch here? What if we put in a levee system here?’” Stinson said.  “All those what ifs would be loaded into that model to see if they will produce some improvements for the folks in our MUDs without adversely affecting other folks along Spring Creek.”

However, Stinson said because the creek falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, any projects would need prior approval.

MUD No. 386 President Rich Jakovac said the district hopes to have its digital model completed by the end of January.

“It’s very complex—we have a lot of things to accomplish in terms of trying to define solutions,” Jakovac said. “Beginning shortly after that, we’ll begin the process of defining concepts and potential solutions.”

Additionally, the township awarded a bid to engineering firm Moffat & Nichol on Jan. 4 for a contract to identify areas that may benefit from increased drainage and assess suggested projects from outside entities.

“What I saw this [firm] doing is sitting on the drainage task force and helping the township understand,” Rieser said during the township’s Jan. 4 meeting. “I think it’s [important] for us to find someone who can validate the information that we’re getting and point us in the right direction so we know who to support and when to throw our weight behind the project that make the most sense for our residents.”

The WJPA is also working to install additional water gauges throughout the township to serve as data collecting tools and an early warning system for rising waters.

Stinson and Jakovac said while locally identified projects could be funded through reserves or a potential bond referendum from area MUDs, larger regional projects would be unlikely without a larger funding source—like the federal funding being pursued by Montgomery County.

“MUD No. 386 has the ability to issue bonds to raise money,” Jakovac said. “[But] there are limitations and financial constraints, therefore, we do not have an unlimited amount of funds which we can obtain.”

While funding potential flood mitigation projects could cause a property tax increase for residents living in MUDs, Jakovac said communication between residents and officials will be key to understanding why these increases are a protection against future disasters.

“We have to treat these solutions as investments and not cost. If we have that mindset, I think it will help people understand possible tax increases,” he said. “Harvey may not be the worst that we ever see, so we really have to look at the regional [solutions] and have some type of criteria that we think is something that we can live with.”

Additional reporting by Zac Ezzone and Kelly Schafler.
By Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. In January 2019, she was promoted to serve as the editor of the Spring/Klein edition where she covers Spring ISD and Harris County Commissioners Court, in addition to business, development and transportation news.


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