At last week’s city council meeting, Mayor Turner told residents that the Stanley Park subdivision now on the rise in the 100-year floodplain south of Timbergrove Manor “is currently on hold. I know Harris County Flood Control has put a hold on it. We have also put a hold on it to take a look at it.” But as of Monday morning, site work was still continuing on the 12-acre parcel — according to StopStanleyPark, an organization nearby residents set up to oppose the project — until the red tag pictured above was issued for it in the afternoon.
A pair of dump trucks, along with an excavator were the latest visitors to the job site at the end of Shirkmere Dr.:
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Splash of Color
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE SLEEPY STREETS HARRIS COUNTY FLOOD BUYOUTS LEFT BEHIND
There is a community close to 290 and Windfern, on Cole Creek Dr. and another near Fairbanks and Hollister on Woodland West. Deep in the flood neighborhoods that were bought back by Harris County Flood [Control District] a while ago. All of the roads, utilities and everything are there. Just no homes or homeowners. Made a great place to take a post-lunch car nap when I worked close by. [bocepus, commenting on The Latest Wave of Harris County Home Buyouts, Mapped] Illustration: Lulu
Now that a second, $51 million round of FEMA funding for home buyouts has come through, here’s the map of where the latest government snatch-ups are planned, 294 total. As indicated by the red dots above, they’re all outside the Loop — with a good portion grouped in 3 distinct clusters along Cypress Creek (which drowned out previous flooding records along nearly its entire length during Harvey). Other hotspots include several along White Oak Bayou, as well as a Greens-Bayou-adjacent bunch off Beltway 8 just north of Aldine and a San Jacinto River-side group south of Hwy. 90, near Highlands.
The money Harris County Flood Control District expects to receive for these purchases supplements an earlier $25.6 million FEMA committed to it on June 4. That previous check (along with an $8.6 million match the Harris County Commissioners okayed in order to get it) will be spent on about 169 buyouts, mapped out below:
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Along the Bayous
Hillocks of dirt dot the landscape west of T.C. Jester, adjacent to the train tracks near the end of Shirkmere Dr. where Lovett Homes is now elevating some of the 77 lots that’ll make up its new Stanley Park subdivision. Since receiving a commercial fill permit from the city in April, the developer has stacked soil across the site — which lies entirely within White Oak Bayou’s 100-year floodplain and has never before been built on.
Also included in that flood-designated realm: the Timbergrove Manor neighborhood just north of the development. Its southernmost street, Queenswood Ln., had it up to here during Harvey:
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Next to Timbergrove Manor
Remember that North Canal that showed up in Plan Downtown’s maps and drawing last year and included a island in Buffalo Bayou? Well, TxDOT’s latest schematics for its planned I-45 reroute include a bypass and island as well — but in an entirely different location. The highway agency’s map above — with west facing up — indicates a new waterway draining into Buffalo Bayou right underneath the section of I-45 it plans to build in place of a portion of the Houston Housing Authority’s Clayton Homes neighborhood. How the canal gets there is obscured, but a straight course northwest appears to shoot the gap between 2 planned detention ponds and cross under the existing section of 59 (shaded gray), before linking up with the bayou again east of Elysian St. Marooned on TxDOT’s version of the make-believe, bayou-banked island the canal would create: a few of the houses in Clayton Homes.
As TxDOT’s caption makes clear, it’d be up to someone else to actually build the waterway. Doing so wouldn’t preclude the previously proposed North Canal from being dug further upstream. Plan Downtown’s less technical map at top shows that waterway beginning at White Oak Bayou and emptying into a bend of Buffalo Bayou just west of Elysian. In doing so, its course creates an exclusive new landmass home to the Harris County jail.
Road map: TxDOT. Downtown map: Plan Downtown
COMMENT OF THE DAY: COULD A THIRD RESERVOIR, UP NORTH, HOLD WATER?
“Make a reservoir or lake north of the city, just west of Humble at the confluence of Spring Creek and Cypress Creek, as well as the San Jacinto River just a bit to the east. This land is still undeveloped. These three major tributaries coming together in short order accentuates the flooding issues. If the water has nowhere to go it’s going to cause flooding. While a reservoir in west Harris County will hold that water back from surging downstream, it does absolutely nothing for the rainfall that falls on the hundreds of square miles of land in the Spring Creek, downstream Cypress Creek and San Jacinto River watersheds. The main intent of the proposed third dam is to keep the water from overflowing into Barker and Addicks. Creating a lake here could serve not only flood control issues, but also provide for another source of drinking water.” [Thomas, commenting on Abbott Signs Off on Harris County’s Harvey Anniversary Flood Bond Vote] Photo of the confluence of Spring and Willow Creeks: Northampton MUD
ABBOTT SIGNS OFF ON HARRIS COUNTY’S HARVEY ANNIVERSARY FLOOD BOND VOTE
In a letter to the Commissioners Court yesterday, Gov. Abbott approved Harris County’s request to hold an August 25 bond election that would pay for a long, not-yet-finalized lineup of flood control projects. On the short list so far: “the buy-out of all of the county’s high-priority areas at highest-risk of flooding, approximately 5,500 properties,” Judge Emmett tells the Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri — as well as the financing of “some portions a much-discussed third reservoir northwest of the city,” and “numerous bayou and creek widening projects.” Also included: a handful of detention basins and drainage improvements to waterways in both Houston and the MUDs of unincorporated Harris County, according to the flood control district. The district now has about 4 months to compile the list, during which time Harris County “plans to launch a public outreach campaign to seek input on what to include in the bond package, as well as drum up support for the measure.” [Houston Chronicle ($), previously on Swamplot] Photo of Sesquicentennial Park and Franklin St. during Harvey: Kelsie H. Dos Santos
HARRIS COUNTY OPTS TO SCHEDULE FLOOD BOND VOTE FOR HARVEY’S ANNIVERSARY
The Harris County Commissioners Court voted this morning to move forward with scheduling a multi-billion-dollar flood control bond referendum — to fund property buyouts, bayou widening, and other mitigation efforts — for August 25. “Why August 25?” Judge Ed Emmett asked the room — which included the Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri — “It’s the 1-year anniversary of Harvey. It’s got a certain sex appeal to it.” Commissioner Rodney Ellis at first opposed the commemorative date, fearing voter turnout could be weak during the summer. “If it is one shot that we have, I just want to make sure we get it right,” he said. (If the referendum fails, the earliest the court could hold another one would be in May 2019.) He argued instead for a date during November’s mid-term elections but changed his mind “for the sake of unity” after an appeal from fellow Commissioner Steve Radack — putting a unanimous finishing touch on the back-and-forth. What’s now needed in order to get it on the calendar? Governor Greg Abbott’s sign-off, followed by a vote from Harris County making the date official. [Houston Chronicle; more] Photo of Buffalo Bayou flooded by Hurricane Harvey: Adam Brackman
HOW THEY’RE AVOIDING FLOODING FAR UPSTREAM FROM DOWNTOWN HOUSTON
How was developer Newland Communities able to lift the first cohort of 6,200 planned new homes out of the 100-year floodplain in Elyson, its Katy Prairie development just west of the Grand Pkwy. at FM 529? Easy: by raising the lots 1 ft. with dirt taken from other areas of the site. (An additional 12 to 15 in. of elevation came from the slab foundations on which the houses rest.) The fill allowed the company to obtain letters of map revision for more than 300 home lots in 2016 — and “to tell buyers, accurately, that their homes were not in the 100-year flood plain.” The results: “The company reported in September that Harvey had flooded streets in the development, but no water entered any of the 94 houses occupied at that time. The risk of flooding could increase, however, as more structures are built on the property.” [Houston Chronicle] Partial map of Elyson: Newland Communities
A LAWSUIT OVER RIVERSTONE’S VANISHED LEVEE
More than 400 residents of Fort Bend County’s Riverstone development — between Hwy. 6 and the Brazos River — are suing the engineering firm that designed their stormwater systems, alleging that the design left one portion of the community flooded by the runoff from the other during Harvey. The roughly 3,700-acre area is divided into 2 Levee Improvement Districts — LID 19 (shaded blue on the map) and 15. “It became very clear when we passed into LID 15 that something was not right,” one LID 19 homeowner said in a press conference. “We were inundated with water in our neighborhood, and just on the other side of the street everything seemed to be perfectly fine.” Both LIDs were designed by Costello, Inc. the company founded by Houston’s flood czar Steve Costello. (He’s said he divested from it in 2015.) That firm’s failure to consider what would happen when a levee that ran between the 2 districts — along Hagerson Rd. — was removed is what downstreamers say is to blame for much of their soggy state. In total, reports the Chronicle’s Rebecca Elliott, about a third of the 1,760 homes in LID 19 flooded. [Houston Chronicle] Map of Riverstone LIDs 15 and 19: Riverstone LIDs
COMMENT OF THE DAY: BACK TO NATURE
“Cities with a ‘home flood rate’ of over 25 percent — like Bellaire — should really consider mandatory green space, meaning some property owners simply cannot rebuild. Tough in the short term but the city can front good money to buy them out . . . because all that park land, trails, fishing, sports fields will pay back multi-fold when these communities are Edens in the midst of a major city.” [movocelot, commenting on Bellaire’s Flooded Home Count; Chicken Salad Chain Making Houston Debut] Illustration: Lulu
THE MIND-BOGGLING UNDERGROUND MULTI-BAYOU TUNNEL DRAINAGE SYSTEM NOW PROPOSED FOR HARRIS COUNTY
The Harris County Flood Control District is considering digging the nation’s largest network of high-volume tunnels 100 to 200 ft. underground to drain stormwater from several waterways, including — write the Chronicle‘s Mike Morris and Mihir Zaveri — Buffalo Bayou, White Oak Bayou, Hunting Bayou, Greens Bayou, Halls Bayou, Clear Creek, and Cypress Creek. “The goal under the plan,” they report, “would be for those waterways to be able to keep a 100-year storm event within their banks.” Flood czar Steve Costello argues that despite the project’s enormity, the tunnels might actually be the cheapest way to bring the all the county’s major waterways up to 100-year capacity. Even if such a one-shot solution does cost less than a series of smaller mitigation efforts, the pricetag for the tunnels would still be in the billions, or “perhaps $100 million per mile,” Costello says. On Tuesday, the Commissioners Court is set to vote on whether to pursue a contract with Fugro USA Land — a global engineering firm — for a feasibility study of the proposed project that would cost around $400,000. [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo of Harvey flooding near UHD: Kelsie H. Dos Santos
FUNDING FOR DOWNTOWN HOUSTON’S NEW ISLAND
Houston’s flood czar Steve Costello tells the Chronicle’s Mike Morris that the city plans to apply for FEMA resiliency grants in order to build the North Canal Bypass — the long-whispered diversion channel that would relink White Oak and Buffalo bayous between Main and Elysian streets. The waterway concept bubbled up last year in Plan Downtown where its course formed an island northwest of Allen’s Landing indicated in the imagined map above. By bypassing the bayou’s oxbow, the channel is expected not only to reduce flooding downtown — it could also “help lower the water level in White Oak Bayou all the way to the 610 Loop and in Buffalo Bayou as far west as Gessner,” according to a county study. The result: “A little more than half of the 854 structures in the 100-year floodplain along White Oak and an adjacent tributary, Turkey Gully, would be removed from the floodplain.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map: Plan Downtown
DIGGING UP THE LATEST ADDICKS AND BARKER RESERVOIR DIRT
The Army Corps of Engineers is exploring the possibility of deepening the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in order to increase their floodwater capacities. The Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri digs up a request the Corps posted online quietly in January for specifics on how to remove soil from the reservoirs. The notice says the Corps is “evaluating the level of interest” from contractors, government agencies, and others “to allow for the beneficial use of material by interested parties while increasing capacity of the Government project.” Respondents are asked how much how much soil they would remove from the reservoirs, what methods they’d use to collect and transport it, where they’d deposit it, and how long the work would take. The deadline for responding to the agency was last Thursday. [Houston Chronicle; posting] Photo of American Shooting Centers and Millie Bush Dog Park off Westheimer Pkwy. in Barker Reservoir, flooded after Memorial Day, 2015: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [license]
JUDGE EMMETT: KATY PRAIRIE DEVELOPMENT SHOULD STOP ONCE AND FOR ALL
Here’s Harris County Judge Ed Emmett’s declaration Wednesday at a Rice University flooding conference: “We need to completely protect the Katy Prairie. Just set it aside and not touch it.” Or . . . what’s left of it. Last October, he called for a third reservoir in west Houston to “be part of a larger project to create a state or national park for the Katy Prairie.” And he wants Gov. Abbott to tap the state’s “rainy day fund” in order to build the prairie pond. (As for where it would go, a 2015 Harris County Flood Control District study proposed several sites, all on not-yet-developed parcels west of the Grand Pkwy. between Hwy. 290 and FM 529.) [Travis Bubenik] Photo of Matt Cook Wildlife Viewing Area on Warren Lake, south of Hockley: Katy Prairie Conservancy