The final page of the Harris County Flood Control District’s final report on Hurricane Harvey includes the map above, with orange indicating where bayous, rivers, creeks, and gullies set new high water marks between August 25 and 29. Aside from Sims Bayou and a handful of smaller waterways, every other liquid landmark in the county outdid itself along some portion during the storm. Several — such as Cypress Creek and Carpenters Bayou (shown in detail above) — set new flood records along their entire lengths.
Less distinguished are White Oak and Little White Oak bayous, which broke records along only tiny stretches near Buffalo Bayou:
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Watery Award Tour
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
The Tree Tops at Post Oak apartment complex on Briar Hollow Pl. has been abandoned since August, “with many windows and doors open as well as no maintenance to the yards,” writes a reader. Also noted: survey markers, like the one stuck between the fence and the curb in the photo included. First floor units at the complex sit below street level, and had water “up to the ceilings,” during Harvey.
From the corner of Briar Hollow and Post Oak Park Dr., you can see wooden scaffolding fronting the lower-level units, behind the fence — and the overgrowth — that separates them from the street:
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Out of Order
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
HOW SOME BIG INVESTMENT FIRMS ARE READYING HOUSTON FOR THE NEXT FLOOD
Whether homes flooded by Harvey are sold to investors or not makes a big difference, argue the Chronicle’s David Hunn and Matt Dempsey. For one thing, a sale closes the door to a county buyout — which often takes much longer to complete than a private purchase. Since Harvey, the reporters note, 88 houses Harris County had hoped to buy and demolish have already been snatched up by private parties, often for rehab and rental. Investment firms, by the writers’ count, have bought about 150 Harvey-flooded homes so far. Since about 2013, larger firms have been bundling rental homes in order to “sell the securities on Wall Street as a way to borrow money, fueling the purchase of even more homes.” But by maintaining the supply of floodable housing, Harris County Flood Control District’s Matt Zeve tells the writers, “All we’re doing is perpetuating a cycle of flooding.” At a national scale, according to university researchers quoted by Hunn and Dempsey, “rent-backed loans are already exhibiting characteristics of mortgage-backed securities” — the keynotes of the 2008 U.S. financial mess: “they’ve transferred the risk of default to taxpayers, stockholders and investors.” But investors seeking info about such rent bundles may be hard-pressed to get it: “While U.S. securities laws require funds to disclose significant risks about their investments, there are no specific requirements regarding flooded homes.” Hunn and Dempsey’s review of documents put out by public companies invested in flooded Houston houses shows that few of them, “if any,” have voluntarily told shareholders that they own such assets. [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo of Harvey cleanup in Bellaire: Russell Hancock via Swamplot Flickr Pool
ABBOTT SIGNS OFF ON HARRIS COUNTY’S HARVEY ANNIVERSARY FLOOD BOND VOTE
In a letter to the Commissioners Court yesterday, Gov. Abbott approved Harris County’s request to hold an August 25 bond election that would pay for a long, not-yet-finalized lineup of flood control projects. On the short list so far: “the buy-out of all of the county’s high-priority areas at highest-risk of flooding, approximately 5,500 properties,” Judge Emmett tells the Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri — as well as the financing of “some portions a much-discussed third reservoir northwest of the city,” and “numerous bayou and creek widening projects.” Also included: a handful of detention basins and drainage improvements to waterways in both Houston and the MUDs of unincorporated Harris County, according to the flood control district. The district now has about 4 months to compile the list, during which time Harris County “plans to launch a public outreach campaign to seek input on what to include in the bond package, as well as drum up support for the measure.” [Houston Chronicle ($), previously on Swamplot] Photo of Sesquicentennial Park and Franklin St. during Harvey: Kelsie H. Dos Santos
ORTHODOX SYNAGOGUE MULLS CROSSING THE LOOP TO SOMEWHAT HIGHER GROUND
The roughly 820 homeowners in Willow Meadows are now voting on a deed restriction change that — if passed — would allow the United Orthodox Synagogue to build a new structure outside The Loop, in place of 5 houses that sit 3 quarters of a mile south down Greenwillow St. from the congregation’s previous home at the corner of S. Braeswood. Many congregants walk to the synagogue — which could soon be leaving the 100-year floodplain for the 500 after flooding 6 times in the last 25 years, including 3 in the last 3. “According to preliminary renderings,” reports the Jewish Herald Voice’s Michael C. Duke on Studio Red’s proposed design, “the synagogue would be a single-story structure, measuring an ultimate height of 30 feet. Based on new building codes, the finished floor of the building would be built some 3 feet above curb height, and the building itself would have the same 25-foot setback as homes in Willow Meadows.” Passage of the proposal “would prompt Houston’s largest Orthodox congregation to hold its own congregation-wide vote on whether to stay at its current location north of I-610 South and rebuild portions of its campus at a significantly higher elevation; or, to move.” Most of the congregation’s 57-year-old building was demolished last month, except for a few portions including its social hall and mikvah. [Jewish Herald Voice; previously on Swamplot] Photo of United Orthodox Synagogue’s demolition, 9001 Greenwillow St.: United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston
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
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]
THE ARMY CORPS SAW ALL YOUR ADDICKS AND BARKER LAWSUITS COMING — 23 YEARS AGO
A 1995 Army Corps of Engineers memo obtained by the Chronicle shows that the agency considered the possibility that dozens of lawsuits could be filed against it by flooded homeowners both upstream and downstream from the Addicks and Barker dams. “Given the nature of the expensive homes that would be flooded and the quality of legal representation these owners could afford, there is always the possibility of an adverse ruling,” but the likelihood of such an outcome would be low, it concluded. Those downstream from the reservoirs would have a weak case, the memo argued, because their home values benefit from the dams in the first place. And those upstream — inside the Addicks and Barker flood pools — would have to prove that flooding wasn’t just sporadic, but “frequent and inevitably recurring to amount to a taking of interest in property.” Regardless, says the document, “it would be prudent for Harris County to make sure owners, future developers, and future buyers are put on notice that they are in a reservoir.” That didn’t happen. [Houston Chronicle; memo] Photo of Barker Reservoir Near Addicks Clodine Rd. after Harvey: Kyle Steck
There’s more damage to the areas along Buffalo Bayou than just the collapsed segment of trail pictured at top between the Travis and Milam street bridges. The photo above taken east of Travis shows where Spaghetti Warehouse’s former parking lot is eroding as well and transforming into a new set of cliffs on the water.
Heading west down the trail, more obstacles appear near Montrose Blvd. where the northern trail cuts past the closed Johnny Steele Dog Park:
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Rough Around the Edges