Think your street’s drainage is bad? Listen to this: In 2015, Kris Handoyo was heading north on Travis St. in the backseat of a Mazda when the downtown storm drain cover pictured above came loose and punched through the floorboard of the car, severing half of his right foot. Handoyo, a digital content employee of the Houston Rockets, filed a lawsuit against the city asking for up to $1.25 million in recompense. And this morning the city voted to give it to him. Well, some of it: After mediation, the parties had settled on $200,000.
The drain in question — shown above in the Travis St. bus lane just north of Clay St. — is still there, although the particular grate that impacted Handoyo has been removed and patched over with concrete. Many of its relatives remain in their asphalt habitats however, where they’ve been since the late ’90s and early 2000s.
And where neighbors in Downtown and Midtown have been complaining about them for at least a decade:
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Mayor Turner announced last Thursday that 115,000 storm drains would be put up for adoption as part of the city’s new Adopt-A-Drain program — already 5 have been claimed downtown by members of the public. (One of them — dubbed the “Director’s Drain” — is cared for by public works director Carol Haddock, reports the Chronicle’s Mike Morris.) The custodians Houston really wants to engage? “Schools,” as well as, “individuals, families, youth organizations, businesses (large and small), civic and non-profit organizations, fraternities, [and] sororities,” according to the website set up for the program. There, prospective adopters can view an interactive version of the map above showing what drains are and aren’t yet spoken for, as well as claim their own.
Then comes the responsibility: “Turner wants Houstonians to clear their drains at least four times a year, particularly when rain is in the forecast,” writes Morris. Although, the city adds, they should: “stop working and call the city’s 311 helpline if they encounter needles, construction debris, animals, firearms or chemicals.”
Map: Adopt-A-Drain Houston
TICKETS FOR FLOODPLAIN VIOLATIONS COULD BE IN HARRIS COUNTY’S FUTURE
Harris County is looking for the state’s permission to make floodplain violations a criminal offense — reports the Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri — arguing that “issuing a Class C misdemeanor to violators would increase the county’s ability to enforce its rules because it is quicker, less costly for the violator and the county and has the potential to increase compliance.” Right now, the worst the county can do to developers who break the rules and don’t respond to citations or other violation notices is to take them to civil court, which it has been reluctant to do. Case in point: 2 years ago, Zaveri and Mike Morris reported that despite issuing 324 floodplain regulation violations to developers in 2015, the county only had 25 civil lawsuits pending against builders who broke the rules. Gov. Abbott vetoed a bill similar to what’s on the table now last year, saying criminalizing violations would stretch the definition of criminal offense too thin. But according to Harris County’s chief administrative officer for public infrastructure coordination Josh Stuckey, there’s already a precedent for this type of hardline drainage enforcement: “The county uses a similar method for violations of regulations for private septic tanks, which has worked ‘very well,'” he tells Zaveri. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of red tag at Bourbon on Bagby, 2708 Bagby St.: Swamplot inbox
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE SWALE SOLUTION
“I had this problem at my house. Over the course of 100 years, about 6 to 8 inches of soil had been added around the house. The ground comes up almost to the top of the first step to my front porch. I dug down and found an old gravel walkway under all the built-up soil. During heavy rain, a lake would form under the house and take about a day or 2 to drain out. I had 4 different contractors come out and look at it. Quotes ranged from $3,000 to $24,000 for several variations on french drains and more elaborate drainage systems. I would have gone for it, except that all of the drainage designs would direct water to the drainage ditch in front of my house. That ditch fills up and holds water about as long as the lake under the house does. I then decided to wing it with a DIY solution. I put down gravel paths along both sides of the house. I dug out about 6 inches of dirt for the path and put the dirt under the house. The gravel path had about 2 to 3 inches of sand under 2 to 3 inches of gravel. Problem solved. The gravel paths fill up with water during a downpour but drain out pretty quickly. The added soil under the house keeps it from filling up with water. All in cost was about $500 plus a weekend of back-breaking labor.” [Old School, commenting on Comment of the Day: The Key to a Happy Life Atop Your Pier and Beam] Photo of pier and beam construction at 1648 Harold St.: Jeff Grant
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE KEY TO A HAPPY LIFE ATOP YOUR PIER AND BEAM “The soil here is something like 80% clay, so the most important thing is drainage. Water cannot be trapped under the house; it has to have a way to drain to the street, or you have problems. Many of the older homes add soil to their yards causing the space under the house to be lower, and they don’t provide a way for the water to drain — which is necessary.” [jeff, commenting on Raising the Requirements for New Developments; Catching Up with Houston’s Rental Demand; Drought Returns to Texas] Illustration: Lulu
Here’s the pungent wastewater that’s been flowing through a Swamplot reader’s backyard on Stoney Creek Dr. for just over a month, according to the homeowner. The waterway pictured above — dubbed Ditch #W-151 by Harris County Flood Control — parallels Gessner on its way south from Memorial City Mall, passing through portions of Bunker Hill Village and Whispering Oaks before emptying into Buffalo Bayou. For about 3 quarters of a mile along that stretch, the ditch cuts through the backyards of homes on Stoney Creek, where owners have complained about this and similar movements in the past.
Residents suspect the issue might have to do with the sewer repair work now underway at multiple sites upstream from their neighborhood. The photo below shows a temporary pump conducting liquids across Plantation Rd., just south of Memorial City Mall’s frontage along Barryknoll:
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MUD AND WATER AT THE PINE CREST GOLF COURSE
Tomorrow City Council is scheduled to approve a new municipal utility district for a proposed development on the Pine Crest Golf Course at Gessner and Clay Rd. in Spring Branch that would include enough new homes to house 800 residents. MetroNational is selling the 116-acre site to Meritage Homes. “The district would be served by the City’s regional plant, West District Wastewater Treatment Plant,” reads the agenda item. “The nearest major drainage facility for Harris County Municipal Utility District No. 552 would be Buffalo Bayou, which flows into the Houston Ship Channel.” [City Council; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Pine Crest Golf Course: Meritage Homes
COMMENT OF THE DAY: ALL HOUSTON FLOODWATER BACKS UP IN THE SAME DRAIN “Every editorial and study which I have seen fails to consider the plug in the bath tub. Every drop of rainwater in the metro area ultimately finds its way to Galveston Bay (and then the Gulf of Mexico). During the major flood events this spring, the tide was exceptionally high and there was a strong steady wind from the southeast. The waters of Clear Creek and the San Jacinto River were nearly three feet above normal before the first drops fell. There was no outlet for the rain and it backed up and up and up. Nothing had changed for this flood except the wind and the tide did not work in favor of Houston.” [Jardinero1, commenting on Cross-County Accounting for the Houston Flooding Puzzle] Illustration: Lulu
Here’s a purty watercolor-filtered drawing that shows how a portion of the concrete-lined Conrad Sauer Detention Basin extending north from the I-10 feeder road between Gessner and Conrad Sauer Dr. is supposed to look after MetroNational and TIRZ 17 upgrade it into a grassy, bike-lane-crossed area with park space that improves on its current ditch functions. It sits directly across the little ol’ Katy Fwy. from MetroNational’s ‘Death Star‘ HQ; the normally secretive company reveals a tiny bit about its plans for the area around the detention basin, lining the northwest corner of Gessner and the outbound I-10 feeder, in a variance application that’s scheduled to be discussed and possibly voted on in a planning commission meeting this Thursday.
MetroNational is calling the cleared 24-acre site (shown below) the Energy Gateway District.
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From the Death Star to You
A LOOK AT SOME OF THE LIQUID POO FLOWING ONTO COLQUITT ST. IN MONTROSE A reader wants to be sure Swamplot readers are alerted — as city inspectors, the HPD’s environmental division, and the property manager have already been, the reader says — to the “recurring” problem of raw sewage flowing out from the Takara-So Apartments at 1919 W. Main St. and into neighboring storm drains. The photo at left, taken on Monday, shows the sewage (“you can smell it”) along Colquitt St., pausing for a bit of sun on its way to lower-lying bayous and waterways. [Previously on Swamplot] Photo: Swamplot inbox
How is it that Kyle Naegeli is able to catch so many fish — including bluegills, bass, and catfish — simply by dropping lines into the storm-sewer inlet at the intersection of Carnation St. and Camilia Ct. in Katy? Well, the now-16-year-old has had 4 years of practice fishing in the same sewer, for one thing — as attested to by the many videos demonstrating his more recent exploits, available on his YouTube channel. (His latest bass catch — demonstrating Naegeli’s well-honed long-arm grab technique — is shown above.)
And it doesn’t hurt that the same inlet drains directly into a large pond south of Bartlett Rd. and behind the houses on Carnation St. — where Naegeli regularly fishes as well, and the bass are jumping:
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The Fishing Channel
HOW HOUSTON SCAVENGERS STAYED OUT OF GUTTERS AND DITCHES BACK THEN Embedded in a profile of 99-year-old artist Elinor Evans, who taught freshman design at the university in the sixties, seventies, and eighties — and whose exhibition of collages at the Moody Gallery opened earlier this month — is this bit of old-fashioned Houston street smarts: “She retrieved another basket and displayed a most orderly collection of hundreds of aluminum pull-tabs. Decades ago, Houston’s streets sloped inward and the centers provided ripe pickings for Evans, who said she surveyed them for ‘as found’ objects of interest.” [Rice News; exhibition] Still image: Rice News
CITY COUNCIL VOTES TO DRAIN HOUSTON’S DRAINAGE FUND City councilmembers voted 15 to 2 yesterday to pour out $31 million from the ReBuild Houston drainage fund Houston voters put into place in 2010 and use the money “to speed up projects and help resolve smaller neighborhood problems sought by their constituents,” according to Chronicle reporters Mike Morris and Kathryn Driessen. Separately, councilmembers approved an amendment to the measure that would help pay for a $1-million-per-district allocation that would let councilmembers themselves decide how to spend city funds in their own districts, by drawing $6 million from the city’s capital improvement funds. A portion of that money, Mayor Parker said, would likely end up coming from ReBuild Houston reserves — though there would be restrictions on how those funds could be used. The source of funds for the ReBuild Houston program is the monthly drainage fee paid to the city by property owners, which went into effect in 2011. Councilmember Stephen Costello, who championed the ReBuild Houston campaign and voted against yesterday’s measure, tells ABC13’s Miya Shay that passage of the amendment is “going to make my job a little harder as I’m talking to the community, about a lock box for Rebuild Houston.” Supporters of the changes claim they’ll help neighborhoods have a bigger say in what drainage and construction projects get funded. [Houston Chronicle ($); abc13; previously on Swamplot] Photo of drainage inlet installation near Westridge and Linkwood subdivisions: ReBuild Houston
DITCH REPAIRS, BRIDGE REPLACEMENT TO CLOSE STRETCH OF SAN FELIPE FOR NEXT 2 WEEKS San Felipe St. near Mid Ln. and the Loop is going to be out of commission for about 2 weeks, according to the Harris County Flood Control District: After tonight’s rush hour subsides, workers will move in to remove concrete from the sides of the eroding and underperforming drainage ditch, shown here, and install closed culverts. And that means the 50-year-old bridge on San Felipe will need to be demolished and replaced. The area to be closed is near the new Liberty Kitchen spot and the luxury apartments under construction on Briar Hollow Ln. [HCFCD; previously on Swamplot] Photo: HCFCD
All winter this Hermann Park high point has been fenced off while crews have worked on Miller Outdoor Theatre’s heavily used seating (and rolling-down) area to update drainage and irrigation systems, among other hill-improvement-type activities. The project, funded by the city, has a budget of almost $261,000. This photo shows a little patch of progress; though performances start back up in April, the theater warns you not to get your hopes up: the hill could remain closed through May.
Photo: Miller Outdoor Theatre