Progress continues this spring as city, county and other authorities continue post-Harvey recovery. Here’s what’s happening:
Dredging of the San Jacinto River is the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, spearheaded by the Galveston District. Per requests from both FEMA and the state of Texas, the Corps recently began sediment surveys on the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. A survey crew vessel arrived from the New Orleans District Corps to begin collecting data along a 5-mile stretch between Highway 59 and W. Lake Houston Pkwy. The crew is using survey-grade GPS and a sonar transducer to determine sediment deposit conditions. Once the data are gathered, the Corps will use hydrologic modeling to determine a course of action.
On April 25, the Corps also conducted an aerial tour of the West Fork. Accompanying the Corps were engineers from the Engineering Research and Develop Center in Vicksburg, Miss. The team identified potential dredging sites and areas of excessive shoaling. The team expects to remove 1 to 3 million cubic yards of sand from the West Fork. To put it in perspective, 3 million cubic yards is enough sand to fill the Astrodome two-and-a-half times.
Data analysis was completed May 4, thus allowing the Corps to begin the contracting process for the dredging process.
Harris County Flood Control District
The Harris County Flood Control District, along with the National Weather Service, FEMA and the San Jacinto River Authority, hosted a FloodWarn workshop at Lone Star College May 1. The purpose of the workshop was to convey National Weather Service knowledge about the types of flooding that happened in Kingwood/Humble and future flood risks. A conversation was held about the watersheds and forecasts for future weather events. The group hoped to provide residents with information regarding how forecasting is done, and the limitations of forecasting for severe weather events like Harvey. The weather service provides forecasts and river flood warnings for the river gauge located at the San Jacinto River on I-59 in Humble, so the workshop was also an opportunity for the community to share its flood concerns with them.
The flood control district began installing new river gauges this month to improve the accuracy of these forecasts and to increase warning time for advance flood notice. Four new gauges will be installed upstream of Humble/Kingwood, with one gauge placed in Lake Houston, at the following locations:
• West Fork of the San Jacinto River at SH 99
• Peach Creek at FM 2090
• East Fork of the San Jacinto River at 2090
• Caney Creek at FM 2090
• FM 1960 over Lake Houston
Additionally, the river gauge at Kingwood Country Club and the West Fork will be replaced. A new gauge will be installed 1 mile downstream, closer to the W. Lake Houston Pkwy. bridge. Once that gauge is operational, the Kingwood Country Club gauge will be removed. All gauges will connect to the Harris County Flood Warning System to give weather forecasters a better picture of what’s happening in the San Jacinto River during floods. The gauges will measure rainfall totals, water levels and channel status.
Community groups continue to help coordinate post-Harvey efforts. These groups are providing valuable information to groups like the Flood Control District and other authorities. Local resident, Barbara Hilburn, is tackling the drainage issue for Kingwood’s two major drainage channels, Ben’s Branch and the Diversion Ditch. In particular, the ditch has a serious impact on River Grove Park. If the open, flat area at the end of the ditch near the Deer Ridge Estates bridge becomes blocked, there is no positive drainage into the San Jacinto River. Residents like Hilburn are trying to ensure that the Flood Control District fully understands the extent of these issues.
Ownership of drainage areas continues to be an issue. After Kingwood was annexed by the City of Houston, maintenance of some drainage ditches fell through the cracks. Prior to annexation, the ditches were maintained by utility districts, but apparently ownership was never transferred. The ongoing issue for over 20 years has led to lack of repair since annexation. The Flood Control District stated that flow/street pipes have a 30-year life, and Kingwood’s internal drainage systems are definitely aging. Many ditches are in need of repair, compounding blockages and adding to the potential of serious internal flooding. Houston City Council Member Dave Martin and the district are working to confirm drainage ownership. If the drainage areas are indeed owned by the city, it may be possible to add these repairs to the FEMA fund to ensure they get fixed.
The Harris County Commissioners Court voted in favor of a $2.5 billion bond election to pay for flood control measures. The emergency special election was approved by Texas Governor Greg Abbott and will be held Aug. 25, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett has been a strong pro-bond advocate, saying that Harris County needs bold steps to fix the flooding issues. If the bond package passes, it will be the largest local investment of funds post-Harvey. More than 200,000 homes and businesses were impacted. If the bond passes, it will inevitably mean an increase in the property tax rate in Harris County.
Four days after Emmett announced the flood bond, local voters approved an Humble ISD school bond for $575 million. For that bond, board president Angela Conrad said the tax rate of $1.52 per $100 valuation would be kept for 2018 and that the board hoped it could be maintained until 2023. Emmett says they don’t have specifics yet on what the Harris County bond will include, but that it will have hundreds of projects and that his office will be working over the summer to craft that package. More than likely, the package would include buy-out of all 5,500 properties located in the county's high-risk flood areas.