A year after Hurricane Harvey paused over the Houston area and dumped more than three feet of rain, flooding streets, homes and businesses, cities in Fort Bend County are girding up for the next water disaster.
Many of the communities in eastern Fort Bend County were designed to withstand either heavy rain or high water from the Brazos River, but when Harvey delivered both, severe flooding occurred. Almost as soon as the rain stopped, area cities and the Levee Improvement Districts (LIDs) that serve them began evaluating what happened and how it can be prevented from happening again.
“The city is 100 percent protected by those levee districts,” said Sugar Land Assistant City Manager Chris Steubing.
The LIDs are systems of levees built around communities that are designed to be a barrier between homes and the rivers and also to drain water from within the communities.
The Levee Improvement Districts bear the brunt of drainage and flood protection responsibilities across much of Fort Bend County. Most of the more than 20 LIDS along the Brazos River are making improvements and several will put bond issues before voters in November to fund additional improvements.
The hardest-hit area in Sugar Land was First Colony, which is served primarily by Fort Bend County LID 2, along with First Colony LIDs 1 and 2.
FBC LID 2 is acting on five key areas to improve service to the district. According to Phil Martin, the LID is rehabilitating drainage channels in ditches B, C, and E, with construction under way. A third pumping station is in the preliminary design stage, as is a plan to lower the internal flood elevation. They will replace the pumps at the Mike Thelen Pump Station (Pump Station F) and the final design is almost complete.
The district has also approved the installation of five new flood gauges and the upgrade of two existing gauges in cooperation with the City of Sugar Land and Harris County Flood Warning System to improve flood warning and monitoring.
First Colony LID 2’s board has authorized its engineer to design and bid the installation of a third stormwater pump and the replacement of the existing backup generator and miscellaneous controls at the pump station. The proposed improvements will cost about $2.1 million and will increase the district’s pump capacity and enhance the district’s response time and operation during events.
“Our district systems performed well during Harvey, and we realize how fortunate we are to have them and appreciative of the effort that has gone into maintenance and operation,” said Director Zach Weimer. “Our emergency action plan was well defined and our operator, LID Solutions, executed it well. We conducted after action reviews to determine what went well and what areas could be made even better. Although everything worked there are some things we found that could have an extra layer of redundancy or changed to better improve the operation for future storms and/or river flooding events.”
One of the hardest-hit areas in Fort Bend County was Sienna Plantation. The Siennna Plantation LID has already made many improvements and is preparing to ask voters in November to approve a $139 million bond for more improvements.
In the last year, SPLID has:
• increased capacity in channels 2 and 3 by 100 percent by removing more than 500,000 cubic yards of dirt;
• purchased and deployed temporary pumps with 80,000 gallons per minute (gpm) of pumping capacity, which increases our pump capacity by 30 percent;
• begun the design of a new 270,000 gpm pump station that will be expandable to 540,000 gpm in the future, thus doubling the current pumping capacity of 260,000 gpm in the south of Sienna;
• asked its engineers to evaluate the levee system and make any and all recommendations that might improve SPLID’s ability to fight floods from both the Brazos River and a Harvey-like rainfall event.
• engaged an independent engineering consultant to review our current levee system and our operating response during Hurricane Harvey;
• prepared grant applications to the State of Texas for approximately $100 million in new facilities to protect our community.
In addition, a citizens advisory committee made up of five Sienna Plantation residents recommended a bond election for November for funding of more than 32 projects, including:
• $46,300,000 for channel, storage, and detention projects;
• $6,460,000 for sluice gate projects;
• $42,500,000 for pump station projects;
• $4,370,000 for operations and maintenance projects;
• $25,000,000 for levee structural enhancements and protection projects; and
• $14,010,000 for issuance costs.
Sugar Land Assistant City Manager Chris Steubing said the city did well during Harvey, in large part due to initiatives taken prior to the storm.
“We’ve had about $35 million in projects in the five previous years. We’ve done major work in Sugar Creek, major work in Covington Woods, major work in the Highlands,” he said. “All those projects were done or far enough in construction that we didn’t see any flooding in those homes.”
A post-storm study has indicated several projects the city will attempt to fund and complete in coming years.
“As a whole the city fared very well, though we did have some impacted areas within the First Colony area that we initiated studies on within a month or so after the hurricane occurred,” he said. “Those have all been completed, projects have been identified, and there are several projects that are proposed to be funded within the five-year capital improvement program that the council will formally adopt in September. Staff is looking to begin work on those in early October.
“We did four main studies throughout the city that incorporated probably 30 percent of the city, the major area in First Colony and Sugar Creek and some others. All of those have been developed, ranked, and there’s a list of about $80 million in drainage projects that have been identified and there’s over $42 million that have been proposed to be funded in our five-year capital improvement program,” Steubing said.
He said the city, county and other entities are participating in the Brazos River Authority’s Lower Brazos River Basin Watershed Flood Study. One area of concern to the city is shoring up the river’s banks in key areas to prevent erosion.
“These are $50 – $60 million dollar projects that we can’t take on alone,” Steubing said, adding that the county, state, Army Corps of Engineers, and FEMA will all need to commit resources.
“We’re just one small community but we’re protecting $15 billion worth of value behind these levee districts, give or take, from a market value perspective, not an assessed value,” he said.
Missouri City is engaged in a number of flood-related improvements.
“The city has mapped-out areas that sustained flood damage and are more prone to flooding within the city during Hurricane Harvey,” Public Works Director Shashi Kumar said. “The city has also identified potential flood protection planning-, flood early warning system- and flood response-type projects that would aid in mitigating flooding impacts within the community. The city has submitted a list of drainage projects that fit the above categories for grant funding opportunities that are being made available through the Texas General Land Office, Texas Water Development Board and the Texas Department of Emergency Management. The city has also committed its share of matching funds to implement some of these key projects in collaboration with other regional entities.”
Some of those key projects include installation of a flood early warning system at key locations across the city and the extraterritorial jurisdiction, which includes a robust network of rain gauges and level sensors. Such a system would relay real-time stream level (flooding) information to first responders and would also be made available to the residents on a real-time basis on the Harris County Flood Control District website.
Another key project planned is to tie-down Brazos River elevations at the Richmond Gauge to actual ground/house slab elevations in neighborhoods that are subject to potential back-water impacts. Such a data would be valuable in more accurately predicting backwater impacts and planning for necessary warning and evacuations, should it become necessary.
Within the fiscal year 2019 Capital Improvement Program (CIP), engineering design of two major drainage improvement projects are identified with construction slated for 2020. These include:
Cangelosi Detention Facility – This project will widen Cangelosi ditch to ultimate conditions from FM 2234 to the Buffalo Run Detention Facility.
Willow Waterhole Detention – This project will evaluate, design and construct drainage improvements at various locations throughout the Willow Waterhole water shed. This project will provide additional regional detention and drainage improvements to mitigate flooding conditions in the watershed.
The city’s public works staff in coordination with other departments are training staff to be better prepared to respond to Hurricane Harvey type related events. This includes, training key staff to obtain National Incident Management System (NIMS) credentials, participating in tabletop exercises with other partners such as the Fort Bend County Office and Emergency Management, and staffing key personnel to Emergency Operation roles based on their credentials.
Wen Guerra, who serves on the Stafford City Council and is the city’s economic development council president, said there were two parts of the city that flooded – Vaccaro Manor and Missouri City Estates.
As a result of the flooding, the city has used money from previous bonds to dredge outflow ditches in the Willow watershed as well as some of the drainage ponds. He said the city has already made all the improvements it can for now and remains at the mercy of Harris County for the completion of the work. The flooded areas are mostly in the portion of the city in that county.
“Your flooding improvements are only as good as your neighbor’s,” he said.
Fortunately, Meadows Place did not suffer much from flooding,” Mayor Charles Jessup said. “We had some close calls. We have pictures of our flood map showing every street in the city being impassable. We had several high-water rescues but no one was hurt and no houses flooded from rising water. We were blessed and we know it.
“Meadows Place has a Fort Bend County drainage bayou that dissects the city and we had to have a big section replaced as large portions of the sidewalls were bulging out and beginning to collapse. After Harvey everyone was afraid that it would not make it through the next high water event and fortunately for us we are in Fort Bend County. Once we pointed it out to them the county responded and immediately took care of it.
“We had just completed – well almost completed – our new Emergency Operation Center when Harvey hit,” he said.