Solution sought for drying lakes and decreasing home values
By Elsa Maxey
Area residents have been hearing about the drying lakes in Missouri City’s Quail Valley neighborhood, which surrounds the golf course property, since about April.
Even city elected officials heard from the affected homeowners, who were told their property values were being adversely affected …by 20 to 25 percent, according to a recent appraisal report of a home on Thunderbird Lake which was shared by a homeowner on Monday.
The city responded in June with five proposals to fill the lakes, only none of them were considered to be viable or recommended alternatives. They also cost up to a million+ dollars to implement and were not budgeted by the city. They were not factored into the improvements of the golf course property purchased by the city to preserve property values and to be funded by the $17 million voter approved bond referendum.
This past Monday residents of the affected neighborhood, represented by Quail Valley homeowner Jay Porter, also a business owner, participated at a city council workshop. Some residents also there received an email notice alerting them about dead fish and the smell filling the air in portions of the neighborhood, “about 300 dead fish,” said 20-year resident Gloria Espinoza, whose home backs up to a drying lake. “We’ve lived on the lake for 23 years,” said Ann Caraway, “and we’ve never seen the lake like this, it’s a terrible mess with tons of dead fish and vultures on the neighbors’ roofs just waiting to fly down to get whatever they can.” Most of the estimated 30 residents at the workshop have homes that back up to the drying lakes and there were others with homes overlooking former lakes. They completely dried up about a month ago.
Betty Verdino, whose home backs up to a lake, lives on another part of Quail Valley and said it is “going down” and she suspects the lake is getting water from the overflow of the golf course irrigation.
But the latest lakes about to be gone of about eight, reportedly have only about two inches of water left. These are the Thunderbird Lakes navigated by a city boat Monday afternoon sent out to pick up dead fish that died over the weekend and were spotted by the dozen floating in the still, shallow warm waters, where they used to thrive before the drought conditions set in. An eye witness account indicates the city’s “little row boat got stuck in the mud trying to scoop up dead fish,” including three to four foot alligator gars and it ended up being docked on one of the home’s piers.
Intent on refurbishing and preserving the Thunderbird Lakes “that adjoin homeowners’ properties,” is the mission of a newly formed non-profit organization called the Lake Dwellers Association that came into being about two weeks ago and is headed by Porter as its President. The city council was told the group wants to lease a small portion of land in Quail Valley that it owns, about a10 by 10 sq ft area south of McNaughton Park in which to drill a well, “at no cost to the city,” reports Porter. The self initiated, resident driven group is taking action to refill the lakes.
“With money out of their own pocket”, said resident Charles Butera, president of a homeowners association who lives in the neighborhood, was clear about the proposed action of the Lake Dweller’s group not being the same as the homeowners association he represents. He also said the well site will turn out to be smaller than the 10 by 10 sq ft area “where we can start pumping water as fast as we can once we get it all permitted and approved.”
An alternative site may be considered, according to Assistant City Manager/Public Works Director Scott Elmer, should restrictions on the proposed location prevent it from being used for drilling and operating a well. The Lake Dwellers will be asking for the land to be perpetually dedicated to them, and they say they will fund the drilling of a well, the power to drive the well’s submersible pump, and also the maintenance cost of the well. An estimated 40 homeowners living on the lake are among those that started the group, according to Deborah Jackson, and they each plan to contribute financially to have the well dug. “Although first it kind of bothered me considering the lake is owned by the city as well as one investment company, (and) after reading the stats on how much our home value has dropped by living on a dry lake bed,” Jackson said she felt it is a worthy contribution to the cause.
The Lake Dwellers are aware of the privately owned drying lake purchased at an auction less than 10 years ago. Obtaining permission to fill it was raised by city council and considered a moot issue, since the property is intended to hold water. Storm sewer rerouting, well ownership, discharge, enclosure, an indemnity clause about citizen and not city operation, insurance, and city council future binding action were among the issues addressed by city council.
Elmer disagreed with Porter on calculations about the amount of water to be generated by the proposed well to fill and maintain the lakes. At this point, differing data did not deter the preliminary action by the city council. It directed staff to take action and initiate efforts to prepare a lease with associated documents and requirements, which will help assist the Lake Dwellers during the next two weeks.
The Lake Dwellers will be making plans to obtain permits, participate in drafting a land lease agreement with the city and work out other operational aspects to include plans for upgrading transformers for the well and other requirements. The city council will then take final action on the project.
Porter said that the Lake Dwellers expect to have a well operational by October, when they will start filling the lakes with water, which they say will help preserve their home values. Porter’s daughter-in-law, Victoria Porter, who attended the workshop meeting, said she was married in her in-laws’ backyard overlooking a beautiful lake “and all those memories have gone away with the water.” That may only be the case for the time being. “It looks very favorable for our Lake Dwellers group to be able to work with them,” said one of the residents referring to the city, and “we’ll see in two weeks.”