If you have something to say to Harris County officials about flooding along White Oak Bayou, better mark the evening of June 12 on your calendar.
Harris County Commissioners Court plans to call a bond election on Aug. 25 for the Harris County Flood Control District. Registered voters in Harris County will be asked to vote on what could be $2.5 billion in bonds for flood risk reduction projects throughout the county.
Two dozen “watershed” meetings will be held starting this month across the county ahead of the election. One of the first on deck is for the 111-square-mile White Oak watershed, to be held from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, at White Oak Conference Center, 7603 Antoine Drive.
According to HCFCD, more than 433,000 people live in the White Oak watershed, making it the fourth most populated drainage basin in Harris County behind Brays, Greens and Buffalo bayous. More than 2,000 structures were damaged during Hurricane Harvey floods along the White Oak, according to website ProPublica.org, with more than 5,000 damaged during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.
During Harvey, most of the damage was in the Inwood area, but there was significant flooding in the Candlelight, Oak Forest, Timbergrove and Lazybrook neighborhoods as well. Flooding along White Oak Drive at the edge of Woodland Heights seems to be an all too common occurrence.
City and county leaders have been working to mitigate flood risk in this area for 20 years, according to a list of projects outlined on the Flood Control District’s website. With this June 12 meeting, a bigger post-Harvey push for action will take flight.
Ideas for the White Oak
Ten projects totaling $81 million have been completed, mainly on the upper reaches of White Oak around Jersey Village. Those consisted largely of digging massive storm runoff holding ponds. Proposed and ongoing projects for the White Oak include:
* The White Oak Bayou Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project is a multi-year, $166 million project that will substantially reduce flooding risks along White Oak Bayou, according to HCFCD. Started in 1998, the project is a cooperative effort between the Flood Control District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Upon project completion, HCFCD estimates that within the project area, most areas along White Oak Bayou will see water surface elevation reductions of 0.5 to 1.5 feet for the 1 percent (100-year) flooding event.
* The Inwood Forest Golf Course, a 226-acre property near Antoine Drive and West Little York, was purchased by the City of Houston in 2011 for approximately $9 million. A land use agreement stipulates that the property may only be used as parkland, for recreational purposes and for stormwater detention purposes. At the City of Houston’s request, the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) is developing a plan to design and build stormwater detention basins on the former golf course property to provide flood damage reduction benefits during heavy storms and to mitigate impacts of future public projects as appropriate. The City of Houston will contact neighborhood stakeholders to discuss the design of recreational improvements adjacent to the detention basins.
* A recently completed 2017 study led by the Harris County Flood Control District and funded by the Memorial Heights Redevelopment Authority presents future options for the natural restoration of Lower White Oak Bayou, as alternatives to replacing the aging concrete channel lining north of downtown Houston. The analysis demonstrates viable, but limited, restoration potential within existing Flood Control District right-of-way downstream of Taylor Street.
Construction cost estimates for restoring this one-mile reach range between $30 million and $60 million and could take at least 5-10 years from the preliminary engineering phase to final design and construction.
Next steps for any longer-term project stemming from the Lower White Oak Bayou Channel Restoration Study would include identifying stakeholders to participate in and fund development of a future restoration project, identifying a realistic project footprint, and – if funding from a project sponsor becomes available – moving on to planning and preliminary engineering.
There are also the very visible projects within Oak Forest and Candlelight communities to install larger storm sewer conduits beneath neighborhood streets. One example is the ongoing project on Chamboard Lane in Shepherd Park Plaza.
Impact to property owners
The full cost of the bond will be phased in over several years and will not impact property tax bills all at once, according to the flood control district.
“Based on what could be $2.5 billion in bonds and a likely borrowing schedule over approximately 15 years, the Harris County Budget Management Department estimates that the overall tax increase will be no more than 2-3 cents per $100 of home valuation – meaning that most homeowners will see an increase of no more than 1.4 percent in their property tax,” states the district’s website. “A homeowner with an over-65 or disabled exemption and a home worth $200,000 or less would not pay any additional taxes for these bonds.”
“When considering project ideas suggested by the community, the Harris County Flood Control District will prioritize projects that meet its mission to provide flood damage reduction projects that work, with appropriate regard for community and natural values,” states the HCFCD website. Lists of positive and negative criteria are available on the website, as well as information on how to submit ideas and comments.
One group already weighing in is the Bayou Land Conservancy, a local land trust focused on conserving land and protecting Houston’s primary water source, Lake Houston. In a letter to county officials, the board points out that Harris County has been singled out as the one place in Texas where stream flows have increased markedly over the past few decades.
The board voices it’s support for projects that protect homes and prevents loss of life from flood disasters by protecting, acquiring, and restoring land and property interests to establish natural corridors along bayous, rivers, and streams to provide floodwater storage.
“We’re very encouraged that our Commissioner’s Court will ask Harris County voters to support a bond to improve resilience for future storms,” said Jill Boullion, Executive Director. “We want to ensure that 21st century solutions are considered, and that we don’t rely on old ideas from the 1940’s to protect us from what Judge Emmett refers to as the “new normal” when it comes to extreme weather events.”