A Houston street can flood in a matter of hours, even minutes.
Reducing flood risks in the city can take years, even decades.
Residents of Northwest Houston are glad to know help is on the way, even if it continues to travel slowly.
The City of Houston announced last week that it has been awarded grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – its first federal grants since Hurricane Harvey ravaged the region in 2017 – for the design phase of two flood mitigation projects. One of those projects is the Inwood Forest Stormwater Detention Basin, which will be a series of 12 interconnected basins at the 226-acre site of a former golf course on Antoine Drive north of West Little York Road.
The project has long been on the wish list for the Harris County Flood Control District and the city, which purchased the property in 2011 with the idea of using it to mitigate flooding in the White Oak Bayou and Vogel Creek watersheds.
“We’re excited but trying not to be too excited,” said Eileen Egan, a resident of flood-prone Inwood Forest.
Egan also is the vice president of capital projects for the Near Northwest Management District, which uses the golf course’s former clubhouse as its office and leases the property from the city. According to the flood control district, which is engineering the project in a partnership with the city, the goal for the detention basin is to have a stormwater storage capacity of about 1,200 acre-feet, which would be enough to fill the Astrodome.
The total estimated cost of the project is $46.9 million, with FEMA grants slated to cover 75 percent of that cost and a target completion date of 2022, according to the city. The initial FEMA grant for the project is $2.14 million, which covers costs for permitting, engineering, design and environmental assessments, and an additional $33.03 million will be sought for construction.
The other FEMA grant recently awarded to the city, in the amount of $3.28 million, is for the design phase of the Lake Houston Dam Spillway Improvement Project.
“This is a breakthrough moment for the city and one we have been waiting for very patiently,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “Houston has bounced back from Harvey, but we need the federal government as a full partner as we work to prevent flooding from the next storms that will surely come.”
According to the city, the Inwood Forest project would protect more than 4,400 buildings from flooding in the White Oak Bayou and Vogel Creek watersheds. The planned detention basin would be upstream of neighborhoods such as the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest, so it figures to reduce flooding in those areas.
“If you’re holding (water) up there and slowly releasing it, so it’s not coming down here to go to the bayou and Galveston Bay, that should be a good thing,” said Timbergrove Manor resident Leigh Killgore, president of Super Neighborhood Council 14.
The Harris County Flood Control District has several other flood mitigation projects in the area in the works. Some were included in the $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond approved by Harris County voters last year, although none of those has reached the construction phase.
Near Northwest Management District president Wayne Norden, whose organization promotes residential and commercial development in the area, said reducing flood risks not only protects homes and businesses. It also can spur more development and be a boon to the local economy.
He and Egan hope the detention basin earmarked for Inwood Forest will have that effect on the neighborhood.
“If it changes flood maps here and the insurance rate, that’s a big thing,” Egan said. “If people’s risk of flooding is reduced or eliminated, it’ll be huge.”