Our purpose at Cypress Creek – Stop the Flooding is to educate and inform citizens and businesses owners along Cypress Creek in northwest Harris County, Texas. No words we offer can guild the black lily of flooding for the 10,000 home and business owners who lost their property during the Harvey flood. But before Harvey there was the Tax Day flood. Before the Tax Day flood there was the Memorial Day flood (1 & 2). Why? Why is there so much flooding on Cypress Creek? What can we do? Learn that here.
What’s New and Old on Cy Creek Flooding for 2021?
Most importantly, as we start 2021, is the fact that since the Memorial Day flood in 2015, Tax Day flood in 2016 and Harvey in 2017, not one more drop of water can go down Cy Creek than before. This is not progress over time.
In 2020 we saw the publication of the Michael Baker report on Cy Creek. It advised that we need around 26,000 acre/feet of flood water detention along the creek. This would require around 1,400+ acres of land to accomplish. Quite the task.
While we have seen Harris County Flood Control (HCFCD) engage in repairs around our watershed, these repairs do not make us more capable of handling floods like the 3 cited above. Even more threatening is the report by NOAA. Their new Atlas 14 forecast for storms indicates exactly what every forecaster has predicted: more storms, more intense storms. For the 100-year storm (1% chance every year) instead of receiving 12.4 inches of rain, we can now expect to receive 16.3 inches. Quite the increase. Buy flood insurance. See the chart by Community Impact Newspaper below:
With some urging, HCFCD did abandon its whack-a-mole approach to flood mitigation on Cy Creek. It has formed “Project Cypress Creek”, similar to its “Project Brays” on Brays Bayou. An engineering firm is developing a plan of action and a team of HCFCD personnel has been formed to implement the plan. We should see the first draft of the plan this spring. The plan will prioritize projects and establish time lines for project completions, a yardstick against which we can measure progress.
HCFCD also announced detention facilities on TC Jester and in Westador, where Ella dead ends in the creek. Unfortunately, these facilities will be small and dependent upon both state and federal funds to move forward. Funding is, of course, political. We compete with all other areas in Harris County, and the state, for these funds. Therefore, we need political representation which advocates for us if we are to ever succeed. When you see your county commissioner, your state representative or your congressman please recall that, by in large, their positions are that flooding on Cy Creek is not something that makes their phone ring. Give them some input if you expect to receive government dollars for flood control on Cy Creek.
HCFCD is also installing swales in 6 locations along the creek. Swales will aid flood prone areas to drain better during storms. Unfortunately, more drainage to an overburdened creek does not seem to be a good idea. Bioswales (rain gardens) are used in Angleton County to slow down run off and protect Dickenson Bayou. They are also advocated by Texas A&M engineers as an aid to flood mitigation. HCFCD does not use bioswales in Harris Co. but agreed to begin a project along Cy Creek to investigate their efficacy and see if they can help slow the extreme run off due to overdevelopment we experience along Cy Creek.
A community flood mitigation group formed this year under the auspices of the Cypress Creek Cultural District. This Task Force (TF) has convened several meetings with HCFCD to learn of their plans and give some much-needed community input to HCFCD. The group, led by Dr. Glenn Wilkerson, plans to maintain contact with HCFCD and elected leaders to help move forward projects which are slow moving. It is interesting that the repair project on the Centrum in the Cultural District is installing flood gates around the building to protect it from future flooding. This is the first real manifestation by the community that flooding is a problem for us, a problem here to stay which must be confronted.
Finally, what about Raveneaux County Club? HCFCD has purchased 27 acres at this location on Cypresswood Drive and is negotiating with the PUD there to purchase the balance of the 200+ acres of golf course. This is an excellent place to construct a large detention facility (and park) for the benefit of the entire community. Negotiations have been difficult and there has been considerable push back from the local subdivision. As the golf lease expires the end of this month hopefully the impasse will be broken soon. What does all this mean? It’s good to see project planning but still no dirt is flying. The community cannot continue as before. We had several near-misses with tropical cyclones this past season. Luck is not a flood mitigation strategy. We need some place for the water to
No insurance – no problem?
Some homeowners feel that they have never flooded so there is no need for them to have the federal flood insurance. Wrong! Better have a spare $100-150,000 in the bank to repair your home/replace your furnishings, then. ANY place in Harris County can flood due to our very flat topography, impermeable soils and tropical inundations. Plus, see article below, you never know when the environment around you will change by development.
Both the State of Texas meteorologist and the Harris County Flood Control meteorologist believe the future is a greater number of storms along the Gulf Coast and more intense storms. Why? Global warming. No matter what your political views, the fact is the atmosphere is warmer and holds more moisture, therefore greater inundations. Don’t believe them? See below:
It is the middle of a very active hurricane season in 2020. Currently the National Hurricane Center is tracking seven (7) tropical systems today. Here in Harris County we have already dodged two bullets this year. When it comes to flood mitigation, luck is not a strategy. Nor can one rely on past history. Buy flood insurance.
It’s late August – the heart of the storm season. It’s going to be an interesting next several weeks as we look toward the sea. Buy flood insurance. ANY place in Harris County can flood, don’t be another surprised flooding victim. “I’ve never flooded before” will not get you much sympathy anymore, we have heard it too much.
In 1984 Dr. Phil Bedient, of Rice University, wrote his first research paper on flooding along Cypress Creek. At the time he said the cause was too much development with no place for the water to go. In 2018 Dr. Bedient, as head of Rice’s Severe Storms Center, wrote another paper on flooding on Cypress Creek. He said the cause was too much development with no place for the water to go – too much run off. One of his co-authors told us that even if a dam was erected on the creek at 290, and another dam erected at the junction with Little Cypress Creek, the main stem of the creek would still flood. Too much run off, no place for the water to go. And too much unbridled development.
We all bewailed the Arizona developer who brought eight (8) feet of fill onto the 50 acres at the Vintage, on Vintage Preserve Pkwy., to build apartments. He installed detention to capture the run off on that 50 acres, but what of the water that used to pool there during floods, where does it go? He produced an engineering study saying “no adverse impact”, but where does that water go?
We recently visited a Harris County home buy out focus site in Saracen Park on Cypress Creek. There were several vacant lots where residents had sold out to FEMA to escape repeated flooding. Immediately adjacent to these properties, which were purchased with federal tax dollars, was a new home being constructed. It was a spec home being erected by a builder – “for sale by owner”. The County verified that the builder had the proper permits to build in the floodway. Not flood plain, floodway – the stream channel. Harris County allows building in the stream channel. Why? Is there no other land? Or is this land just really cheap because it’s in the floodway? Why spend tax dollars to buy out properties and, in turn, allow more properties to be built there? What sense does this make? Who are the stewards of our tax money? Harris County is one of the few places in the country which allows building in the floodway. As one of our state representatives told us, it is difficult to obtain state funding for flood mitigation in Harris County when other representatives from around the state ask: “Well, why ya’ll allow building in the flood plain, anyhow?” How does one answer that?
At the corner of Cypresswood Drive and Champions Forest Drive a developer, Don Hand, recently brought in 5-6 feet of fill to build up his lot for a construction project. He didn’t bother to obtain a permit. There was no detention built and no consideration for his neighbors. If a tropical storm had arrived, the water would have cascaded off that lot into the Chase branch bank, crossed the street into the Mormon Temple, flooded the Conservatory parking lot, inundated Cypresswood Drive and perhaps entered the Kroger, again. Citizen outrage caused the County to ‘red flag’ his construction. The County was required to go to court to obtain an injunction to stop this developer and require the fill to be removed. It was a pyritic victory. The penalty assessed under the law against this type of dangerous develop is $100/day. Little wonder the dirt is still there – it’s cheaper to pay the fine than remove it.
Development continues apace along Cypress Creek. Community Impact’s investigation into development along the creek indicates that since the 1997 county standards were adopted, there have been over 3,600 new building permits issued along the creek. More impervious surface, less room for the water. The Greater Houston Flood Consortium’s 2017 report on flooding and building standards recited that “…not requiring new development to fully mitigate its impacts would essentially be a subsidy for that development, reducing the cost of building but ultimately requiring taxpayers to pay for more new flood mitigation infrastructure and saddling downstream residents with flood-related property damages.”
How did we get so far out of balance? For a century builders & developers have had a powerful hold on Houston and Harris County. Recall the 1960s mayor of Houston, Louie Welch, and his statement: “The business of Houston is business”. No zoning, weak regulation. Another reason is money. County regulations are approved by Commissioner’s Court. In 2018 a Houston Chronicle investigative report indicated that all 4 of the commissioners received at least 80% of their re-election funds from builders/developers/engineering firms. While all the commissioners deny that these election contributions have any impact on their decisions, you can bet the donors get their phone calls returned.
It currently appears that by this time next week we will have been visited by a tropical storm. There is a hurricane right behind it. Thus far in this very active hurricane season we have been lucky and dodged all the storms. In flood mitigation, luck is not a strategy. We must have flood infrastructure. Three years after Harvey, four years after Tax Day, not a shovel of dirt has turned on Cypress Creek. But we must also have reasonable rules which look after not only developer profits, but public safety and security. Tell your friends, tell you neighbors, tell your elected representatives. Let’s start that conversation.
No halleluiah yet
July and we are well into hurricane season. Forecasts indicate it can be pretty exciting this fall as far as tropical cyclones in the Atlantic/Gulf go. Buy flood insurance. Be ready.
What’s the latest on Cypress Creek flood mitigation, you say? Here’s the news from HCFCD.
Work on the TC Jester detention site is delayed due to the coronavirus causing state and federal permitters to work from home. Perhaps work can commence August/September time frame on the west basin, the small one. Work on the large, 120-acre, basin on the east? “Perhaps” summer of 2021 for initiation of work. As usual funding seems to be an issue. HCFCD needs to commit to this work and dedicate the funds. If $600 million can be budgeted for work up on Little Cypress Creek, where nobody lives, money can be found for the flooded areas where 300,000 live and work. How can we prosper with repeated flooding in the area?
But don’t get too excited. The Jester facility may be only around 1,000 acre/feet in size. It will be of some help to the local area but the need along Cypress Creek is 250,000 acre/feet according to the Michael Baker study. But it’s a start and we have had nothing before this.
What’s the “big picture” look like for mitigation along Cypress Creek? Nobody knows. What should it look like? Go to: www.projectbrays.org
This is the joint project by HCFCD and Army Engineers to mitigate Brays Bayou in southwest Houston. Timelines, budgeting, goals, updates are all available. Exactly oppose of what we receive along Cy Creek. We need an advocate to push flood mitigation forward for us. Who will it be? Our only local elected official in northwest Harris County is Commissioner Cagle who, by law, sits on Commissioner’s Court which is the oversight body for HCFCD. Yet conversations with Commissioner Cagle indicate there is no comprehensive plan, no timeline, no goals and no accountability in Precinct 4 for flood control along Cypress Creek almost 3 years after Harvey.
Going forward our organization, www.cycreekstoptheflooding.com, will attempt to construct and publish on our site one scenario which citizens can view, educate themselves and judge for themselves how responsive government is being to meeting their safety/security needs regarding flooding.
HCFCD is contemplating hiring an engineering firm to construct a Cy Creek website similar to the Projectbrays above. If it goes forward look for something online after the first of the year. It could be an excellent tool to see where we are in flood mitigation and where we are going.
Further to the west, at Eldridge Parkway and the Creek, the Cypress Park Detention Basin is planned to expand from its current size of 530 acre/feet to a huge feature of 9,300 acre/feet. This would be a huge help with water coming from the west and down Little Cypress Creek. But, land acquisition is just beginning and, like everything along Cy Creek, it won’t be easy or cheap – a long term project with great ramifications.
Finally, mini-projects have been suggested and HCFCD is investigating. Home buyouts are voluntary under the county program. As a result, some subdivisions are ‘checker-boarded’ with residents who elect to remain deep in the flood plain, forestalling the installation of detention features. HCFCD will investigate installing swales in these areas of buyout. The swales would help water drain, also hold relatively small amounts of water for a short time and allow for better percolation into the soil. We await their conclusions.
We always welcome your comments, views and questions. Our goal is education and flood mitigation.
Floods, plagues and locusts
No one should underestimate the danger of the coronavirus. Or the danger of our next flood along Cypress Creek in spite of having to social distance and avoid the plague. Since Harris County has seen 5 floods in the last 6 years we should expect another, shortly. We are currently in the middle of the spring rainy season (remember Tax Day & Memorial floods?). And a month and a half from hurricane season. Under our “Studies & Reports” tab you can find an extremely interesting Op-ed from last Sunday by the Bayou City Initiative on what we need to mitigate flooding during an epidemic. Or you can click here:
This chart is from the Greater Houston Flood Consortium’s report on Harvey. It notes the amount of spending on flood mitigation on each of Harris County’s 22 watersheds over the last 20 years or so. Cypress Creek is Harris County’s largest watershed with the longest stream (30 miles) in the county. Note the amount spent on flood mitigation here.
Flood Meeting – State Reps and HCFCD, October 31st, 2019
On October 31, 2019, cycreekstoptheflooding.com coordinated a meeting between state representatives and HCFCD at HCFCD’s HQ. Present were Representative Sam Harless and Representative Valerie Swanson and their staffs. Present for HCFCD were Russ Poppe and Matt Zeve with their staff support. A summation of the meeting follows:
1. The State Reps made it very clear to HCFCD that the citizens along Cypress Creek had been very patient but that patience was at an end. Flood mitigation action is required by HCFCD. It appeared that message was received by HCFCD.
2. Matt Zeve volunteered that the HCFCD website page for Cy Creek would be modified so that users could obtain salient information on projects such as timelines, percent completed, etc., so that progress can be monitored.
3. The CI-012 ‘Major Maintenance’ project on Cy Creek has begun. Citizens may see work at various areas along the Creek. This project is to desilt and restore the Creek to its previous condition before storm damage. This is not an effort to increase the water carrying capacity of the Creek.
4. The CI-035 study for regional drainage and tributaries of the Creek is completed in its draft form. Russ Poppe promised this report would be finalized by year end. This report is the basis for much of the work to be done on Cypress Creek to lower the flood risk.
5. Of the $100 million in the Bond election dedicated to buying land along Cypress Creek for detention facilities, Matt Zeve stated that land purchase continues but not enough land has been purchased anywhere along the Creek to construct a new detention facility.
6. Harris County owns the land along the Creek between and near the TC Jester bridge and Meyer Parks. There is no reason that construction of a large detention feature cannot begin here. Russ Poppe challenged his team to move forward on this and other projects which are necessary without waiting for completion of all studies. Nevertheless, there will be further delay as HCFCD must obtain permits and environmental approval.
7. The Kuykendahl bridge at the Creek has been identified as a bottleneck for drainage and needs to be modified. As this is a County bridge under the control of Precinct 4 it would seem relatively ‘easy’ to begin the work on this modification. Matt Zeve said he would take this project to the Commissioner, Jack Cagle, to initiate work. Likewise, the I-45 bridge is a bottleneck but as this is an interstate bridge with TXDOT and the Feds involved it will take longer to modify.
8. Home buyouts along the Creek continue, removing families from high risk areas. But, thus far, due to the voluntary nature of the buyouts, no subdivision has been entirely purchased which could allow construction of a detention facility at that location.
9. Considerable funds are still available from the Bond for joint use flood mitigation projects between HCFCD and community entities, such as MUDs, HOAs, etc. There seems to be a great reluctance for the local entities to apply for funds as this is a ‘cost sharing’ effort and the local entity must foot part (~50%) of the cost.
10. Despite direct questioning we were unable to secure a promise from HCFCD that detention features would be multi-use in a manner which would be an asset to the community for other than flood water detention.
Opinion: we were heartened to hear the state reps deliver a very clear message that the time for Cypress Creek is ‘now’. There continues to be considerable flood mitigation work ongoing across Harris County. We need to see the same level of activity along Cy Creek. Unfortunately, it is a bureaucratic effort and agonizingly slow. Please remember that one reason we have any success at all is because you have voiced your concerns and continue to do so. Without citizen involvement we are going nowhere. Keep up your contacts with your elected officials and the civil servants who work for you.