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.