Wendy Morgan recently added a new app to her phone.

It tells her, better than any other thing she’s found, when the tides are high near Galveston. It has become a useful tool when the forecast calls for rain, she said on Tuesday.

If the tides are high and the forecast calls for rain, she can decide whether she needs to tell the staff of the downtown island store she co-owns to stay home, she said. Monday was one of those days she told the staff to stay home.

“We knew that it was going to be a bad day,” she said.

Morgan’s shop, The Admiralty, isn’t on the beach, where tides are visible. It’s on The Strand, about 700 feet from the Galveston Ship Channel and more than a mile from the Gulf of Mexico.

On Tuesday, Morgan’s staff was working to clean out the slight damage caused by Monday’s Labor Day floods, which left a couple of inches of water in the store.

Parts of Galveston saw between 7 inches and 11 inches of rain Monday, according to the National Weather Service. The rain shut down large parts of the city, and in some areas, including the city’s downtown, water flooded buildings.

It was the third time since Hurricane Ike, which struck in 2008, that The Admiralty was flooded, Morgan said. And it was the first time since Hurricane Harvey, which sent more than a foot of water into the business.

A day after the flood, Morgan and other locals said they were resigned to the fact there wasn’t much the city could do to further reduce flooding in the city’s downtown, but hoped there might be more officials could do to lessen the damage.

“I’m not mad at anybody,” she said. “There’s enough in the world to be mad at.”

One of the biggest issues downtown businesses have during flooding is people driving down streets and pushing waves of waters into businesses, said Trey Click, the executive director of the Historic Downtown Strand/Seaport Partnership, which advocates for improvements to the city’s downtown area.

The partnership was working on a proposal to present to the city that would create a type of alert system for when streets were expected to be flooded, Click said.

The idea would be for the city to more quickly and clearly block off streets where wakes are a problem and discourage drivers from entering those places during a flood.

“There would be less water in the buildings if there was a period of time that they couldn’t drive into the street,” Click said.

Galveston does have a “no wake” ordinance, which penalizes drivers who drive in flooded roads at speeds greater the 5 mph, city officials said. No one was cited for violating that ordinance on Monday.

The problem might be more complicated than blocking streets and enforcing rules, City Manager Brian Maxwell said. The city already tries to barricade streets that are flooded, but some people drive around them or move them.

Monday’s flood was complicated by cruise industry traffic, Maxwell said.

The flooding coincided with the arrival of a cruise ship. The floods prevented shuttle buses from getting to cruise-ship terminals and others from reaching it. In the quest to get the passengers close as possible to the port, some of the buses drove through the flooded streets, Maxwell said. Other people were driving downtown to prevent their cars from being flooded, Maxwell said.

“The real solution is to have nobody moving in the water, but unfortunately I don’t think there is a way to 100 percent do that,” Maxwell said.

The city has for years worked on projects to replace its crumbling drainage system. One of the most recent completed projects was on Market Street in the city’s downtown, Maxwell said.

The work means streets drain faster, he said. But the drains don’t work when the tide is high and there’s nowhere for rainwater to go, Maxwell said.

It’s also possible that improved drainage in one part of the city exacerbates flooding elsewhere, he said.

On Monday, 51st Street was impassable north of Broadway, which disrupted plans to get cruise-ship passengers to and from the port, because the street was one of the city’s designated detour routes for flooding, Maxwell said.

“I think we’re moving it around and shifting some of the dynamics,” Maxwell said. “You’re moving the water around so it’s going to gravitate to the areas we haven’t gotten to.”

Maxwell, a lifelong island resident, said the flooding wasn’t unusual for Galveston. But it seems the city is seeing more storms that coincide with higher tides, Maxwell said.

An increased number of high tides have been linked to an increase in so-called nuisance flooding in coastal communities.

In a 2014 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, government scientists predicted current trends in sea-level rise would lead to as many a 30 days of nuisance flooding annually in Galveston by 2041.

For now, most local efforts to address such flooding are more about working around the water than working to stop it.

On Tuesday morning, Port of Galveston officials met to debrief on how they handled the flooding issues, Port Director Rodger Rees said.

Officials walked out of the meeting with an idea to buy or borrow portable digital signs that could better direct people coming onto the island, Rees said.

“When cruise passengers come over the causeway, we need to have some signs telling them where to go,” Rees said. “I think that’s the solution right now.”

Still, the floods may also be exposing cracks in some aging city facilities and making bigger choices inevitable.

The first floor of Galveston’s Rosenberg Library was closed Monday as cleanup crews mopped up water from the first-floor auditorium and children’s library.

Despite the library undergoing $4.5 million in flood-proofing renovations after Hurricane Ike, it’s the second time the library’s ground floor area has been flooded in less than a year.

John Augelli, the library’s executive director, said the problem wasn’t the library’s waterproof floodgates failing. Rather, he speculated the berm and flood-proofing around the library’s foundation were starting to fail.

The library would consider hiring an engineer to assess the state of the building’s flood protections, Augelli said.

“I’m not saying it’s not serious; I think it’s fixable,” Augelli said. “But I could be wrong about that.”

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; or on Twitter @johnwferguson.


Senior Reporter

(6) comments

Michelle Aycoth

Most of this is fixable with a pumping system.
You get the water going out faster than it comes in and water levels go down.
Andrew Aycoth

Howard Cook

I agree. Good point.

Kimberly Klepcyk

Monday’s downtown drivers included a group of “joy riders” gawking at the flooding, driving at high speeds and driving around barricades. Unfortunately, no officers were around to warn or ticket them.

Jim Lancaster

I’m not an expert but....I live at 25th and Strand. I personally observed the rain event and it WAS NOT high tides !!! I looked over the web cams of the harbor and ocean front during the event - not a tidal event The island slopes down from the beach toward the harbor. If you ride a bike you will notice this. Harborside and the terminals create a dike and all the water flowing down hill piles up in downtown. Also, the drain grills quickly get blocked by debris and trash. I cleared the closest ones once the water dropped several feet and they where 90% blocked. Ttraffic was a huge problem....large autos with families taking video pushing 10” in waves into the buildings.... We needed police to ticket folks and city workers to clear the drain grills ! At the end of the day...rain events causing flooding will continue unless we add pumps and/our increase the drainage capacity to accommodate the water flowing down hill from the sea wall (south to north) and natural slope of the land.

Richard Moore

I believe the reference to the “High Tide” is because the outlets for the storm sewer drains are located at or near a normal tide level on the water front. When the tide rises, seawater actually enters the system and effectively blocks the rainwater trying to get to the sea through the system. That being said, I tend to believe that there should be a look at ways that the trapped water can more easily get from the downtown streets across harborside and to the sea in situations like we have had on the last 2 Labor Day weekends. Properly engineered, this could be done in an aesthetically pleasing manner. I believe that this could be combined with the ongoing efforts to improve pedestrian access between the terminal areas and downtown (Project - Harborside Drive from 51st Street to 2nd Street) AND could be funded with the City’s Drainage Fee revenues.

Ray Taft

I am not a highly paid member of the Port of Galveston so I just Googled the problem. There are solutions if the port would just Google it!

According to the article ‘Heavy rains, high tide flood City Dock in Annapolis again,’ Capital Gazette, April 16, 2018, the City of Annapolis is working on a flood mitigation system that would prevent flooding at it’s city dock. The city has contracted engineering firm AECOM to plan and design a flood mitigation system. It’s expected to be in place in about two years.

Get to Googling Port of Galveston and you will find someone who can fix the problem.

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