As the city of Dickinson tries to get to the bottom of drainage problems in its clogged-up bayous and tributaries, officials have turned to technology for answers.
This week, after more than 5 inches of rain drenched the area, Dickinson’s police and emergency management departments worked with a private drone operator in an attempt to determine where waterways had gotten backed up and caused flooding.
It was the same idea officials had earlier this year when they piloted a sonar-equipped boat, typically used for finding bodies, around Dickinson Bayou, scanning for debris.
“There’s different technologies out there that the city doesn’t own and we want to take advantage of that,” said Greg Trantham, property crimes detective with the Dickinson Police Department, who assists with emergency management. “If people say ‘I have this gadget and I can help’ then of course we’ll say ‘yeah.’”
That’s what happened with the Dickinson Bayou sonar mission, Trantham said. Texas EquuSearch, a Dickinson-based nonprofit that focuses on finding missing persons, offered its sonar services after massive flooding during Hurricane Harvey a year ago showed drainage in the city was a problem.
The Dickinson and Gum bayous, which act as a middleman receptacle for water that flows in from tributaries before heading to Galveston Bay, had become clogged up with silt, dead trees and debris in recent years and slowed up the drainage flow, and scanning the waterways with sonar could help pinpoint problem areas.
“After storms, silt and trash can pile up in the bayou, so we were out there looking for that,” Trantham, who participated in both the sonar and the recent drone operation, said. “I took a few rides as the EquuSearch folks were showing the sonar readings of issues that would prohibit flood drainage.”
Although problems the sonar found didn’t lend themselves to any immediate solutions, they were useful for creating a drainage survey and grant applications the city submitted to the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies last year, ultimately leading in August to a $2 million Natural Resources Conservation grant for drainage improvement projects, Trantham said.
“EquuSearch showed us some interesting results and we forwarded that info on to the corps,” Trantham said. “It gave us something to hone in on in those areas.”
The drone operation has potential for both short- and long-term answers, officials said.
Video images recorded with the drone Tuesday and Wednesday allowed the city to target ditches and culverts that were causing flooding near Dickinson High School, in the Nicholson neighborhood and along Hughes Road, Bryan Milward, Dickinson’s public works director, said. After investigating problem areas as spotted in aerial video and photos, nine public works employees were dispatched to clear out the clogs.
“The idea is, when we get up in the air, we can get above it and we can trace out the drainages and send in the men and the equipment to help,” David Popoff, emergency management coordinator for the city, said.
Just as important are the long-term solutions the drone images offer, Trantham said. With video the city shot this week, engineering and dredging projects can be worked out that will help highlight where dredging projects should focus.
“I really liked the results we got by using the UAS,” he said. “You were seeing areas of the water that you can’t see from the roadway and having that done so quickly, I think that if ever there is another event in which you have localized flooding, we’ll be able to get ahead of it.”