Change comes slowly, especially when it involves coordinating between federal and the dozens of entities in the path of the Clear Creek and Dickinson Bayou watersheds.
Going on two years after Hurricane Harvey stalled over Galveston County dropping more than 50 inches of rain in some parts and flooding more than 20,000 homes, cities are starting to make changes.
League City voters May 4 will decide whether to approve $145 million in traffic and drainage projects as part of a bond referendum, the city’s first attempt to do so since 1992. Friendswood officials are considering calling for their own election to make drainage improvements.
But, through it all, local leaders have been consistent on one thing — lasting drainage and flooding mitigation must come via regional coordination. But what does that look like? And when might those solutions be forthcoming?
Some 18 months since Hurricane Harvey brought its catastrophic rains, local officials say they are working toward those answers.
The League City Council recently empowered City Manager John Baumgartner to represent the city in working toward regional drainage solutions.
While it’s still early in that process, it’s going well so far, Baumgartner said.
“My task, as I see it, is to get to the point where we can evaluate all the options, look for potential solutions and move forward toward project consensus,” Baumgartner said.
In June, several months before Baumgartner was tasked with creating consensus, the council also moved to appoint members Hank Dugie and Larry Millican to the Clear Creek and Dickinson Bayou watershed steering committees.
Unlike Harris County, which relies on its local flood control district to monitor and do work in 22 watersheds, authority over watersheds in Galveston County falls to several different entities, including the steering committees and the Galveston County Consolidated Drainage District.
In the past, that division and the fact that more than 26 different entities fall in the watershed of Clear Creek and Dickinson Bayou was an impediment, but perhaps not any longer, Dugie said.
“We’ve been talking about regional solutions for more than 20 years in this area, but nothing has really come to fruition on a large scale,” Dugie said. “The goal this time is to change the way we do business — come up with a project list, have an estimated impact and cost.”
Several local politicians, including Santa Fe Mayor Jason Tabor, have taken an interest and joined the local steering committees, which shows some difference already, Dugie said.
It seems the local committees have been re-energized with new faces who are working to form new alliances with the county’s consolidated drainage district and the Harris County Flood Control District, among others, said Peggy Zahler, a League City resident who serves as an alternate on the Clear Creek Watershed Steering Committee.
The goal now, in Baumgartner’s opinion, is to take that renewed interest and translate it into something local entities can use, he said.
“There are a hundred great ideas out there right now,” Baumgartner said. “Whether it’s a diversion canal, removing silt from the floodway, clearing banks, adding detention, looking at how cities handle new development — none of the ideas are inexpensive.”
A comprehensive study of all of the possible ideas, examining cost and benefits, would go a long way toward determining which projects would be best to pursue, Baumgartner said.
“Ultimately, we’d want to make a material difference in the flood level,” Baumgartner said. “At least 3 feet is my goal.”
But such a study could be expensive, more than $1 million at least and perhaps between $5 million or $7 million at most, Baumgartner said.
Commissioning a study would be the first in a long-term plan toward regional drainage solutions, Baumgartner said. Ultimately, any final list of projects would have to go through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before they would happen.
Corps officials have been attending local steering committee meetings and are engaging with county and local communities, said Edward Rivera, spokesman for the corps.
“The main requirement for local projects that affect a watershed is that the entity ensure they file for the proper permits in order to receive approval to begin their project,” Rivera said.
Local entities are looking at a five- to 10-year plan to complete the projects, Baumgartner said.
But the important first steps are happening now, Dugie said.
“The people in place now all care deeply about making something happen and working as fast as we can,” Dugie said. “But it’s never fast enough.”