The Galveston County Commissioners Court was right to not dive headfirst into seeking a contractor for a project meant to improve water flow along Clear Creek and reduce the risk of flooding nearby.
The idea, proposed by Commissioner Ken Clark, who represents the county’s northern most precinct, isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just not fully formed.
Clark agreed to postpone seeking bids last week after County Judge Mark Henry and Precinct 1 Commissioner Stephen Holmes had doubts about the timing and details of the project.
Clark last month had proposed using barges equipped with cranes and lawnmowers to remove downed trees from the creek and to cut back plant growth along its banks.
The project would allow the creek to drain faster, which would protect houses along the waterway from floods such as those that happened during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Clark said.
At issue, however, was whether moving forward with a large drainage project without considering other projects the county could be doing with the money was the wisest course, Holmes said.
There also were questions about what the project might cost.
The county doesn’t have a clear estimate about how much the project would cost. Clark, citing the estimate of one business he’d talked to, has said the work would cost about $600,000, but he said later a competitively bid project could be less expensive than that.
Clark’s estimate is based on a conversation he had with one company, Excavation Resources, which already works with the Galveston County Consolidated Drainage District to clear parts of Clear Creek, he said.
There’s an issue deeper than the loose cost estimate, however.
Among the main reasons flooding is so bad in this region it that drainage and flood mitigation efforts are fragmented among dozens, maybe scores, of different governmental agencies — counties, cities, flood control districts, water control and improvement districts, drainage districts.
Each of those has its relatively small part of the problem to worry about and they all have varying levels of resources and competency. Watersheds don’t follow those jurisdictional lines, though, nor does flood water.
Clark’s proposal was only to clear the Galveston County side of the creek. The other side is in Harris County, which is the Harris County Flood Control District’s problem.
He said he hoped Harris County would clear its side of the creek, and thought that starting the project without a commitment from the larger county could spur it into action.
There’s no doubt people all over the mainland want action on flood control projects, but there are at least two ways to approach that demand — one is political, the other is something else, hydrological, maybe.
Clark’s urgency seems driven a little much by the former, as he indicated during the meeting by saying “public scrutiny will be great” if the county didn’t get something moving soon.
That’s not a criticism so much as a statement of political reality — those are his constituents along Clear Creek and he’s got a compelling interest in keeping them happy.
But broad improvement is going to require something more than pecking around the edges of the problem. It will require an integrated, coordinated system existing upstream and downstream and overseen by some sort of unified authority.
There could be enough immediate benefit in Clark’s plan to justify the relatively modest amount of public money he has talked about, and maybe even some more than that. The commissioner needs to prove that up with some numbers, however, before another vote.
In the meantime, all our elected officials should be working quickly toward an integrated, coordinated flood-control system that functions across and despite jurisdictional boundaries.
• Michael A. Smith