It seems fair, on the surface anyway, to ask what’s left to study about flooding along Clear Creek. After all, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has studied flooding on that creek for the better part of 57 years.
Corps officials working today, however, argue there’s need for more study, in part because continued development in the watershed has made some of the earlier research obsolete, and in part because most the earlier study was of areas upstream of Galveston County.
Talk about how to reduce flooding along Clear Creek has ebbed and flowed over the years. It was a major topic of discussion through the 1990s, but that talk fell off before the turn of the century.
Hurricane Harvey, which dropped more than 50 inches of rain on some parts of Galveston County, flooding more than 20,000 homes in late August 2017, changed all that.
Flood control along Clear Creek has become the issue for communities such as Friendswood and League City, which were swamped during the awful days of Harvey.
A Friendswood drainage committee, for instance, recently unveiled the results of a long-term study that concluded improving flow along Clear Creek would be the most effective way to reduce flooding.
And the League City council in April approved an agreement with the Corps of Engineers to develop a comprehensive flood control plan for the Clear Creek and Dickinson Bayou watersheds.
Most corps studies depend on federal government funding, but the agency can help local municipalities with small-scale studies using a program called Planning Assistance to States, under which a city and the corps each contribute half of the cost, up to $500,000.
Under terms of the plan, although not yet completely finalized, corps officials would work with League City staff members on a study using hydraulic modeling technology and other corps’ capabilities that would give the Galveston County municipality information to pursue grant funding for construction projects.
Corps staff members would use information developed from earlier studies of the creek.
There’s been at least one significant change in the corps’ thinking since it began studying Clear Creek flooding back in the 1960s.
Back then, large-scale drainage projects meant channelizing waterways — straightening and deepening and encasing the banks in concrete to improve flow.
At one time, the corps had a flood control project that would have done that to the entirety of Clear Creek through Harris, Brazoria and Galveston counties, but environmental concerns and a lack of funding mired the project.
In some ways, it’s good the old plan for Clear Creek never got off the ground, despite the damage and human toll of Harvey flooding. Had the plan not stalled in a headwind of opposition, the creek might look like one of Houston’s bayous — a concrete ditch. And there’s no guarantee that having traded a living creek for a long concrete chute would have changed much of anything during Harvey. It didn’t for Houston.
While it remains to be seen what the new study, reflecting the corps’ new thinking about the creek, will recommend, we might have gotten a preview in the study Friendswood leaders commissioned.
Among other things, the study recommends building terraces 200 feet wide along both sides of the creek without straightening the channel. That method alone could have reduced water levels near the FM 2351 bridge during Harvey by more than 3 feet.
The devil will be in the details of any plan to reduce flooding along Clear Creek. Doing so will cost more than any local government can afford, and people might have to give up property, but the new thinking already looks more palatable than the old.
• Michael A. Smith