Clear Creek flood plan gets $295M in federal funds
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced July 5 that it will fund a decades-old plan to improve Clear Creek to handle future flood events and reduce the risk of flood damage to communities along the creek.
The announcement comes after unprecedented flooding in the Texas Gulf Coast region in 2017 from Hurricane Harvey, a strong motivator for the federal government to finally fund the project initiated in 1962, said Brazoria County Judge L.M. “Matt” Sebesta Jr.
Even though it’s welcome news for residents and city leaders, it’s too soon to say how much flood mitigation will be achieved, said a planner for the $295 million project.
And because the project was delayed for decades, new studies will have to be performed which will push the start date on work to 2023, and estimated completion date for the entire plan to 2029.
When work is complete, the banks of Clear Creek will be widened to increase water flow capacity for 15 miles from Dixie Farm Road to Texas 288, along with straightening of some bends and widening of banks on tributaries of the main creek. The total area to be improved will provide about 500-acre feet of detention basin, which refers to the volume of water that can be contained.
The work will allow water to move downstream, from west to east, faster and reduce pooling during heavy rains which could overflow into nearby communities, said Shakhar Misir, project manager for the Clear Creek plan in the Southwest Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“It holds the water for that crucial moment,” said Misir.
He said the work will serve residents and property owners in Friendswood and Pearland, as well as communities downstream.
Misir said the existing model, which predicted estimates of how much water could be held back from flowing into communities, was completed in 2011 by the Corps hydrologists, and is based on now-outdated studies. In the intervening years, normal changes to the creek’s topographical features — like bank erosion, depth of the water’s course and how much water can be moved — have likely changed.
Significant events like Hurricane Harvey also have affected those changes, he said.
“Given what has transpired,” Misir said of the devastating floodwaters from Harvey, “we’ll have to revisit that model. It’s hard to speculate.”
Harvey was a main driver for funding the work, said Sebesta.
“It took the impact of a storm like Harvey to get everyone to understand the important of projects like this,” Sebesta said. “Our local people understand, it’s those large bodies you have to convince, and there are needs all over the country.”
Misir noted this was the first time all levels of government — federal, state and local — have come together with the available funds and recognized the need for flood prevention in the community.
Although Misir is optimistic about the level of cooperation, he said the improvement will be significant, but it won’t totally alleviate flooding of the creek.
“This is not a project that removes flooding, it lessens risk,” Misir said. “We cannot remove flooding.”
Sebesta echoed the same cautionary tone when describing the scope of the work.
“It’s not going to be a silver bullet to solve everybody’s flooding issue,” Sebesta said. “The community needs to know that this project will be a major help in mitigating future rainfall events. If you make these improvements to Clear Creek and these tributaries, the flooding won’t be as bad.”
The method is to start at the creek’s head which engineers say will affect areas downstream.
“We want to capture water before it moves right,” said Misir of the direction of the flow of water in Clear Creek when looking at a map. “We want to start at the source to help reduce risk. If you help reduce the risk upstream, you help reduce risk downstream.”
Other areas to receive flood mitigation work are Mud Gully, which will see straightening of .8-miles of its directional flow from Sagedown Lane to Astoria Boulevard; Turkey Creek will see bank widening for 2.4 miles from Dixie Farm Road to its confluence with Clear Creek and Mary’s Creek will see bank widening for 2.1 miles from Harkey Road to Texas 35.
The Clear Creek watershed covers approximately 197 square miles and includes two primary streams: Clear Creek and Turkey Creek. There are about 154 miles of open streams within the watershed, including the primary streams and tributary channels. Based on the 2010 U.S. Census, the estimated population of the Harris County portion of the Clear Creek watershed is 164,172, according to Harris County Flood Control District.
Friendswood Mayor Mike Foreman, was pleased with the corp’s announcement, calling it “Good news for this area,” in a statement released July 6.
“Although for many years Clear Creek has been a high priority flood mitigation project for Friendswood City Councilmembers and City Staff, until more of the details of the project are released, it’s too early to say what the impact will be in the City of Friendswood,” said Foreman.
Sebesta said he believes it will also have a positive impact on Pearland and Brookside areas as well.
And despite the uncertainties, he said the work is needed at this time.
“This project has been talked about for 55 years and probably needed for all of those years,” Sebesta said.
“It took a rainfall like Harvey to spur the action.”