AP NEWS

Tomball targets 2021 to complete long awaited drainage channels

April 5, 2019

Construction on a pair of drainage channels that have been in works for over a decade in Tomball may be completed by 2021.

The two channels, named M121 and M118, were initially designed and dug out in 2003 to help improve drainage as more development was planned in south Tomball in the past 16 years.

“This area has a lot of issues with drainage,” said assistant city manager David Esquivel. “There’s also a lot of development going on in these areas, so it definitely compounds the drainage need. These channels provide an outfall for these developments.”

Both channel projects began at the same time and have been constructed in pieces over the years as developers have arrived to build subdivisions and complexes.

While developers have carved out portions of the channels, Tomball has also connected the fragments of channels by digging out the unconnected parts.

“We had the development come in, they were given the option to construct part of the channel because they were adjacent to it. That’s why you see some areas that have a channel and some areas that don’t. We’ve kind of filled in some of the gaps,” Esquivel said.

Drainage channels

The M121 channel, which runs along the western part of Tomball, is broken up into two parts and is 1.7 miles long.

The northernmost part of the M121 West channel, begins south of James Street and runs parallel to School Street, near the Tomball Regional Medical Center.

The M121 East channel begins next to the Pine Meadows subdivision along Theis Lane, near Scotch Pine Street.

“There’s work that needs to be done, but that one is the closest to being complete,” Esquivel said.

He also said he estimates about 80% of the M121 channels are complete.

Removing pipelines would be the next step and construction may begin in the summer, pending approval from the city council for the project to continue.

The M118 channel, which is located south of Spell Road and parallel to Hufsmith-Kohrville Road, goes through Holderrieth Road and ends at a basin named M500 that is located near Willow Creek.

Tomball obtained a wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and plans to continue digging the channel north.

Harris County Flood Control District

The basin, which belongs to the Harris County Flood Control District, would also be connected to the M121 East and West channels.

“The channels — we have purchased the property. We own those. It’s a partnership project where they have part ownership obviously here in the basin. We are building it here to connect to the basin,” Esquivel said.

Esquivel said he estimates M118 is about 40% complete and once all of the channels are complete, Tomball plans to turn over control of the channels and basin to the Harris County Flood Control District for future maintenance.

Karen Hastings, spokesperson for the flood control district, said the arrangement between cities or municipal utility districts with the county is not unusual.

“Every day, when cities, MUDs and private developers have development plans that outfall into one of our channels, or when they want us to take over drainage infrastructure after construction, or both — they come to the flood control district with development plans for our watershed management department to review,” she said.

Before a handoff occurs, the entity that designed and constructed the new structure would need to be built in accordance to the flood control district’s criteria and specification so that maintenance can be done in the future.

If cities or MUDs choose to maintain the structures or system themselves, then the flood control district won’t review them.

Esquivel said that once the basin and channels are completed, Tomball would have to demonstrate that it built it according to the flood control district’s specifications.

After being inspected by the district, the Tomball city council would then approve the property transfer over to the flood control district.

“Once we meet that criteria, then it’s basically the dedication documentation,” he said.

Slow progress

Aside from the piecemeal process of digging out the channels, the city has worked out obtaining the right of way as well as removing utilities and pipelines to continue the project.

In 1933, oil was discovered in Tomball by the Humble Oil & Gas Co., leading to residents obtaining free water and gas from 1935 until 1988.

“It was way cheaper than the transporting by truck or whatever, so they put all these pipelines everywhere. A lot of them aren’t even marked,” Esquivel said.

The deal also criss-crossed the city with pipelines, which has led to projects being held up while waiting for the companies that owned the lines or utilities to remove portions of them, Esquivel said.

Esquivel said the channels could be completed in two years if construction were the only issue the city had to approve. However, the completion of the project may take up to five years to complete.

While companies that own the pipelines may not use them anymore, the lines could be put back in service in the future.

Instead, the pipelines are being cut, lowered and capped in agreements with the city so that those companies can use the rest of the line, Esquivel said.

“It is something that kind of holds back development is having to deal with all of these pipelines, but it’s definitely not impossible, but it is something that’s pretty unique to us that there’s so many pipelines in the ground,” Esquivel said.

mayra.cruz@chron.com