When residents heard that the replacement gates on the Lake Houston Dam may have to be scaled back, the rumors began swirling around Lake Houston.
Lake Houston residents heard in January that the Lake Houston dam spillway improvement project will be scaled back in scope after officials determined the estimated cost of the project exceeded what was originally budgeted.
That got the rumors flying around Lake Houston that scaled back gates would not be able to prevent the massive flooding that occurred after Hurricane Harvey.
“It’s beginning to look like the gates that were scheduled to be built on the dam at Lake Houston are going to be cut down to only 500 feet as opposed to the original plan of 1,500 feet,” wrote one Lake Houston reader in an email to The Tribune.
“This renders the capacity of the gates’ ability to rid the back up of flood water down to 1/12 of what was originally proposed,” the reader wrote.
The reader’s concern, and the concern of many Lake Houston residents is that Kingwood Greens, the Country Club, Barrington, Forest Cove, among other locations, would still be vulnerable to flooding.
The reader pointed out that Kingwood voters “ … helped pass the Harris County Flood Control Bond a few years back, based largely on the promise of those gates.”
When contacted by The Tribune, Martin’s Chief of Staff Jessica Beemer said, “The mayor pro tem doesn’t wish to make any comments at length other than the project is fluid.”
Lake Houston resident Bob Rehak, a retired advertising executive, has spent his retirement years since Harvey meticulously detailing government efforts to reduce flooding in his daily blog, “Reduce Flooding — Now.”
In his most recent posts, Rehak detailed the Coastal Water Authority’s February meeting in which Rehak reported that no work is being performed on the Lake Houston Dam Spillway Improvement Project as the CWA awaits the updated Benefit Cost Ratio being prepared by Tetra Tech, for the City of Houston.
The Tribune first reported in late November that Black and Veatch engineers were “ … pondering that question as they reexamine a proposal to update the concrete structure which was built in 1953.”
As The Tribune reported back then, Black and Veatch determined that the cost of improvements would go way beyond the $48 million that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has agreed to fund.
FEMA would fund 75 percent of the $48 million while the remaining 25 percent would be funded equally by the City of Houston and the Harris County Flood District.
The dilemma is that fewer gates would reduce construction cost, but would it also reduce the advantage? That is what is being reexamined as the spillway proposal is reviewed to see if the dam structure can be modified and how a modified structure would operate during a Harvey or Imelda-type event.
In that late November article, Martin said, “Our project engineering design team, Black and Veatch, is currently looking at various options to ensure the Lake Houston Dam Spillway Improvement Project stays within budget.”
“There were various designs presented that were well over budget. The current design we are pursuing is within our project budget just shy of $50 million,” Martin told The Tribune last November. “Concurrently, as these design options will affect the benefit/cost ratio, it’s hard to speculate until design is complete.”
The proposal originally was to replace the Lake Houston Dam’s four small gates, which can release 10,000 cubic feet of water per second, with a system of 10 new “crest gates” that would allow the release of 4 feet of water total from Lake Houston within 24 hours, four times the release rate from the four current gates.
Almost a trillion gallons of water fell across Harris County during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Lake Houston’s storage capacity is 42.4 feet. During Harvey, as the rain continued to fall and water was released from Lake Conroe, the Harris County Flood Control District reported that record pool elevation of 53.1 feet was recorded and, at the peak of the storm, a wall of water 11 feet high was flowing over the Lake Houston spillway and into the homes and businesses of Kingwood.
Once a preliminary plan is approved and construction begins, the dam spillway project could be completed 18 to 24 months later.
“I am committed to delivering a project that is within budget and provides protection from future flooding to as many Lake Houston residents as possible,” Martin said to The Tribune back in November.
Bob Rehak’s blog, “Reduce Flooding — Now,” can be viewed at reduceflooding.com/blog.
Lake Houston Dam Spillway Improvement Project updates are available on Martin’s webpage, houstontx.gov/council/e.