Kingwood is flooding again. This time is not due to the Lake Houston dam or the Mouth Bar. This time is purely because the City has so poorly maintained the storm sewers and ditches leading to the rivers.
The responsibility for flood control is divided, generally speaking, between the County/Corps which maintains the bayou/river system (commonly referred to as the “riverine”) and the City which maintains the conveyances that get the water out of the neighborhoods into the riverine. About half the flooding in Houston has historically come from stormwater breaching the banks of the riverine and overflowing into neighborhoods. The other half comes from the City’s system being unable to get the water to the riverine fast enough to keep it from backing up into the streets and ultimately homes.
We know that the current flooding is the City’s responsibility because the Harris County flood gauge on the San Jacinto River at Lake Houston Parkway shows the river has not over topped its banks.
In 2013 Houstonians knew the City was doing a poor job of maintaining and enhancing its storm water system. They knew that because they were regularly tearing wet carpet out of their homes and abandoning flooded cars. It was for that reason that Houstonians agreed to tax themselves to the tune of about an additional $100 million per year to maintain their storm sewer system. But a funny thing happened on the money’s way to the storm sewers. It got diverted.
Since day one the City has been using about half the drainage fee for other uses. Through June 30, 2015, the latest numbers we had during the last election, the City had collected $445 million in drainage fees but only spent $161 million on drainage. All the mayoral candidates in the 2015 campaign, including Sylvester Turner and me, solemnly pledged we would stop the diversions and devote 100% of the drainage fees to drainage.
But after Turner was elected, he continued to divert the drainage fees to other uses. In FYs 2016-2018, the City collected another $338 million in drainage fees but only spent $176 million on drainage. In August, 2018, the City’s Public Works Director admitted to the Houston Chronicle that her direction from Turner was to spend only half the drainage fees on drainage [click here for story].
To put it bluntly, Turner lied when he said during the campaign that he would stop the drainage fee diversions.
Don’t misunderstand me. Some areas in and around Kingwood have received nearly ten inches of rain. That much rain is going overpower any storm water system no matter how well it is maintained. But the City’s failure to spend all of the money we are paying in drainage fees to maintain and refurbish its drainage infrastructure has greatly exacerbated the severity of the flooding.
To those of you whose house has been flooded or who have been stranded on a flooded street since we adopted the drainage fee, I would submit that you should ask yourself this question: If the City had spent all the drainage fees on drainage instead of siphoning it off for other uses, would you have been flooded?