Don’t blame Mother Nature for flooding. Blame City Council.

The disasters are predictable. Why aren’t we preventing them?

By Cynthia Hand Neely and Ed Browne, Residents Against Flooding

April 19, 2016 Updated: April 20, 2016 12:37pm

Photo: Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle920x920
Meital Harari pushes water out the back door at her Meyerland home, Monday, April 18. (For more photos from the Tax Day flood, scroll through the gallery.)

Man-made, preventable flooding has surged dirty, sewage-ridden water through Houston living rooms three times now in seven years, yet city government fails to prevent these recurring emergencies.

Really? If losing homes, livelihoods, retirement savings, health and sanity (and at least one life) aren’t reasons enough to make emergency detention and drainage improvements, what in the world does it take?

Right now, too many real-estate developments do not detain storm water run-off from their new construction, and instead allow it to flow downstream into other neighborhoods, into people’s homes. This new development is  responsible for unnecessary flooding of neighborhoods that previously weren’t flood plains, weren’t prone to flooding. That new development is also responsible for flood insurance rising 100 to 200 percent (before the Tax Day flood) in these non-flood plains.

City government is allowing this to happen. Developers use loopholes and grandfathering to avoid doing what the city’s laws require them to do. Is it ethical to allow a new office building to flood an entire neighborhood even if a loophole makes it legal?

Photo: Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronic920x1240le
Emergency personnel carry a woman from a rescue boat as people are evacuated from Arbor Court Apartments in the Greenspoint area Monday, April 18, 2016, in Houston.

And why on earth would a developer be allowed to use tax money (yours and mine) to build the stormwater detention required by law as part of a profit-making project? New development on the north side of I-10 and Gessner is using the already-stressed Conrad Sauer detention basin for a spiffy retail/residential complex under construction. The deal is an interesting card trick: They are making a few improvements to the basin, adding a little drainage near it and — especially important — are going to make the basin look pretty with trails and landscape for their future tenants/residents. They’ll get paid back $23 million (taxpayer dollars) for doing this. So they really didn’t pay for anything.

For seven years Houston homeowners have begged and pleaded with the mayor (previous and present) and City Council members to treat man-made flooding as urgent, as if it were a deadly fire to put out in a hurry. Yet despite hundreds of emails, calls, meetings, petitions from homeowners’ associations (at least 18), Super Neighborhoods, civic associations, and person-after-exhausted-person speaking at City Hall, there is more talk about bike trails and recycling than critical, focused action to address our flooding.

Photo: Venkat Ramamurthy, Reader-submitte3 920x1240d Photo
Rain floods streets in Spring Shadows neighborhood near Gessner and Kempwood in northwest Houston.

Years ago the city signed a contract promising several detention basins in the Memorial City TIRZ 17 area. (“TIRZ” stands for Tax Increment Redevelopment Zone. It’s an arrangement in which any growth in property taxes is reinvested directly into the area). This city contract is yet to be honored, and we are told it is not “legally” binding. (But isn’t it morally binding? People are losing everything — three major floods in those six years!)

A capital improvement budget, including plans for detention and drainage projects, for the TIRZ 17 area, was submitted to Houston’s chief development officer, Andy Icken. And there it’s languished for almost a year, never presented it to the City for approval. Had Icken not “pocket vetoed” the budget, we would be a year closer to getting some relief.

Photo: Karen Warren, Houston Chro4 920x1240nicle
A Waugh Street exit sign is submerged on Memorial Drive, flooded by the over flowing Buffalo Bayou, Monday, April 18, 2016, in Houston.

At City Council Tuesday, the mayor made it appear that the budget delay was TIRZ 17 board member John Rickel’s fault. Not so. Mr. Rickel (the neighborhood representative for homes south of I-10) and the whole board passed the budget and handed it off to the city.

Underhanded, unethical things are being done to keep big developers happy while homeowners suffer needlessly. That’s why a nonprofit group called Residents Against Flooding was formed in 2009: to show the Houston-area public that  the cause of our troubles isn’t Mother Nature, but rather our city government’s failure to act.

After being ignored, Residents Against Flooding was forced to raise funds for a lawsuit. This is not for money or for damages but to get the City of Houston to protect its citizens. We expect the new mayor to wail that the city doesn’t have the money to address the problem. But for years, there has been money in the TIRZ 17 budget that could have been used toward our crisis. Please see that the TIRZ uses that money to build our detention basins!

And it should be noted that the problems weren’t addressed when the city’s finances were better. Incumbent council members, such as District A’s Brenda Stardig, have had ample opportunities to address the problems.

Stardig recently ignored pleas of hundreds of her district’s homeowners, as well as petitions from the Spring Branch West Super Neighborhood and Spring Branch Civic Association, to keep their choice of neighborhood rep on the TIRZ 17 board. Instead, last week Mayor Turner put his own “neighborhood” choice on the board with Ms. Stardig’s blessing.

The Mayor’s choice does not live in the TIRZ 17 area, is not affected by it, has never flooded. What kind of neighborhood representative is that? When Mayor Turner ran for office, one of his campaign promises was to address flooding. Yet after only three months in office, he is already letting us down.

We need your support to keep fighting the good fight, or more and more of our homes are going to flood — again, and again, and again.

Cynthia Hand Neely and Ed Browne are members of Residents Against Flooding. You can email them at

Other Gray Matters

Flooding? Don’t blame dense urban development. David Crossley, Houston Tomorrow

How policy fills Houston living rooms with water David Crossley, Houston Tomorrow

Disaster by design: Houston can’t keep developing this way John S. Jacob, for the Houston Chronicle

RAF 9_9_15

The photograph was taken by Leif Reigstad and is from a Houston Press article that ran the day after our meeting. The article missed that this is a joint issue among residents North and South of the freeway.  This is being driven by very concerned groups on both sides of I-10.

We had a good crowd, most of whom even stayed for public comments, donating both time and money.  If you made a pledge, please honor that pledge.  Even if our show of strength leads to more TIRZ 17 promises in order to placate us, without a  lawsuit or the credible threat of one, those can  evaporate just as easily as earlier promises have already.  Please keep in mind that Capital Improvement Project (CIP) funding was in place for detention and drainage projects last year and removed this year in order to advance the construction of Gessner Road.  Our primary concern about the Gessner Road project is that its stormwater has no valid places to go and projects that would help alleviate additional homes being flooded have been delayed or removed from the CIP. Let’s make sure this time.

We heard first from our attorney, Jim Blackburn, then his associates, Charles Irvine and David Kahne, who spoke generally about our ability to make Constitutional arguments in federal court and who spoke in detail about a specific game plan.  Jim has donated tens of thousands of dollars of legal fees to the cause.  He can’t do it alone.  We need to support him.  He won’t really be getting much of the fees.  Lawsuits are pricey, but together we have plenty of people to fund this if everyone steps up to the plate.

While we have an easy-to-use credit card links on our website, there is a usage fee, so  we would prefer a check in order to maximize our dollars. Here is the address for sending tax-deductible contributions:

RESIDENTS AGAINST FLOODING (a 501c[3] organization)
P.O. Box 430574
Houston, Texas 77243-0574

There were a number of things that we promised neighbors that we would post on our website:

What can you do to help?

Please talk to your neighbors and direct them to our website or printout some of the literature that we passed out at the meeting along with pledge sheets and take them to your HOA, Super Neighborhood, or Civic Association meeting and ask for their help.  Contact your Council Member and the 5 At-Large Council Members to enlist their support.  Speak at City Council “pop-off” session on Tuesday afternoon to voice concerns.  Contact newspapers, radio stations, TV stations and post on social media.

After the meeting, we found out that our neighborhood representative, Dr. Bob Tucker, was not being reappointed to the TIRZ Board.  As a retired Reverend, Bob has provided a moral compass for the Board.  Apparently, he incurred the wrath of one of the larger area developers when he suggested that Klotz and Associates had a conflict of interest working for both Metro National in the redevelopment of the Conrad-Sauer detention pond and as TIRZ design engineers for projects on the north side of I-10.   We are soliciting the help of CM Stardig to keep Bob on the Board.

Important email contacts:

Mayor – Annise Parker —
ReBuild Houston —
PW&E Director – Dale Rudick —  832.395.2500
District A – Brenda Stardig — 832.393.3010
District G – Oliver Pennington — 832.393.3007
At-Large 1 – Stephen Costello — 832.393.3014
At-Large 2 – David Robinson — 832.393.3013
At-Large 3 – Michael Kubosh — 832.393.3005
At-Large 4 – C.O. Bradford — 832.393.3012
At-Large 5 – Jack Christie — 832.393.3017

RAF Special Meeting

August 29, 2015


When: Wednesday, September 9, 2015,  7:00-8:00 PM

Where: Memorial Middle School Auditorium; 12550 Vindon Dr., Houston, TX 77024

Who: Meet Our Legal Team and Hear Their Strategy – Jim Blackburn, Charles Irvine, Mary Conner, David Kahne, Larry Dunbar

Topic:  What can we as homeowners do about flooding?

There is good reason for neighborhoods in the TIRZ 17 area (both north and south of I-10) to worry about being flooded, even if they haven’t flooded yet.  As impervious cover from new development increases without mitigation for storm water run-off, our neighborhoods have become detention ponds for displaced water.

Over 500 homes in this area (which is NOT designated as a flood plain) flooded last Memorial Day, many for the second time in six years.  Despite this, drainage and detention HAVE NOT BECOME A PRIORITY of TIRZ 17 nor the City of Houston to whom they directly report.  THIS ISSUE HAS NOT BEEN RECOGNIZED AS THE CRISIS THAT IT REALLY IS.

Property owners in these affected areas should seek remedy from both the City and TIRZ 17 to prevent further property damages, financial loss, lowered property values, health impairment, and anxiety brought about by the City’s irresponsible decisions and policies.

A contract was signed in January 2003 between the City of Houston and TIRZ 17, describing a Project Plan which promised FOUR detention ponds — two south of I-10 and two north of I-10.  To date, ONE detention pond has been constructed but it is also being used by development south of the pond and it overflowed during the Memorial Day rain event.  There is not another detention pond currently on the TIRZ Capital Improvement Plan.

Attend this meeting to hear what these experts have to say.  If we don’t unite and act now, we can only expect more of the same. Please share this message with your contacts who are concerned about the City’s drainage and flooding issues.


Per the request of area residents, beginning May 5th, 2015, TIRZ 17  opened a 30 day public comment period ending June 6, 2015, for the Memorial Drive Drainage and Mobility Improvements project. People can go to the home page of the TIRZ website and post their comments at  All questions and comments from the Town Hall Meeting and public comment period will be addressed and posted on their website within 60 days of closing date.  This post presents some concepts that we would like to see incorporated in the Memorial Drive reconstruction project.  Please feel free to borrow in whole or in part for your own comments.

For those that missed the TIRZ 17 Memorial Drive Town Hall Meeting April 14th, 2015, you can find the Power Point slide show here.  The Memorial Drive reconstruction project will extend from Beltway 8 east almost to Tallowood and will add a sidewalk, a median, a 10-foot mixed-use shared hike and bike way, and over 10 acre-feet of underground detention.  We applaud TIRZ 17 for designing a Complete Street, and for us a complete street includes improving the underground infrastructure when the less expensive opportunity presents itself, as during reconstruction.   TIRZ plan for Memorial Drive Below is a cross section of the planned roadway.  Click on the drawing to open a clearer version.

Even though we consider this to be an improvement, we would like to offer some suggestions.  First, it is important to consider what the priorities are for the roadway.

Our priorities are:

  • Safety – the road must be safe for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians;
  • Mobility – the road must convey through traffic smoothly while providing easy access to area homes and businesses, but it should not promote excessive speed;
  • Stormwater – this roadway must store excess stormwater runoff in an area known to have serious flooding problems;
  • Infrastructure – the roadway must have underground infrastructure installed capable of supporting expected future Chapter 42 residential density and continuing expansion of commercial interests;
  • Quality of Life – the roadway should mirror the lush landscape and amenities for which the Memorial area is known.

From a safety standpoint, it’s best to separate pedestrians and bicyclists from the roadway by trees – better to hit a tree than a person.   As the trees grow, their canopy not only provides shade, air filtration, and noise reduction, but the presence of a canopy also encourages drivers to slow down and psychologically conveys the impression of a higher quality of life to an area.  Perhaps equally important, as trees grow it becomes increasingly more difficult and expensive to widen the road because the trees must be replaced by trees with girth equivalence.

Traffic studies of Memorial Drive do not justify widening the roadway to more than four lanes, however, inserting a 24 foot median easily allows the roadway to be widened at a later date.  When the TIRZ raised the possibility of taking the Gessner esplanade for underground detention, even if it was to be replaced and replanted, neighbors vociferously objected – and rightfully so.  The esplanades along Gessner and other Memorial roadways are one of the reasons the area is such a desirable place to live, but they are always vulnerable to road widening (see Project ID 12282).

If that is so, then why create an esplanade as a placeholder for a future road widening?  Lane widths for a major Houston thoroughfare are generally defined as 11 feet wide.   A 24-foot esplanade therefore allows two lanes of 12 feet each with only stripe separation or two 11-foot lanes with a 2-foot raised separator.  If it is desired that the esplanade never be removed, then it needs to be too narrow to create two lanes; that is, it needs to be 20 feet or less.  Combined with trees between the street and sidewalks, a 20-foot esplanade would make it difficult to remove the median or widen the roadway.  Ostensibly, a two way left turn lane (affectionately called suicide lanes) could be added, but it seems unlikely.  Suicide lanes are a serious source of accident fatalities, so should be avoided whenever possible.

A 20 foot esplanade also frees 4 feet of the 100-foot Right of 2015-05-17  - Memorial Town Hall Mtg_04142015_Way (ROW) that can be used elsewhere.  We have elected to use the 4 feet to expand the 6-foot sidewalk into another 10-foot mixed-use shared hike and bike way on the north side.  The graphic shows the widened sidewalks, a 20-foot median, and trees placed between the street and sidewalks.  Hopefully, our reasons for these changes will become more obvious.  Again, clicking on the graphic opens a larger version.

Porous concrete has begun to make inroads into some areas of building.  Rice University has paved many of their sidewalks with porous concrete and it is used in the parking lot at Frostwood Elementary.  So we asked ourselves, why not make the 10-foot sidewalks of porous material and install underground retention?  If the soil quality was sufficient at Frostwood to support2015-05-17  - Memorial Town Hall Mtg_04142015 double a similar underground system, certainly it would also be expected to work less than a mile away.  The graphic to the right indicates how this would work.  These systems are finding their way into design manuals in many communities, including Houston, where they are being used in lieu of surface detention systems.

Below is a quote that we presented to the Houston City Council’s  Transportation, Technology, and Infrastructure (TTI) Committee when the City proposed replacing sidewalks for homeowners.  This system costs approximately the same that then Public Works and Engineering (PW&E) Director, Dan Kruger, testified before the Committee that the City would charge to install a sidewalk.  A permeable sidewalk is not a detention system and does not need continuous connections so pipes and communication lines don’t interfere.   Because it is an open bottomed pipe, it also recharges the aquifer and water eventually percolates into the soil, reducing the possibility for mosquito breeding.  Concrete pipes are notorious breeding grounds for mosquitoes.   Puddling is eliminated with porous sidewalks, so bicyclists can use the sidewalk just after the rain without spraying “rooster-tails” over themselves and everyone else.S29 System under a porous walk and standard details page 1

We got a quote from Triton because they happened to answer the phone when we called and were willing to provide this information.  Residents Against Flooding has no affiliation whatsoever with Triton.  Moreover, there are numerous other companies producing similar systems [1][2], [3] so this technology clearly works and is readily available.  It’s useful to note that if the ground is deemed to have a poor water infiltration rate, then this system can serve as more flexible normal detention, although the chambers would then need to be interconnected.

In the PowerPoint presentation, LAN states that over 10 acre-feet of detention can be achieved using dual underground 10-foot by 10-foot rectangular culverts.  In a 100-foot ROW, more than two rows of culverts can be installed.  Can we add more?  Is it a matter of construction difficulty or the cost of the culverts?

Suppose that additional 10-foot by 10-foot pipes extending from W153 were placed under the permeable sidewalk drainage system.  These would not be used to convey water, but would be used to add capacity to W153.  Therefore, they would be closed at one end and fully open to W153 at four places where it crosses under Memorial Drive underneath the north and south sidew2015-05-17  - Memorial Town Hall Mtg_04142015 double with boxesalks: two would connect under the bridge underneath the southern 10-foot sidewalk with one extending east and the other extending west; and two more underneath the northern sidewalk – again, one east and one west.  The graphic to the right shows the concept.  Since they add capacity, they would dead-ended some practical distance east or west of the W153 bridge and need to be sloped so that water would drain back into the channel after a rain event.  A 1% slope is probably sufficient, meaning that the elevation of top of the pipe rises 1 foot for every 100 feet of pipe.

To the right is a picture of W153 at Memorial Drive.  There is a 9-foot by 9-foot channel under the roadway; the smaller pipe was added to compensate for lost capacity due to bisection of the main channel by a large water line and reconnects into the main pipe under the roadway.  Hopefully, much of this will be corrected in the MePicture 015morial Drive redesign.  For reference, nearby residents measured the distance from the bridge surface to the channel bottom at 23 feet, so there should be sufficient space under the sidewalk drainage system, which takes about 5 feet, even if the roadway is lowered.    For every 217 feet that a pair of these pipes extend, one acre-feet of detention is added.  Since elevations rise more to the west, it’s expected that more capacity can be added in that direction.  During construction, fill dirt around the pipes can be selected to complement operation of the sidewalk drainage system. Again, these pipes are in addition to the drainage systems currently planned by the TIRZ.

In summary, Residents Against Flooding recommends:

  • A median less than 20 feet wide;
  • Two 10-foot mixed-use permeable concrete sidewalks and underground open-bottom drainage systems;
  • Trees planted between the roadway and the sidewalks;
  • Additional large box culverts to expand detention capacity of W153.
  •  The culvert size under Memorial Drive should be increased  during reconstruction to be whatever is needed if more W153 water is allowed in Buffalo Bayou.


The RAF Annual Meeting:
Will be held on APRIL 8th, 2015 in the auditorium at Spring Branch Middle School, 1000 Piney Point Drive. Our speaker will be Mr. John Rickel, a TIRZ 17 Board Member & Citizen-Appointee to the Board.

John Rickel is resident and citizen-appointee within the Spring Branch / Memorial District, appointed by the District G Council Member Oliver Pennington to serve on the TIRZ Board.

Mr. John C. Rickel has been Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Group 1 Automotive Inc. since December 2005 and also serves as its Chief Accounting Officer.  Mr. Rickel served as Chief Executive Officer of Group 1 Automotive Inc.  Previously, he held a number of executive and managerial positions with Ford Motor Company.  He has served as Controller of Ford Americas, where he was responsible for the financial management of its western hemisphere automotive operations. Immediately prior to that, he served as Chief Financial Officer of Ford Europe, where he oversaw all accounting, financial planning, information services, tax and investor relations activities. From 2002 to 2004, Mr. Rickel served as Chairman of Ford Russia.  He received his BSBA in 1982 and MBA in 1984 from the Ohio State University.
This Meeting will explain current, past, and upcoming development & infrastructure projects, & consider the means necessary to avoid or remedy impacts on area properties.


The “Residents Against Flooding” dba was adopted in April 2012, reflecting infrastructure impacts that exist throughout the City of Houston.

Update 11/6/14: Chapter 9 released

The Public Works and Engineering Department has released the long awaited Chapter 9 revisions of the Infrastructure Design Manual.  Most of our requests were ignored, although the City did add back text stating, “The combined system is intended to prevent Structural Flooding from extreme events up to a 100-year storm.” This was necessary to maintain Houston’s extraordinarily good FEMA rating and discounted flood insurance rate.  

PW&E didn’t remove “Grandfathering” (see below) and significantly decreased detention requirements for lots 15,000 square feet or less, which represents the vast majority of residential properties (94%).  Detention requirements for these properties have been reduced to 7% from 10% proposed earlier this year.  Compare this to 50% detention required to develop on virgin properties over 2 acres.

The new Chapter is still not harmonized with Chapter 42 of the City’s Code of Ordinances, which designates the entire incorporated City as urban.  For example, runoff coefficients still reflect suburban densities, meaning that new road construction need only assume 55% runoff rates in areas with residential lots of less than 1/4 acre (10,890 square feet).  Given that Chapter 42  allows up to 90% concrete coverage on properties this size and that Chapter 9 only mitigates for 7% of the runoff, this discrepancy will produce street and structure flooding in the extreme event.  There is clearly a disconnect between the claim of preventing structural flooding up to a 100-year event and its Chapter 9 implementation.

Super Neighborhood Alliance (SNA) Chapter 9 Comments

•  What’s at Stake?

  • Increased Risk of Flooding
  • Reduced Detention and Drainage Capacity
  • Rising Insurance Rates
  • Decreasing Economic Competitiveness

•   What Needs to Change?

•     Chapter 9 should be revised to insure consistent and transparent enforcement and eliminate unwarranted variances (§ 9.02.A.2).

  • Chapter 9’s standards for evaluating the storm water impacts should be revised to reflect both increased amounts of impervious cover and time of concentration.
  • Raise and reduce number of run-off coefficients (§ 9.05.B.3)
  • Protect existing development from increased risk of flooding (§ 9.05.D.5)
  • Specify more than two Manning numbers for roadside ditch design (§ 9.05.F.2.d)

•     Chapter 9 should be revised to eliminate “grandfathering” and require full mitigation for the storm water impacts of all types of new development

  • “What is Grandfathering?”
  • Off-Site Mitigation (§9.05.H.3.b)
  • On-Site Mitigation (§9.05.H.3.d-e)

 •    Chapter 9 should be reorganized or harmonized with City Code of Ordinances.

  • Chapter 19
  • Chapter 42

•     Chapter 9 should be revised to improve city records by require maintenance of public records showing the location and capacity of detention on private property so that capacity is not lost during redevelopment (§ 9.07).

•     What Should City Council Do?

  • Provide resources needed to enforce standards consistently and transparently
  • Demand compliance with Chapter 19 of the City Code
  • Educate and inform
    • Schedule presentations
    • Call special meetings
    • Summon witnesses


What’s at Stake?

•    Increased Risk of Flooding

  • Amendments to Chapter 42 of the City Code of Ordinances passed in 2013 expanded “urban” standards for residential development from the Inner Loop to the entire city.
  • The amendments to Chapter 42 increased allowable density of single family housing outside Loop 610 from roughly 8 to 27 units per acre without requiring corresponding increases in supporting infrastructure or full mitigation for storm water impacts.
  • Local watersheds already have tens of thousands of properties in existing floodplains. Unless Chapter 9 is amended to require full mitigation for storm water impacts of new development, more properties than ever will be at risk of flooding.
  • Harris County Flood Control has recently changed its mitigation requirements from 1/2 acre-foot per acre of increased impervious cover to 1/3 acre-foot per acre.

•    Reduced Detention and Drainage Capacity

  • Most of our drainage system is designed for low density suburban development with low discharge flows.
  • Unless Chapter 9 is amended to require the calculation of detention and drainage needs using coefficients that assume high density development with higher peak discharge flows than currently exist, city engineers will continue to evaluate detention and drainage needs using calculations that incorrectly assume low density development with low discharge flows.
  • Calculations that incorrectly assume low density development with low discharge flows where density and discharge flow is increasing will reduce detention and drainage capacity.
  • High density development increases demand for street and parking capacity that is often satisfied by filling-in roadside ditches that further reduces detention and drainage capacity.
  • New roads need to be constructed assuming full urban density since it is impossible to know where very dense development will occur.  Likewise, roads reconstructed under Rebuild Houston should also have drainage systems assuming runoff from fully developed urban density.

•    Rising Insurance Rates

  • Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act of 2012 mandates rates based on actual risk of flooding.  Even though the Affordable Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 rolled back or slowed many rate increases for homeowners, businesses are still impacted fully.  All rental and vacation homes will all have a yearly $250 surcharge to help subsidize at risk homes.
  • Flood maps are being revised to capture true costs of structural flooding.  55% of homes flooded in Houston are not in a FEMA floodplain compared to 33% nationwide.  A 100-year rain event occurs on-average about every 5 years, and a 500-year rain even occurs about every 8 years.  Under Biggert-Waters, FEMA will need to capture these anomalies.  As a result, the floodplains will continue to grow.
  • Revisions to flood maps are increasing the size of the city’s 100-year flood plains and the number of structures at risk of flooding.
  • PW&E is removing references to meeting a 100-year Level of Service (LOS) from Chapter 9.  FEMA has publicly stated that without this verbiage, Houston will loose its extraordinarily good FEMA Community Rating System (CRS) rating of 5.  For each point lost, Houstonian’s flood insurance premium will increase 5%.  For reference, the national average is 7.6 and Harris County is an 8.  Only 4 communities of 872 are better than Houston’s CRS rating .

•    Decreasing Economic Competitiveness

  • Reduced drainage and detention capacity, increased risk of flooding, and rising insurance rates will threaten economic competitiveness.


What Needs to Change?


  • Chapter 9 needs to retain references to meeting a 100-year level of service and rather than giving up on achieving it, PW&E needs to rework Chapter 9 in order to achieve it and stop worrying about hurting development.
  • Chapter 9 should be revised to insure consistent and transparent enforcement and eliminate unwarranted variances (§ 9.02.A.2). Section 9.02.A.2 allows the city engineer to grant site-specific variances that result in annual increases to 100-year flood plain. Site specific plans should be considered openly and have stringent requirements
  • Chapter 9’s standards for evaluating the storm water impacts should be revised to reflect both increased amounts of impervious cover and time of concentration
    • Raise and Reduce Number of Run-Off Coefficients (§9.05.B.3): Chapter 9 should be revised to reflect higher run off coefficients because drainage from all types of new development will have higher flow than from existing development. And now that high density development can occur throughout the city, the number of run-off coefficients should be reduced to two, e.g., (e.g., 75% for residential development and 100% for roadways).
  • Protect Existing Development from increased risk of flooding (§9.05.D.5): Roadways are designed to capture water in excess of two-year events up to 100-year events, but emergency routes are not allowed to flood even in 100- year events. Absent full mitigation for all types of new development, existing neighborhoods are wrongfully forced to serve as de facto detention ponds.
  • Specify two Manning numbers for roadside ditch design (§9.05.F.2.d): Using a large Manning number (e.g., 0.045) when replacing an earthen ditch with a concrete conduit will result in a channel that does not have as much conveyance capacity as the original ditch and thus increased flooding.
  • Chapter 9 should be revised to eliminate “grandfathering” and require full mitigation for all new development
    • “What is Grandfathering?” Chapter 9 allows property that either has impervious cover or had impervious cover in the past to be fully redeveloped without any on-site mitigation for storm water impact. Exemptions and/or reductions in detention and drainage requirements for redevelopment on such  properties is referred to as “grandfathering.” “Grandfathering” needs to end because it shifts the cost of flood damage and reduction from developers to neighboring landowners, public agencies, and taxpayers.
  • Off-Site Mitigation (§9.05.H.3.b): When drainage from new development is directed to public right of way (ROW), Chapter 9 should require infrastructure to receive and convey water into storm sewer system and not redirect water to neighboring properties as occurs when roadside ditches are filled-in or curb and gutters don’t work properly. SNA has proposed that developers be allowed to install underground detention for lots smaller than 15,000 sq.ft. in the ROW to allow for maximum development and adequate detention.
  • On-Site Mitigation (§9.05.H.3.d-e): Chapter 9 requires detention as a % of existing impervious cover as follows: up to a maximum or 4% of the property size for lots of 1-10 acres, and up to a maximum of 7.5% for lots of 10-50 acres. Use of equations to determine the amount of detention are difficult and expensive to police. The best action is to eliminate the equations and require 0.5 acre-feet per acre for all types of new development.
  • Chapter 9 should be reorganized and harmonized with relevant chapters of the City Code of Ordinances.
    • Chapter 19: Chapter 19 of the City Code governing floodplains embodies a “No Adverse Impact” policy that should require full mitigation for all impacts of new development.
  • Chapter 42: Standards for storm water detention and drainage on private property should be moved out of Chapter 9 of the Infrastructure Design Manual and into Chapter 42 of the City Code of Ordinances to insure that  (1)  development standards are approved by City Council; (2) variance requests will be considered and approved the in open meetings, e.g., by the Planning Commission; and (3) variance requests will be subject to public comment.
  • Chapter 9 should be revised to require maintenance of public records showing the location and capacity of detention on private property so that capacity is not lost during redevelopment (§9.07). Parking lots can be used for detention, but such does not need to be recorded. Because analysis for new development assumes no detention, such properties are treated as “grandfathered,” and as a result run off increases.


What Should City Council Do?

•    Provide resources needed to enforce standards consistently and transparently

Recent amendments to Chapter 42 of the City Code of Ordinances and proposed revisions to Chapter 9 of the Infrastructure Design Manual necessitate additional inspectors and engineers. Failure to provide adequate staffing to support these changes further exposes the city risk of flooding.  Clarifying the standards will simplify the enforcement.


•    Demand compliance with Chapter 19 of the City Code.

  • Sec. 19-1.b states: “The provisions of this chapter shall take precedence over any less restrictive conflicting laws, ordinances, codes, or official determinations.”
  • Chapter 19 also states in several places that the city engineer must use the strictest interpretation regarding conflicting provisions when interpreting provisions relating to flood control. Among these is the express obligation of the city engineer regarding the use of data provided in Sec. 19-4.b.1: “To the extent of any inconsistencies between the study data and the effective FIRM, the more restrictive base flood elevations and special flood hazard areas shall be controlling.”
  • Sec. 19-11 provides that no permit, plat, or variance in the affected areas shall be granted unless it is shown to comply with this chapter.
  • Educate and inform
    • Schedule presentations: Chapter 2, Sec. 2-2 of the City Code of Ordinances, rules of procedure for meetings and proceedings of the city council, Rule 2.a.3 governing presentations to the city council by persons, groups, or organizations allow presentations to be scheduled by council members through the office of the mayor pro tem. Presentations on the issue of flooding and drainage could be scheduled to educate council and the public on these issues.
  • Call a special meetings: Article VII of the City Charter, Sec. 3 titled “Meetings” provides: “Special meetings shall be called by the City Secretary upon the written request of the Mayor or three Council Members.”
  • Summon witnesses: Article VII of the City Charter, Sec. 5 titled “City Council May Summon Witnesses” provides: The City Council shall have power to summon and compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of books and papers before it whenever it may be necessary for the more effective discharge of its duties, and shall have the power to punish for contempt . . .”

Since May, the Super Neighborhood Alliance and the City of Houston were supposed to be discussing changes to Chapter 9 of the City’s  Infrastructure Design Manual.  We haven’t been.

Instead, we have been discussing one small part, a “fee in lieu of detention” for development and redevelopment of properties less than 15,000 square feet.  For reference, that’s approximately a third of an acre and detention is already required by Chapter 9, so a change in this requirement can affect 94% of single family residences.  As an elevation challenged city, Houston needs all the detention that it can get, and it needs to be where the new density is occurring, but land to build large regional detention ponds where needed for  maximum benefit is often unavailable.

We have proposed an alternative,  a single paragraph to the existing wording that permits a fee to be used for under sidewalk detention of up to 15 cubic feet per linear foot of sidewalk.  The fee would be paid to the City who would subcontract one of several companies who do this sort of thing.  A phone call to the company at the top of a search list resulted in an estimated cost of $5.50-$6.75 per cubic foot of detention.  The proposed “fee in lieu of detention” was to have been $7.50 per cubic foot of required detention as calculated by a formula in the City’s Infrastructure Design Manual and didn’t include the cost of a sidewalk.  The maximum fee for “under sidewalk detention” would be $5000 for a 15,000 square foot lot.  For the City’s average lot of 5,000 square feet, the cost would be $1667.

Under the sidewalk detention provides an immediate solution to rainwater runoff when construction occurs, rather than delaying to gather enough funds to build a regional detention pond.  Distributed detention can provide surprising large amounts of detention and it’s located where the detention is needed, so doesn’t need to be piped to the lowest cost land when, and if, it becomes available.  And the open bottom system drains water into the aquifer, rather than letting mosquitoes breed as they do in regular storm sewers.

If you think “under sidewalk detention”  is a more reasonable alternative than a “fee in lieu of detention” for single family residential properties under 15,000 square feet, please contact your City Councilmember.


Update (3/29/14) CM Larry Green has put Chapter 9 on his Agenda for the TTI Committee meeting on Tuesday April 1st, 2014 in City Council Chambers at 9:00AM.

Update (10/8/13): The City has refused to release Chapter 9 of the Infrastructure Design Manual to the public or to the TTI Committee Chair for review.  As a result, TTI Chair Melissa Noriega is not calling a Public Meeting.

Update (9/25/13):  Our meeting with CM Costello regarding “fee in lieu of detention” was a waste of time.  His position was that either we agree to a fee in lieu of detention or he would march across the street and have the Mayor sign it anyway.  He refused to consider our proposal for under sidewalk retention at all. 

Update (7/10/2013): The  5-year look-back has been tabled.  Now they are exploring no look-back, but instead using the current drainage fee area as the existing impervious cover for new construction; i.e., if no fee is paid now, the land is permeable so detention is required.  I asked that in addition to this, the clause adding some detention for existing impervious cover also be kept.  In the future, sites that have been fallow for a long time can no longer use grandfathering to eliminate detention requirements; for example, under these rules the Heights Walmart would have required detention.

Update (7/9/2013):  The TTI Committee meeting on Chapter 9 will be delayed once again by approximately 60 days, now meeting sometime in September.  The delay is to allow CM Costello and Andy Icken to advocate for a fee in lieu of detention for smaller lots and to address the look-back time for the “grandfathering” clause added by CM Costello that requires a small amount of detention for preexisting concrete.

Update:  The public meeting on Wednesday, June 12th was cancelled.   It has been rescheduled for July 17th at 5:00PM.  Although the City promised final revisions by July 1st, they are only required  to make them available 1 week prior to the meeting.  Consequently, revisions will be available July 9th at 5:00PM.

The public comment period for revisions to Chapter 9 of the City of Houston Infrastructure Design Manual closes on May 24, 2013.  Comments must be submitted to no later than that date.  The draft of the revisions for Chapter 9  was released prior to the final City Council vote on Chapter 42 (which deals with urban development) of the municipal Code of Ordinances.  Please note that these two manuals, the municipal Code of Ordinances and the Public Works and Engineering (PW&E) Infrastructure Design Manual (IDM), are distinct but different.  The Code of Ordinances are voted upon by City Council after public hearings, while the IDM is approved by a PW&E Standards Committee not subject to a vote or hearings.

Here’s a link to our comments on proposed revisions to our red-lined copy of Chapter 9.

There are several points that are particularly important to note:

  • This sentence was removed in the new version of Chapter 9: “Drainage criteria administered by the City of Houston and complemented by Harris County and the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) for newly designed areas provides protection from Structural Flooding from a 100-year storm event.”   We hope that the City doesn’t quit trying to provide protection from a 100-year storm event and that FEMA and commercial insurers don’t abandoned Houston to our floods.  Removing a sentence does not remove the City’s responsibility to protect its citizens from preventable disasters. (see Section 9.02.A.1)


  • Chapter 9 is not harmonized with Chapter 42.  Recent Chapter 42 changes include increasing development density for single family residences  dramatically (from 7 to 27 homes per acre) and designating all of incorporated Houston as urban.  Urban density means more concrete and more concrete means more water runs off of properties.  The stormwater runoff coefficient, C, that percentage of a property that is impermeable, needs to be changed in Chapter 9 to reflect an all urban City.  Any roadways being reconstructed by Rebuild Houston need to assume stormwater runoff of 90% or higher. (see 9.05.B.3.a.1)


  • Chapter 9 allows fees in-lieu-of detention (see Section 9.05.H.2.a.).  Section 9.02.J. says that payments in-lieu-of detention will be allowed only if deficit drainage systems are improved to sufficient capacity to convey new and existing runoff.  If conveyance systems are being asked to carry all the runoff, then they need to have been designed using urban stormwater runoff  (C>90%)  that assumes all the water will be carried by the roadway conveyance and have capacity in excess of this.  If Rebuild Houston intends to install sub-regional detention ponds, then all conveyance routes must be designed and built to handle more than the 100-year event; i.e., C >100%.   Any fee paid in-lieu-of providing detention needs to go to a Rebuild Houston fund earmarked to build subregional detention in the subregion where the fee was paid.  It should not go towards the General Fund, nor to be used on any road project anywhere within the City.


  • Attempts by the City to deal with “Grandfathering” will cause more confusion than anything.  Inspectors will be unable to discern the small amount of new detention added when redeveloping properties with existing impervious cover (concrete).  Enforcement would be virtually impossible.  Our suggestion is that all development or redevelopment install the same amount of detention.  Inspectors could very easily tell whether detention was installed or not and requiring everyone to install the same detention would reduce, if not eliminate, creative ways to avoid detention.  We also recommend that elevating properties would require mitigating for 100% of runoff due to the elevation. (see Section 9.05.H.3.)


  • Sub-regional (huge) detention ponds have been touted as the means to save us from flooding by several Houston Mayors, but that’s misleading.  It will be years (if ever) before Rebuild Houston funding begins to accumulate enough funds for these detention ponds.  Back-of-the-napkin math suggests that we would need approximately 600 sub-regional detention ponds, each of about 320 acre-feet (huge), if we want to do away with requiring local detention.  This would cost tens of billions and land available for purchase may not be optimally placed for detention; moreover, land will become scarcer as Chapter 42 is implemented.  Clearly, we’ll need to build some anyway, even if local detention is used, because we’re only mitigating for half the runoff produced.  A more subtle problem is our insistence that our roadways are designed to convey excess water in heavy rains, so the roadways will need to carry the water to the sub-regional detention ponds.  Trouble is, major thoroughfares that need to carry emergency vehicles, or provide an evacuation route, must not flood even in an extreme event.  Theoretically, all neighborhoods will have access to emergency and evacuation routes, so the question becomes, “How will the need to convey water to sub-regional detention ponds and the need for safe passage be reconciled?”  The answer is that they cannot unless major thoroughfares are designed with much larger drainage systems than currently used, and that costs even more money and adds more delay.  Chapter 42 densification will not wait for Rebuild Houston money to accumulate, so we strongly advocate for local on-site detention with no in-lieu-of payments. (See section 9.05.D.5)

Please refer to our other pages for more information about the relationships between Chapter 42 and Chapter 9.  Use whatever comments you wish to get your own talking points or to send comments to the City (

Previous Chapter 9 comments were written to show what would be necessary if Houston wants to improve flood protection to a 100-year level of service.  Those comments are at Can We Stop Houston Flooding?

Interspersed in the last bullet are pictures of detention ponds being installed along Brays Bayou by HCFCD as part of Project Brays, which will remove about 60,000 homes from the 100-year floodplain.  Some of the detention ponds are quite large, for example, Eldridge Detention Pond is 4500 acre-feet and Arthur Storey Park detention pond is 3500 acre-feet, yet Bellaire Boulevard at Beltway 8, very nearby to Arthur Storey Park, floods during relatively small rain events.   If the water cannot get to the pond, it doesn’t matter how large it is.  In spite of the numerous detention ponds (picture – Brays at 610 Loop), home flooding in SW Houston occurred along Brays Bayou  for a bad but not unusual event.  This should be some indication of how bad the situation really is.

Comments of Bob Schwartz, President of Brays Bayou Association

Comments of Carol Caul, Attorney, Advocacy Chair of Citizen’s Transportation Coalition

Chapter 42 was passed

April 24, 2013

Chapter 42 of the City of Houston, Code of Ordinances passed as proposed by the Mayor’s administration with minor amendments at the April 24, 2013, Houston City Council with only three votes against: CM Andrew Burks, CM Helena Brown, and CM Jerry Davis.  It is now the law.  As a consequence, our Chapter 42 discussions have been removed.  If you have linked to them, please let me know and we’ll work something out.

CM Laster’s two amendments passed as well. CM Laster’s amendment to reduce from 60% to 55% the level of support needed to complete an application for minimum lot size protection passed with only one vote against (Bradford), and his amendment to allow development on less than an acre of land outside of existing neighborhoods had unanimous support.  CM Brown’s two amendments (1) to keep most of District A “suburban” and, alternatively, (2) to refer Chapter 42 back to the administration, both failed.

Houston & ETJChapter 42 extends the “urban” density formerly found only inside Loop 610 to all of incorporated Houston; i.e., inside the City limits.  Suburban density now only applies to the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

What should homeowners do?  You should begin scheduling somebody from COH Planning to come explain how to adopt minimum lot size criteria for those neighborhoods that don’t have provisions in your deed restrictions.  If you haven’t started already, you should also begin the process of modifying deed restrictions to add protection verbiage.  You cannot start too soon.

Also, plats not associated with any neighborhood are eligible for redevelopment instantly, so drive through your area to see if you can identify any that don’t seem to be a part of any subdivision; for example, abandoned utility ROW or abandoned drainage ROW.   Likely it’s too late to do anything about these, since developers have had 6 years to identify these odd parcels, but it may not be too late to begin planning for denser development.

If you are building a new home or rebuilding on an existing site, consider pier and beam construction.  Construction costs may be slightly higher, but ultimately the serviceability and flexibility offered over the life of the home will make up any difference.  If water shows signs of rising in the neighborhood, it’s relatively simple to raise the house higher and install more porch steps.  Despite the fact that Rebuild Houston doesn’t credit pier and beam as being permeable, it does allow water to flow under the house and provides less surface area to flowing water.  Piping is accessible and less prone to stress cracking as the ground shifts during Houston’s periods of torrent and drought.

Finally, Chapters 9 and 13 of the City of Houston Infrastructure Design Manual that deal with Stormwater are up for revision.   With the increased density that Chapter 42 will provide will come increased stormwater runoff.  This is particularly problematic in areas where flooding is already prevalent and may migrate to areas that are marginal.  Chapter 9 deals with the “grandfathering” of existing permeable surfaces.  Currently, if a property has existing concrete, mitigation of on-site detention need only be done for increased imperviousness, but only at 50% of the impact rate for properties above 1 acre in size.  Smaller properties are mitigated at 20% with properties below 15000 square feet only requiring 10% of increase impervious cover.

Because of objections by homeowners, minor changes to these requirements have been made already, but these are insufficient to prevent an increase in flooding.  Instead, we recommend complete elimination of any special provisions for already developed areas because many were originally installed without adhering to detention requirements, so should not be grandfathered. Arguments that it is unfair to burden new developers with the transgressions of the past don’t seem logical.  We think that it is unfair to developers of virgin properties to have to mitigate stormwater runoff while those of older properties are allowed to remove existing concrete to elevate their property without any mitigation.  It is also unfair to adjacent property owners.

Please help us protect Houston from future flooding.  Please join us to get these provisions updated.

Can We Stop Houston Flooding?

September 27, 2012

Overview – Chapter 9 of the City of Houston Infrastructure Design Manual, Stormwater Design Requirements, is up for comments. We have reviewed Chapter 9 and recommend that the following changes be made in order to prevent future flooding. Our central concern is the yearly rise in Base Flood Elevations and the increase in the size of the 100-year floodplain, which we believe is largely caused by the practice known as “Grandfathering.”

Our issues with Grandfathering are: unwarranted variances have been granted to builders, such as elevating property with no consideration of sheet flow obstruction or compensating detention; proper detention simply wasn’t installed; the land was developed prior to annexation by the City; or, for any number of other reasons, adequate detention and/or site drainage wasn’t installed. Once built, these properties are forever Grandfathered and new ones are added every year, so that the floodplain will continue growing until Grandfathering is removed from City Design Manuals.

Each year that the 100-year floodplain grows, Houston’s viability as a good location for new businesses is diminished. Moreover, the cost to residents increases in the form of diminishing home values, increased insurance rates, or actual flood damage to property. Our practice of using streets as drainage channels and neighborhoods as detention areas routinely brings the City to a standstill with untold property damage and work hours lost.

While water flow in roadways is certainly preferable to flooded homes, going forward with Rebuild Houston, we need to design to a higher level of service using realistic numbers. Progress has been made over the years; new subdivisions do a much better job at protecting structures than older neighborhoods, but developers and City engineers need to be cognizant that most people live in older homes that still need to be protected.

Temporarily waiving Rebuild Houston’s presently unimplemented Developer’s Fee can be used as a positive incentive for, for instance, adding more detention than necessary or building using low-impact design criteria. (editor’s note: the developer’s fee was passed by City Council Spring 2013 and will only add approximately $1.5M to Rebuild Houston.  Final deadline for comments on the revisions is May 24. It is located here.)


  • Change Section 9.02 F. to add the lines in italics. The most interesting comment about disallowing development in areas that have deficient drainage systems is that it would “bring development to a standstill.” Nothing could have proven the point better because that’s equivalent to saying, “Houston is knowingly developing in areas that negatively impacts flooding in adjacent properties and neighborhoods. If we continue to insist upon following this path, then it needs to be done in a more responsible way. A development so located must completely mitigate the effects of their project in-situ to a particular level of service (TBD). To incentivize Development despite the additional costs, the Rebuild Houston Developer’s Fee could be waived for a finite period.

Section 9.02 F. Development or Redevelopment in Areas that have Deficient Drainage Systems: Development or Redevelopment will not be allowed in areas that have deficient drainage systems until existing drainage infrastructure is improved to sufficient capacity to convey all existing and new run-off. Payment in-lieu of detention (Section 9.05 H.2.a.) is only possible if drainage infrastructure capacity is improved to carry all area run-off and runoff from the Development. Alternatively, Development may continue if project impacts are completely mitigated on-site. The City will consider joint project funding with a private entity for construction of drainage systems that improve existing drainage infrastructure. The City’s first priority will be to fund those projects included in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Where feasible, City funding will be leveraged with other funding sources including private entities, civic organizations, and other public agencies (Harris County, HCFCD, Corps of Engineers, Housing and Community Development, and other funding sources). For drainage systems that have been identified as deficient and are not scheduled to receive funding in the current CIP, the City will consider authorizing improvements performed by the private entity that comply with the City’s objectives.


  • Amend Section 9.04.D to combine the definitions of “in-fill” and “redevelopment” to provide for two, instead of three types of development; i.e., development that is either (1) “new” because the storm drain infrastructure has not been constructed, or (2) “in-fill”/“redevelopment” because the storm drain infrastructure is already in place and takes advantage of the existing infrastructure in place as a drainage outlet. The only reason to bother to make the distinction is because redevelopment might take advantage of Grandfathering clauses and in-fill would not. Removing Grandfathering obviates this need.

Section 9.04 D. Development – The term includes New Development, and In-fill/RedevelopmentDevelopment.

  1. In-fill/Redevelopment Development – Development of open tracts of land in areas where the storm drainage infrastructure is already in place and takes advantage of the existing infrastructure as a drainage outlet.
  2. New Development – Development of open tracts of land in areas where the storm drainage infrastructure has not been constructed and a drainage outlet must be extended to a channel under the jurisdiction of the HCFCD.


  • Find a more realistic way of defining rainfall events in Section 9.04 K.

In my relatively short time in Houston (35 years), my area has suffered no less than six 100-year events – something that is statistically improbable:

A rate of 6 events in 35 years is the same as 17 events in 100 years so:

Assuming independent stationary random events

PT= (PA)(PB)(PC)…(PN)

(PA) = (PB) = (PC) = (PN) = 0.01

PT ~1 in 1034

This very large number strongly indicates that hypothetical water level tables used by the City when defining the frequency of rainfall events (2-year, 10-year, 50-year, 100-year, etc.) are grossly inaccurate. Even if only six events occurred in one hundred years, the probability of such an occurrence would be one in a trillion – still indicating the tables are wrong. Given improved record keeping and technological improvements that can permit near real-time water-level monitoring, the Houston Metropolitan area needs to begin creating better definitions by analyzing actual long-term rainfall history.

Judging from the following comment, HCFCD’s grasp of probability is not much better. “In fact, about half of all flooding events in Harris County occur outside a mapped 1 percent (100-year) floodplain.” If there’s a 50/50 chance of getting flooded outside or inside of the 100-year floodplain, then the distinction is moot – we are all in the 100-year floodplain.

Section 9.04 K. Rainfall Frequency – Probability of a rainfall event of defined characteristics occurring in any given year at a given location. Information on Rainfall Frequency is published by the National Weather Service. For the purpose of storm drainage design, the following frequencies are applicable: (insert mathematically correct numbers here)



  • Section 9.05 B.1.a Rainfall Durations specified render the runoff coefficients in the Rational Method useless.

Section 9.05 B.1.a Rainfall Durations

  1. For design purposes, the rainfall duration for drainage areas less than 200 acres will be no less than 3 hours in duration.
  2. For design purposes, the rainfall duration for drainage areas more than 200 acres will be no less than 6 hours in duration.


  • Remove all calculations in Section 9.05 B.3.a.(1) for the runoff Coefficient for the rational method, particularly for areas designated as “urban.” Runoff coefficients are determined based upon the amount of impermeable cover, but it may be assumed that with increasing density, 100% impermeable cover will eventually occur.  Certainly everything designed for use inside the urban zone needs to assume that it will see maximum runoff, and hence, should use the maximum runoff coefficient. 
  • Why is the maximum runoff coefficient only 0.8? The rational Formula fails to account for storm duration and can provide low estimates of actual runoff.  If, for example, the intense duration of the storm exceeds the time that it takes water to flow to the watershed outlet from the most remote part of the awtershed, then the facto, C, should be 1.0.

  • TxDOT defines maximum runoff coefficients for downtown areas as 0.95. Using 0.95 for the runoff coefficient in urban areas would skew calculations toward more underground capacity. Clearly, application of 0.18 for the runoff coefficient for all parks ignores the dramatic permeability differences between pedestrian trampled parks like Hermann versus wooded portions of Memorial Park. I n reality runoff will also be dramatically different.
  • If we are truly interested in reducing the 100-year floodplain, then all development and redevelopment should be returned to runoffs equivalent to a pre-Columbian condition; i.e., prior to development, and every property would mitigate their runoff on-site. Adoption of better methods to compute runoff rates would likely improve drainage efficacy. There are valid arguments for defining all drainage requirements in terms of runoff volumes and peaks rather than impervious cover.

Section 9.05 B.3.a.(1) Determination of runoff

Use 0.95 for the runoff coefficient C values in urban areas when using the rational method formula.



  • If Houston wants to stop increasing the 100-year floodplain, runoff from New Development must be mitigated on-site, otherwise downstream areas will be subjected to greater runoff than experienced before the New Development. Change Section 9.05 C. 1.a. and Section 9.05 C. 1.b. to add the lines in italics. This is one of the Grandfathering clauses that need to be changed.

Section 9.05 C. 1.Design Frequencies

a. New Development: The Design Storm Event for sizing storm sewers in newly developed areas will be a 2-year rainfall. In addition, on-site detention must be installed for 100% mitigation of New Development runoff.

b. Redevelopment or In-fill Development: The existing storm drain (sewer, ditch) will be evaluated using a 2-year design storm, assuming no development takes place. The storm drain will then be evaluated for the 2-year design event with the Development in place.

(1) If the proposed Redevelopment has a lower or equal impervious cover, and the existing storm drain (sewer, ditch) meets 2-year level of service, then no modifications to the existing storm drain are required; otherwise, the property will need to be brought up to this code.

(2) If the proposed Development results in the hydraulic gradient of the existing storm drain below the gutter line, no improvements to the existing storm drain are required. Detention shall comply with Paragraph 9.05.H. Flow discharged to the storm drain shall be in compliance with Paragraph 9.05.H.4.b.

(3) If the analysis of the existing conditions finds that the existing storm drain is deficient (i.e. the hydraulic grade line is above the gutter line), the applicant should check with the City to see if a CIP project is proposed that will require a capital contribution. If a CIP project is not proposed for the subject system, then on-site detention will be required in accordance with Paragraph 9.05.H. Flow discharged to the storm



  • The City has long touted Regional Detention Basins as the answer to regional flooding, but the obvious problem with this approach is that drainage systems under Houston’s roadways were only designed to carry water from a 2-year event. They were not designed to also carry all the water from a large Development. Doing so clearly exacerbates regional flooding. If drainage capacity from the new Development to the Regional Detention Basin is insufficient, then the Development should not be allowed to forego on-site detention. This entire section needs to be rewritten, but the salient points are there.

Section 9.05 H.2.a.

The use of on-site detention is required for all Developments within the City and for new or expanding utility districts within the City’s ETJ. Detention will not be required if the City has developed detention capacity for a drainage watershed, and/or infrastructure improvements, to serve the drainage watershed in compliance with the requirements of this Chapter. Drainage capacity from the Development to the City’s detention capacity must be capable of carrying not only the water from the Development, but it must also do so while maintaining 2-year level of service for all neighborhoods and Developments already located in the drainage watershed. If these criteria cannot be met, on-site detention must be installed. In lieu of this, either the City or Development may elect to improve area drainage capacity to insure 2-year level of service. Under these conditions, the City will consider a funding contribution in lieu of on-site detention volume constructed by the owner.


  • We recommend that Section 9.05 H.2.d be replaced. This is the primary Grandfathering clause responsible for much of Houston’s increasingly bad floods. First, the old verbiage, then recommended changes.

Section 9.05 H.2.d.If Redevelopment occurs without increasing the overall impervious character of the site, then no detention will be required by the City.

Section 9.05 H.2.d. Redevelopment of preexisting sites must be brought up to current code for detention requirements. If the site cannot easily be altered and there are adequate existing storm sewers to convey site runoff, detention may be installed within 0.5mile of the site. If adequate storm sewers do not exist, developer may petition PW&E for upgrades.

  • Section 9.05H.2.e.1. needs to be modified to make it clear that the conveyance channels must be large enough between the Development and the regional facilities to not increase the risk of flooding to adjacent regions.

Section 9.05 H.2.e.1.

Development is located in an area determined by the City to not need detention due to the geographic location in the watershed, the Development’s proximity to regional facilities, or the capacity of the receiving outfall facilities and there are adequate existing storm sewers to convey site runoff while maintaining a 2-year level of service for all neighborhoods and Developments already located in the drainage watershed. Such conclusion by the City shall be supported by submittal of a Hydraulic Report as described in Paragraph 9.05.H.2.e(2).


  • Neighborhoods have requested that the Hydraulic Report in Section 9.05 H.2.e.(2) be accessible on-line. Too often totally fabricated analyses have been permitted, which have resulted in neighborhoods being flooded. City Permitters and the Professional Engineer who signs his name on the report would know that their work can be seen and reviewed. While there may still be honest mistakes made, fraud would be dramatically reduced. Transparency is miraculous for preventing corruption.

Section 9.05 H.2.e.(2) Hydraulic Report: Submit a hydraulic analysis prepared, signed, and sealed by a professional engineer, registered in the state of Texas, to demonstrate compliance with the conditions stated in this Chapter. The hydraulic analysis shall consider (1) the current developed condition of the watershed of the stormwater conveyance system, and (2) the fully developed condition of the watershed. The probable land use for the fully developed condition will be determined by the design engineer for review and approval by the City. The hydraulic analysis shall demonstrate no negative impact to upstream or downstream conditions and shall demonstrate that a positive impact will be achieved (reduced flood crest due to the exemption. The City of Houston will post Hydraulic Reports in a public database indexed by actual property address.


  • Once again, if Houston wants to stop increasing the 100-year floodplain, runoff from Development must be mitigated on-site, otherwise downstream areas will be subjected to greater runoff than experienced before the New Development. Section 9.05.H. 3. should be modified accordingly.

Section 9.05H. 3. Calculation of Detention Volume

a. Detention volume for Development areas is calculated on the basis of the amount of area of increased impervious cover. Impervious cover includes all structures, driveways, patios, sidewalks, etc.

b. Single family residential (SFR) lots of 15,000 square feet in area or less: If an adequate area stormwater conveyance system is available that meets 2-year minimum criteria, then SFR Lots are exempt from detention if proposed impervious cover is less than or equal to 75.0 %. Detention volume of 0.20 acre feet per acre required for impervious cover over 75%.

Existing SFR lots of 15,000 square feet or less may be further subdivided and exempt from detention provided the proposed impervious cover remains less than or equal to 75.0%. If an adequate area stormwater conveyance system is not available that meets 2-year minimum criteria, then 100% of runoff must be mitigated on-site.

c. Areas less than 1 acre: If an adequate area stormwater conveyance system is available that meets 2-year minimum criteria, detention will be required at a rate of 0.20 acre feet per acre of increased impervious cover. The subdividing of larger tracts into smaller tracts of 1.0 acre and less will require the detention volume of 0.5 acre-feet per acre of increased impervious cover. If an adequate area stormwater conveyance system is not available that meets 2-year minimum criteria, then 100% of runoff must be mitigated on-site.

d. Areas between 1 acre and 50 acres: 100% of runoff must be mitigated on-site.


  • Missing piece 1: Drainage systems that were designed years ago had different requirements than those existing today and often slab foundation’s base elevations are lower than those required now. As a result, these older neighborhoods are more prone to flooding. Yet, when redevelopment begins in a region, City code has no provision to check surrounding locales to make sure that increased flooding does not occur. This common-sense check should be mandatory. Tools exist to study the cumulative local, nearby, and downstream impacts – impacts that should be mitigated whenever possible and disclosed when not. This impact review should be part of the initial platting review process and should not wait until after a plat has been approved.


  • Missing piece 2: Public and private detention ponds can be breeding grounds for mosquitos. Either these ponds must be graded so that water drains toward the exit channel, reducing the possibility of standing water, or redesigned as permanent wet-bottomed detention ponds containing mosquito fish (Gambusia).


Moot Point, Indeed!

June 19, 2017

Frostwood’s Bruce Nichols was a guest writer for Gray Matters Houston Chronicle column on June 13, 2017. 

Residents Against Flooding (RAF) agrees with him that Tax Increment Redevelopment Zone (TIRZ) 17 can be an agent of change for the neighborhoods surrounding it.  In fact, RAF believes it is the only entity with the monetary and engineering resources to fix the problems created by “development on steroids” fostered by easy access to property tax dollars.  

When District A CM Stardig was defeated by Helena Brown, just as Nichols says, TIRZ 17 was purged of several of its bad players and neighborhood representatives were selected to replace them.  Even though those representatives were outvoted 5 to 2 at nearly every meeting, there was still a substantial and welcome shift in the direction of the TIRZ.  

During CM Brown’s tenure, a Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) plan was adopted by the TIRZ that provided much needed detention and bayou improvements.  Placeholders were inserted for not yet identified detention projects that would benefit all neighborhoods south of I-10, including Nichols’. There were new efforts to work together to move these projects forward.

Unfortunately, CM Stardig defeated Helena Brown in the subsequent election and immediately began undoing some of the positive aspects of the “new” TIRZ.

Metro National proposed rebuilding the 62-acre-foot Conrad-Sauer detention pond adjacent to property they were redeveloping.  It would be remade into a public park, Matthewson Road would be extended to Gessner with a bridge installed across the detention pond, and most importantly 44 acre-feet of detention would be added. Tenants of the new development wouldn’t have to look at an unsightly concrete lined hole in the ground, increasing the value of their property.

Because of the added detention, TIRZ 17 would pay for the work. Because Metro National was redeveloping the land anyway, they would perform the design and construction.  They would donate land for the road extension. State and local officials touted it as a “Win, win, win!” 

Unfortunately, the promise to add 44 acre-feet of detention wasn’t true. The engineering firm used by TIRZ 17 to substantiate these claims was also designing the Conrad-Sauer detention pond for Metro National.  They claimed “water couldn’t get into the pond” so it was only working to half capacity.  During the flood of 2015, power to the pond’s pumps failed and it overfilled, proving absolutely that water could get into the pond.

One of the two new neighborhood representatives, Reverend Bob Tucker, pointed to this conflict of interest and asked that they be removed as TIRZ engineers.  This incensed Metro National’s CEO who coerced the City (Andy Icken and CM Stardig) to remove Rev. Tucker from the TIRZ Board.  

Meanwhile a more cost effective 84 acre-feet of detention identified near Westview and Gessner was tied up in review by the City until removed from consideration by its owner. The Capital Improvement Projects plan installed under CM Brown was cancelled and a TIRZ Board committee was formed to write a new one. 

RAF had suspended its lawsuit while TIRZ 17 was actively working with us. Frustrated by these changes and the loss of Reverend Tucker as our representative, RAF filed suit in federal court in May of 2016.  Shortly after that, TIRZ 17 reinstated the cancelled Capital Improvement Projects plan.

At the time, Nichols was a member of the RAF Board, but soon resigned to focus on his role as head of the Frostwood Drainage Committee.

In his new role, Nichols identified a bold strategy – he would work with the TIRZ 17 Board while RAF applied pressure through our lawsuit.  Nichols and RAF Chair, Ed Browne, had several breakfast meetings discussing the strategy. Nichols was clear that without the lawsuit, TIRZ 17 probably wouldn’t work with him.

Why bring this to light now? There are several reasons:

First, in its Motion To Dismiss (MTD) our lawsuit, TIRZ 17 attorneys called our suit moot because the reinstated Capital Improvements Projects plan had everything that we had asked for.  This was disingenuous.

Revealed at last month’s TIRZ Board meeting and independently confirmed by RAF, TIRZ 17 will need to extend its tenure 7-10 years in order to pay for the projects in the Capital Improvement Projects plan. 

Generated for RAF by a well-respected CPA, revenue estimates for the year TIRZ 17 would normally expire, 2029, are over $28 million.  Extend the TIRZ by 10 years and we’re talking about 100’s of millions of dollars.

Was the TIRZ 17 Capital Improvement Projects plan a false promise strictly for lawsuit optics? It certainly seems so.

Meanwhile, TIRZ lawsuit strategy seems to be divide and conquer by appealing to one area’s self-preservation rather than protection for the whole area.  Projects scheduled for years where Reverend Tucker was the Board representative are at a standstill while newer projects are moving forward rapidly.

While we agree with the two-pronged strategy, RAF is not the villain.  Moreover, RAF contends that without a strong lawsuit, neighborhoods around TIRZ 17 would only see minimal flooding relief.

It’s important to note that Mayor Turner has made no secret of his desire to shut down the handful of rich TIRZ’s and use their money to pay down City debt. Noteworthy, a few weeks ago Auggie Campbell explained how TIRZ’s are useful to get around the revenue cap.

But what if there wasn’t a revenue cap?  When we elected Mayor Turner we tacitly agreed to honor part of his campaign platform – If he solved the pension problem, voters would remove the revenue cap.  On this November’s ballot, he will ask Houstonians to do just that – to remove the revenue cap.

Trouble is, without a revenue cap, the Mayor can capture TIRZ money and not be penalized for it, ending any hope for our timely flood relief. Even if TIRZ 17 gets its extension, it’s clearly subject to the whims of present and future politicians and TIRZ Board members. 

Missing links

April 30, 2017

DropBox has eliminated its Public folder, which we used to link a number of our documents and pictures to our website.  No data has been lost, however, every link must be replaced.  Given that RAF is a nonprofit with no paid employees, all web maintenance is by volunteers.

If you find an article with broken links that you want to read, please send a message to with the address of the broken link (right click, copy link location, paste into your email) and we will make it a priority to fix.

Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Save the Date

April 8, 2017


Sam Brody

Dr. Sam Brody

Tuesday, June 20 at 7 PM – 8 PM

Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church

11612 Memorial Dr, Houston, Texas 77024

Presented by Residents Against Flooding

The Nonprofit Working to End Man-Made Flooding in ALL of Houston

Hear the scientific truth about Houston’s urban, preventable flooding. No political spin. No media spin. Just facts from Dr. Sam Brody, PH.D., professor at Texas A&M Galveston, who is conducting research for FEMA on how to alleviate urban flooding across the United States.

Floodplains are changing. Areas that never flooded are flooding. Flood insurance is rising. New development could mean your home is next.  Dr. Brody believes the biggest driver of this urban flood problem is human development.

Bring your friends and share the news of this free event. Come for straight talk, get straight answers from an expert in environmental studies.

Residents Against Flooding – DONATIONS ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE


Twitter: @HoustonRAF

Urban Flooding is no Urban Legend.  It’s a real horror story.

RAF has a fiduciary duty to support all of our membership. That includes informing residents that the CIP project for detention under the Spring Branch Memorial Sports Association ball fields on Attingham is still in flux. With this letter found in the Board packet from the February  2017, TIRZ 17 Board meeting,  TIRZ 17 has reopened their attempts to install detention along Buffalo Bayou, targeting two areas specifically: “Lakeside Country and Old Farm.”  Since large open detention is almost always less costly than chambered underground detention, the TIRZ 17 CIP project (T-1735) is still in play.

We sent this message to our iContact list on March 8, 2017.  It’s included herein with additional links and typo corrections.

RAF Supports Frostwood in its Plea for Detention

The President of Frostwood’s Community Improvement Association, Mitchell Winkler, recently wrote a letter urging support of the Mayor, City Council and TIRZ 17 Board for TIRZ Capital Improvement Project (CIP) T-1735, known as Detention Basin A (“A” for Addingham).  Promised for years, RAF agrees that this pond needs to be built post haste.

Any detention, anywhere, is desperately needed. However, there are concerns and a backstory you should know. For example, Detention Basin A is next door to brand new, mega-sized complexes, near Mac Haik Ford, that have no provision for their own stormwater run-off. Their water has no place to go. Is it realistic to believe that this basin is being built for residents of Frostwood and nearby?

Or is it more realistic that the added water detention is planned to service the new developments, and the TIRZ – once again – is not providing a real solution for your flooding.  Detention Basin A will only put us back to square one, serving the storm water needs of the new development.  We’ll need more.

TIRZ 17 devotes all of fiscal year 2018 to the acquisition of the land for Basin A and fiscal years 2018 and 2019 are devoted to building it. Total costs of Basin A are listed as $28M.

Water may be piped from as far away as Barryknoll.  And estimated costs for conveyance under Kingsride and Frostwood to the basin will be about $9M, but won’t be finished until 2021.

How much of the estimated 240 acre-feet of needed detention will this basin hold?

Since Detention Basin A has insufficient capacity by itself, the same 2017-2021 CIP includes a second pond, Detention Basin B, where “B” stands for Bendwood.  This pond only has $750,000 assigned in fiscal year 2021 for Planning.  That’s four years away.  How many times will you flood unnecessarily before it is actually constructed?

Given the number of times TIRZ projects have been reordered or rescinded, can you afford to rely upon their promise to keep this placeholder?  Do you have any recourse if they don’t?  If words don’t turn into action, RAF’s lawsuit will be the only leverage that we have.

In the meantime, TIRZ drawings have surfaced that seem to indicate the Memorial Drive project will receive water from the commercial properties in the southwestern corner of the TIRZ.  Where will this water go?  The Army Corps of Engineers says Buffalo Bayou cannot hold any more run-off.  If so, the why is LAN studying detention on the Bayou?

Included in the TIRZ 17 Board packet, but not discussed during the meeting was a letter to Chair Ann Givens from LAN, the firm designing the detention basin. The letter was a proposal for modeling three or four detention basins along Buffalo Bayou, then comparing them to the Detention Basin A to determine which alternative is the most cost-effective.

RAF believes the most effective solution is the one that saves the most homes from flooding and has the highest probability of actually getting built.

In the same letter, to Chair Givens, LAN disclosed that they had included a “north-south hydraulic connection beneath IH-10 located west of Gessner Road” in their 2014 Regional Drainage Study (RDS) Update. “This connection was evaluated as part of the RDS Update to provide relief for the area north of IH-10 in the proximity of Gessner.”

This is where the new Metro National development is located. (The MN development is adding its water to the existing, over-taxed Conrad-Sauer Basin. And your taxpayer money is paying to beautify it for their tenants.)

In the letter, LAN says that since new detention was added under Mathewson Road, the new pipe wasn’t necessary and therefore will reduce “the required mitigation detention required on Buffalo Bayou.”

Mathewson Road drains the Metro Nation property, then dumps its water into the Conrad-Sauer Basin where it’s pumped into an overflowing IH-10 system. Where will the water discharge when the three Conrad-Sauer pumps turn on?

RAF is concerned that there may have been other “hidden” pipes modeled in the RDS that skewed Study results or protected specific developer’s properties. We wonder if the water levels at the corner of Gessner and IH-10 would have been significantly higher without the pipe.  Now more water is captured in the Conrad-Sauer basin – more water on the IH-10 feeder roads with nowhere to go.

While RAF supports Frostwood’s pleas for detention, we also warn that this TIRZ continues to operate in a less than transparent manner.

In closing:

Please remember that both the north side and south side of IH-10 are connected by underground pipes.  A holistic solution to prevent flooding down to Buffalo Bayou must also include detention ponds in north side locations like the Spring Branch ISD bus barn or Haden Park.  Land acquisition costs are high, so parks and public facilities make ideal locations for detention ponds.

The TIRZ timeline of years on end for a single detention pond is unacceptable.  Why so long, so they can yank it away at the last minute as they have done before with other projects?  One city contract – 13 years ago – promised to build several basins, north and south of I-10.  Nothing was ever built.  This is one reason to continue to support our lawsuit – so they can’t continue to break contracts – promises.

Moving more water into a flood-prone region is unacceptable.  Spending any part of the anti-flooding budget to help CityCentre tear down a parking garage or beautifying a detention pond is unacceptable.

While supporting Frostwood’s request for a basin, RAF argues that a single detention pond is unacceptable.  And it’s certainly unacceptable if it is used to detain storm water run-off for buildings that should have legally paid for their own.

The TIRZ has the resources to do so much more.  Let’s stop thinking so small.

This is what we must advocate for:

A holistic solution with multiple detention ponds both north and south of IH-10 with no subsidies to developers until the flooding problem is solved!

2016 Annual Meeting

June 25, 2016

Residents Against Flooding, Annual Meeting

June 29, 2016 (Wednesday), 7:00 PM

Memorial Middle School

12550 Vindon Drive, Houston, 77024

Residents Against Flooding (“RAF”), the only group with a citywide focus working to stop preventable flooding, invites you to a public informational meeting June 29th.  Several attorneys will be present to speak and answer questions about Houston’s severe man-made flooding problem as well as provide information about RAF’s federal lawsuit against the City of Houston and Memorial City TIRZ 17.

Speakers include RAF Chairman, Ed Browne, an engineer, who will explain the goals of the organization in the federal lawsuit and the need for immediate action by the City.  Attorneys scheduled to attend include prominent environmental attorney Jim Blackburn and RAF’s respected litigation team, Charles Irvine and Mary Conner of the Irvine & Conner Law Firm.  Scheduled to speak on policy efforts will be Roger Gingell, an RAF board member and attorney with a legislative policy background.

Key differences between the White Oak Bayou and the RAF lawsuits

1. Lawsuit is against City of Houston AND Memorial City Redevelopment Authority, aka TIRZ 17 1. Lawsuit was against Harris County Flood Control
2. Federal lawsuit 2. State lawsuit
3. Suing for REMEDY to protect against future flooding, not for money 3. Sued for money for past flood damages
4. RAF contends flooding is result of lax building codes and irresponsible development, permitted by the City, without proper flood mitigation 4. Claimed that county government inaction resulted in flooding
5. If victorious, will not add any costs to the City of Houston budget.  RAF is not asking for hand-outs, only that the public money already earmarked for this purpose be allocated for flooding mitigation projects 5. Would have cost county $85 million
6. If victorious, may result in a Special Master being assigned by the federal judge. That person will ensure that flood and drainage projects are carried out by the City within a timeline determined by the judge. Oversight would be maintained until the Court is satisfied that Plaintiffs’ homes will receive adequate flood protection. 6. County would have been liable that its future operations could damage someone’s property
7. Suing government entities for monetary damages is extremely difficult. RAF asks to stop preventable, unnecessary flooding. 7. Fell short ONE vote in TX Supreme Court

Help RAF fight in your behalf; donate to fund continuing legal efforts

  • Through the RAF GoFundMe campaign:
  • Through PayPal on the RAF website:
  • With a check made out to Residents Against Flooding, P.O. Box 430574, Houston, TX 77243-0574
  • RAF seeks policy solutions citywide and engineering solutions local to Memorial City TIRZ 17 area.
  • Full lawsuit is available at


Below is a map showing where the apartments flooded in the Greenspoint area during the April 18, 2016 flood.  Note that all of the apartments that flooded are in the 100-year floodplain for Green’s Bayou and some of the apartments are actually within the floodway – the no build zone set up along bayous and streams.  While we understand that some of these apartments were built before the floodway ordinance, surely the 100-year floodplain was in place.  Look closely and you’ll see that there are no detention ponds associated with most, if not all, of these apartments.  Look around Houston.  How many apartments are built in areas close to bayous?  How many have installed detention?  Did they pay a fee in lieu of detention?  Was that fee used to build detention within the watershed where they were built or in some other unrelated watershed?  Were any of the residents of these apartments aware that they were in the floodway or the 100-year floodplain for Green’s Bayou?  Could the 1800 apartments here that flooded be called a man-made disaster?  You bet your wet a$$ they can!!

Yellow dots are the apartments that flooded in Greenpoint.

Yellow dots are the apartments that flooded in Greenpoint.

Floodway, 100-year flood plain and 500-year flood plain.

Floodway, 100-year flood plain and 500-year flood plain.

When Chapter 9 of the Infrastructure Design Manual on Stormwater was released after 2 years of haranguing between the City of Houston (COH) Public Works and Engineering (PW&E), the Houston Builders Association (HBA), the Super Neighborhood Alliance (SNA), and Andy Ichen and Steven Costello, we were disappointed that some of the pieces we had worked so hard to get added had been dropped by Dale Rudick, new PW&E director.  Imagine our surprise to find that the first sentence of 9.02.c had been changed with no warning, no review, apparently by Andy Ichen some time after publishing.

Prior to the change the section read as follows:

9.02.C. Overland Run-off (Sheet Flow): Proposed New Development, Redevelopment, or In-fill Development shall not alter existing overland flow patterns and shall not increase or redirect existing Sheet Flow to adjacent private or public property. Sheet Flow from the developed property shall discharge only to the abutting public right-of-way. Where the existing Sheet Flow pattern is blocked by construction (i.e. raising the site elevation) of the Development, the Sheet Flow shall be re-routed within the developed property to return flow to original configuration or to the public right-of-way. Except under special circumstances dictated by natural drainage patterns, no Sheet Flow from the developed property will be allowed to drain onto adjacent private property.

Now it reads:

9.02.C. Proposed New Development or Redevelopment greater than 1 acre shall not alter existing overland flow patterns and shall not increase or redirect existing sheet flow to adjacent private or public property. Sheet flow from the developed property shall discharge only to the abutting public R.O.W. Where the existing sheet flow pattern is blocked by construction (i.e. raising the site elevation) of the Development, the sheet flow shall be re-routed within the developed property to return flow to original configuration or to the public R.O.W. Except under special circumstances dictated by natural drainage patterns, no sheet flow from the developed property will be allowed to drain onto adjacent private property.

This subtle change serves to protect the City from lawsuits from one property owner to another after raised property causes flooding of nearby structures.  It allows developers of in-fill tracts less than an acre to elevate their property to avoid flooding and not be concerned that the City will do anything to prevent them.  The subtlety is that in court the City can claim that its policy doesn’t say anything about allowing properties to be elevated – it simply defines allowed actions for properties greater than one acre because these obviously cause more damage.  The fallacy is that the overwhelming majority of single family residential properties are less than one acre, so the effect in aggregate far exceeds the effect of large lot properties.

More subtle is that feuding homeowners, convinced that a neighboring elevated property is responsible for their flooding, will overlook the large development nearby that raised an entire tract of land a foot or more without adding detention.  This obfuscation is malicious, and the offending wording needs to be removed, but it underlines our assertion that the COH is working to intentionally flood neighborhoods – particularly older neighborhoods – in order to cause redevelopment.


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