Six years. That’s how long a Texas water authority battled redevelopers to turn a 178-acre golf course into a 500-million-gallon stormwater reservoir. Seven years after that victory, authority managers celebrated another: unveiling the first phase of a five-phase master plan to add 1,680 acre-feet of storage to Houston’s detention facilities.
Actually, they scored a victory before Phase 1 ribbon-cutting in March 2018. The project was 80% complete when Hurricane Harvey dumped 40 inches on the city, but that was enough to save 150 houses from flooding. Suddenly, there was enough political will to deliver a 15-year plan in five years. When finished in 2021, Exploration Green will protect 2,000 homes to 3,000 homes near the Horsepen Bayou flood plain.
Phase 1 is lauded as a model for flood-prone municipalities: turn golf courses into parks! Clear Lake City is Houston’s second-largest master-planned community, one of probably tens of thousands nationwide built around golf courses. Returning putting greens and fairways to nature is an easier sell than removing roads, but virtually none of the national media coverage talked about how hard the authority worked to do it. Partnering with residents to form a non-profit conservancy. Partnering with other organizations to answer legal challenges by developers claiming the plan was fraudulent. Getting voters to approve $28 million in construction bonds after spending $6.2 million to buy the property. Drafting an easement agreement to protect the land from future redevelopment efforts.
The authority was created in 1963 to provide water and sewer service and protect against flooding. I wouldn’t be surprised if managers since then watched development beyond their service area with foreboding, knowing the pervious surfaces would eventually cause a problem they’d have to resolve even though it wasn’t of their making. And, of course, that’s just what happened. On top of the daily demands of overseeing aging pipelines, the authority went to court – repeatedly – for vindication that “a desire to stop redevelopment and a desire to construct a stormwater detention facility are not inimical goals. On the contrary, both objectives are relevant to flood control, an issue statutorily delegated to the water authority.”
It’s a shame public agencies have to work so hard to serve the public good.