Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Lake Houston

Some flood mitigation funds are coming

Good.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded Houston its first grant aimed at mitigating flooding since Hurricane Harvey hit nearly two years ago, laying the groundwork for new gates on the Lake Houston dam and detention basins in Inwood Forest.

Both projects have estimated price tags of about $47 million, with $35 million coming from the federal government. The state, through legislation passed during the recent session, will cover about $9 million for each, with the city paying the rest.

The announcement drew swift praise from local and federal officials, who had been awaiting the money since Houston applied last year.

“This is a breakthrough moment for the City and one we have been waiting for very patiently,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “Houston has bounced back from Harvey, but we need the federal government as a full partner as we work to prevent flooding from the next storms that will surely come.”

[…]

The Lake Houston project will add 10 gates to the dam, allowing the city to release larger amounts of water ahead of heavy rains. In a news release, Turner’s office said the project would protect about 35,000 residents and 5,000 structures.

Meanwhile, the Inwood basin project is a joint venture between the city and Harris County, who are aiming to build 12 detention basins on a defunct golf course in northwest Houston. The basins will be able to hold about 1,200 acre-feet of water, which equals roughly 592 Olympic-size swimming pools, or enough water to fill the Astrodome, Turner’s office said.

Here’s the Mayor’s press release, which has more details. The projects are slated to be done by 2022. I don’t have anything to add to this, I’m just glad it’s happening.

Reusing wastewater

Get used to it.

Reclaimed wastewater soon will irrigate the trim lawns and wooded parks of some Houston suburbs. Instead of being dumped into the bayous, some of it might even undergo more extensive treatment in order to flow from kitchen taps.

Economics is starting to trump the yuck factor of reusing water flushed down toilets and drained from sinks.

“It’s becoming more real than theoretical,” said Mark Latham, who oversees Houston’s two “reuse” agreements with golf courses and the growing number of queries to contract for city wastewater.

As suburban water providers aim to meet state benchmarks for reducing reliance on groundwater, they have cringed at undertaking costly expansions to draw more water from Lake Houston via the city system. With the 2011 drought still fresh in the minds of many, treating wastewater for landscaping has advanced beyond mere discussion in many Houston suburbs. Unlike other water sources, the availability of wastewater grows with the population.

“We’ve had clients look at reuse for a long time,” said David Oliver, a public law attorney who works with several utility districts. “As the price of water has gone up, people are realizing the economics of the projects that may have been unreasonable 10 or 20 years ago now are feasible from a cost standpoint.”

[…]

Most water in the Houston area is pumped from underground aquifers or piped in from Lake Houston to treatment plants before flowing out of home faucets and sprinkler systems. After toilets are flushed, wastewater is sent to plants where it is minimally treated before being dumped into bayous along with rainwater, much of which eventually flows into Galveston Bay. Similarly, most of the water pumped from Lake Houston is treated wastewater that flowed downstream from Dallas and other cities.

Although reclaiming wastewater – also called recycling or reusing – remains rare in Texas, it has become more popular in recent years as drought-stricken towns have tried to meet local water needs. Wichita Falls was the second in the state to construct a costly treatment plant that takes waste­water “from toilet to tap.” Defying doubters, the city’s utility manager drank a full, clear glass while giving reporters a tour. San Antonio pioneered indirect reuse of wastewater decades ago, treating it for a variety of nonconsumptive uses.

I’ve discussed this before, and I think there’s a lot of merit to this approach. Certainly, it makes no sense to use clean, drinkable water on watering lawns and other similar uses. The main argument against wastewater reuse seems to be that it provides disincentives to conserve water. Be that as it may, this is a cheaper and surely more sustainable option than building a lot more water infrastructure for our region’s (and our state’s) growing population.

Seeking more water for Houston

I don’t know how I feel about this.

After decades of fits and starts, Houston is pushing forward with plans to move Trinity water nearly 30 miles to Lake Houston. The reservoir, located on the smaller San Jacinto River, fills the taps for millions of people in the region.

Planners say the Luce Bayou project, a nearly $300 million pipeline and canal, would provide water to the ever-swelling city and suburbs while helping with the area’s planned conversion from groundwater. The newly adopted state water plan identifies it among the key strategies to slake the region’s thirst in 2060.

While population growth and a wicked drought boost the prospects for the mega-plumbing job, critics are asking how much water does Houston need. To their dismay, the answer is always the same: More than it has.

The project, they say, could invite too much growth, encourage more transfers from water-rich East Texas and damage native habitats along the Trinity and in the bay.

“This project is a game changer,” said Brandt Mannchen, of the Sierra Club’s Houston group.

[…]

The push comes amid state forecasts showing the 15-county Houston region growing from 6 million people to 11 million during the next half-century.

The new state water plan also identifies five new major reservoirs by 2060 to provide enough water for the region in times of drought.

Critics say the state plan promotes more pumps, pipes, dams and canals ahead of saving existing water. Although the plan calls for 12 percent of the supply in 2060 to come from conservation, they say more could be done.

With Luce Bayou, “we will have capacity well into the future,” said Jim Lester, a water policy expert at the Houston Advanced Research Center. “My fundamental problem with this is, we are doing so little on conservation.”

The plan referenced is this one, which I noted in October. There’s not enough in the story for me to judge this plan – PDiddie is singularly unimpressed – but I definitely concur with Jim Lester that we’re not doing enough to conserve water. Whatever the merits of this project, I’d really like to see a more aggressive approach taken to conservation, which in the long run will be far less expensive than any expansion project we might undertake.