Will Meyerland Flood Again? Residents Not Hopeful

Meyerland has been hit repeatedly by flooding.
Meyerland has been hit repeatedly by flooding. Photo illustration by Monica Fuentes

Glen Rosenbaum has raised his sofa and dinner table on cinder blocks, moved smaller furniture to his partial second floor and is storing his car in a parking garage downtown, but he has little hope his house will escape this weekend’s hurricane unscathed.

In Meyerland, the plush Houston suburb just south of Loop 610, flooding rarely arrives comfortably, in part thanks to a stressed flood relief system that’s been under construction, and scrutiny, for years.

“I’m very concerned,” said Rosenbaum, an attorney with Vinson & Elkins whose house sits on South Braeswood Boulevard.

If Hurricane Harvey behaves as some meteorologists predict — as one of the worst storms in more than a decade — it will probably spell trouble for the residents of Meyerland. The neighborhood is split by the Brays Bayou, the watershed that begins in northern Fort Bend County and flows past the Texas Medical Center and the University of Houston toward the ship channel. Intense rainfall over Memorial Day weekend in 2015 damaged around 730 homes in the neighborhood and three residents drowned during a Houston Fire Department rescue attempt. A year later, the Tax Day floods ravaged the area again.

The flooding results from a web of problems. It is downstream of development with little retention and has issues with sinking land likely the result of groundwater usage. Additionally, the Memorial Day floods came after 10 inches of rain fell in about a 10-hour period, said Dr. Philip Bedient, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Rice University who researches water hydrology and floodplain analysis. Those conditions, which approached the levels of a 100-year-type storm, are impossible for any flood system to contain.

But the bayou itself, called Project Brays, is incomplete. It began in1994 as a joint project between the Harris County Flood Control District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The portion near the Texas Medical Center was finished before the 2015 flooding, but the section between Chimney Rock and Interstate 610 remains under construction — despite Project Brays documents that say the portion should have been completed by 2013.

The most recent projected completion date is 2021.

“Once they complete Project Brays, once they move and widen that channel,” Bedient said, “then and only then will they lower the flood levels down so that they will generally be protected.”

No flood plain system can counteract biblical-type rainfalls as the city experienced in 2001 with Tropical Storm Allison, which dropped about 15 inches in only three hours, said Bedient. That also highlights one of the worst-case scenarios for any city, when heavy, intense rain dumps over short time periods.

But the slow progress of Project Brays because federal funding delays does not provide relief to homeowners like Rosenbaum, who figures he will be spending a third straight year fixing up his home. He didn’t want to give exact figures for how much he’s spent in home repairs after the last two floods, but said costs in both instances came close to the $250,000 insurance maximum mandated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Ultimately, Rosenbaum’s problems were minor compared to other homeowners. He’s replaced carpets inside and sheetrock. Other residents have gutted entire houses and spent life savings in repairs.

But this is a problem he’s not looking forward to dealing with.

“Unfortunately, one gets accustomed to everything in life and this is one of those things,” he said.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joseph Fanelli is a reporting fellow at the Houston Press with an interest in education, crime and eccentric people everywhere.