The boardroom of the Brazoria County Conservation and Reclamation District No. 3 was packed at a public meeting July 8 to inform and receive public comment on the ongoing Gulf Coast Water Authority Project to renovate a saltwater barrier in Chocolate Bayou.
C&R 3 commissioners and representatives of Gulf Coast Water Authority said the barrier has sunk 1.3 feet due to subsidence since it was first installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent saltwater from moving upstream as a result of dredging activities. The current project will raise the barrier back to its original level with some additional height for the installation of a gate to capture fresh water that can then be distributed to agricultural and industrial customers.
Gulf Coast Water Authority District Engineer Patrick Donart explained that the project will make the barrier 30 inches higher than its current level.
Many residents felt the distribution of fresh water to local companies by the modified barrier would be at the expense of their homes’ safety from floodwaters.
“They’re looking to try and capitalize on maybe at our expense is what we feel,” Whispering Pines resident Charles Lira said.
Commissioners were steadfast on ensuring that people understood the structure is not a dam that will raise the water level upstream.
“I want to put your mind at ease about inland water flooding as a result of the saltwater barrier,” C&R 3 Chairman Jody Schibi said.
“The saltwater barrier, again, is going to be raised to its original elevation and — and at that original elevation, once the bayou fills up to that level it’s going to be like it’s not even there, anymore. So it’s not going to be a dam.”
The district is not involved in the implementation of the project, but is overseeing it to ensure that it is done in such a way as to not create any flooding problems in the watershed. The project is being conducted by the Gulf Coast Water Authority by permission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the structure.
Discussion of the project began nine years ago and the district was presented with studies as to any possible impact on upstream parts of the bayou and flooding.
“We are satisfied that there is going to be no impact to anybody on the bayou,” Commissioner Richard McLaren said.
Residents were quick to annunciate the fact that the studies upon which the district is basing its conclusion of no impact predate Hurricane Harvey, which many believed had an impact on the area that has enabled easier flooding, while others claimed the new flooding problem was from development to the north.
“There is nowhere in your stuff that you take into consideration all of the buildup upstream anywhere, and that impacts what’s going on, and so what we’re seeing isn’t because of Harvey. It’s because of the impact of the buildup upstream from this. So your — your little charts and stuff are worthless. They mean nothing because you have completely ignored a huge facet of the equation,” resident Heidi Fiedler said.
All residents living north of FM 2917 are upstream of the structure, but dozens of citizens from the developments of Whispering Pines and Oak Bend, near the barrier’s location, arrived at the meeting to voice their concerns not only of the construction project for which they claimed to have received no notification, but the ongoing flooding problems in the area that decades-long residents said they had never seen before Hurricane Harvey.
Schibi said after the meeting that things being blamed on Hurricane Harvey are likely because of the heavy amount of rainfall that has persisted since and that topographical changes that change flood patterns are natural occurrences.
Schibi said these changes are slow enough that they can go unnoticed for years, but not slow enough that they would not be noticed over the course of a lifetime.
He also said he is glad to see community involvement and to hear the concerns of residents in regards to flooding issues.
However, the commissioners mentioned during the meeting, and wanted the general public to know, the drainage district is not responsible for roadside ditches, which are managed by commissioners’ precincts.
While disagreements on the cause of increased flooding in the Chocolate Bayou area persist, no one is arguing that worrying levels of flooding are not occurring for those whose homes lie near its banks. Schibi said the board may be open to holding more public meetings with the express purpose of hearing citizens’ more general flooding concerns across the district.