Hear From An Engineer
Brian Gettinger, Watershed Study Project Manager with Freese and Nichols
As Brian Gettinger and his family were preparing to move to Pearland in August of 2017, his realtor called and told them to stay put. Their plans would have to wait because Hurricane Harvey was drenching the Texas coast. When Brian finally made it to the Houston area and saw the immense damage caused by Harvey, he immediately started talking to flood control officials about the possibility of tunnels, something he had significant experience in. Since then, he has been instrumental in working to find lasting flood mitigation solutions for the Clear Creek and Dickinson Bayou Watersheds.
What can you tell us about eventual mitigation solutions and projects?
The concept slides shared at the October and November public meetings were the results of brainstorms, and are examples of what could work, not necessarily what will work or what should happen. Our goal is to prioritize and say, “Here are the things that we should focus on,” which will likely be a suite of solutions. Clear Creek has a lot of different features, so what might work for one section may not be best for another. I want people to remember that just because Harvey was three years ago doesn’t mean our risk is any different now than it was then. That risk is still present. We have to be willing to fix the problem. That means making sacrifices, finding funding, creating mutually beneficial solutions, and compromising on some issues. How can we work together to find a solution that works the best for everyone? Widening the creek might cost less than a tunnel, but there are other impacts. Is the community willing to pay more money not to impact the creek?
What are your hopes for project outcomes?
Nobody wants another project that sits for a decade. Every day we don’t build is a day we are exposed to flooding. I’m part of the public, so flooding impacts me, too. It rained 12 inches at my house during Beta. The projects we choose will improve performance in all flooding events, but the distribution of the improvements will vary along the creek. People closest to the creek will always have the most risk. Our goal is a major reduction in the water surface elevation at I-45 during a 1% likelihood storm event. That’s a target, and one that we have to vet with the models to ensure we positively impact the entirety of Clear Creek and Dickinson Bayou. If we improve conveyance in the main channels, all the other tributaries and drainage systems will work better.
Why does the study take so long?
The part that takes the longest is building a model that can recreate events accurately. The rain falls in unique patterns each time, and we have to create a model that simulates water flow in a realistic way. The modeling can now be done in 2-D renderings, which is technology that wasn’t available in past studies of the creek, and has never been done before on Clear Creek and Dickinson Bayou. It’s a powerful simulation tool, and it can take two to four hours to run just one simulation.
What can you tell people who are eager to see the work begin?
Be involved with local stakeholders, attend the watershed steering committee meetings, and stay in the loop. This has the potential to have a huge impact, but because of its scale it’s going to take longer to plan and prepare. Start building a coalition around funding. Two big funding sources will be the State of Texas and the federal government. These are major projects, and we will need other entities than just the City of League City to participate with funding. Time of implementation is at a high level of importance, and once we have projects identified we need public support to fast track them.
Potential timeline for these projects?
We will have ideas in March, but they won’t be ready for construction. Realistically, it will probably be 12 to 18 months out from spring or summer of 2021, so probably in 2023 at the earliest for a large-scale, shovel-ready project. Some smaller-scale projects can be done more quickly. We are also talking about spending hundreds of millions of dollars, and we want to make sure we really fix the problem. These are public funds. We want to ensure we are getting maximum benefit from the funds.