Houston may add a new feature to 5 neighborhood parks: storm drainage

Sports fields and walking trails at five Houston parks could be transformed into stormwater detention basins during heavy rains under a plan city officials hope will reduce flooding in surrounding neighborhoods.

The five recreation areas – Boone Park, Hackberry Park, Cambridge Village Park, Edgewood Park and EP Hill Park – are located in south or southwest Houston and were selected after a citywide review of flood-prone neighborhoods by the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments , which are collaborating on the pilot project.

If the pilot is deemed successful, it could be rolled out to other parks across the city as part of Houston’s flood mitigation efforts, according to city officials who characterized it as a small but important way to protect homes as climate change intensifies hurricanes, bringing increasingly heavy rainfall, and overburdening Houston’s infrastructure and flood defenses.

A public hearing on the pilot is set for 9 am July 13 at City Hall.

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Under the plan, the five parks would undergo construction to improve their ability to hold water during heavy rains. At Hackberry Park in Alief, for example, officials propose to convert an old golf course into wetlands and deepen multiple ponds to better hold stormwater. At Edgewood Park in southeast Houston, the city would carve out a new football field at a slightly lower elevation than the rest of the park to detain large amounts of water.

Where possible, the changes would be coupled with upgrades to attract wildlife and improve park amenities, said Kelli Ondracek, a Parks Department natural resources manager.

“The ultimate goal would be to help with flooding in a big storm, but on a daily basis these parks would still function the way they always have,” Ondracek said.

Design and construction on Hackberry and Boone parks, in Alief, is expected to cost $ 8.1 million and would be paid for with disaster recovery money from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Public Works spokesperson Roberto Medina said. Cost estimates have not been determined for the other parks, he said.

Houston’s vast network of bayous and creeks has long played a critical role in flood management. For at least a decade, city planners have designed public land, from Brays Bayou to Keith-Wiess Park in north Houston, with an emphasis on stormwater retention.

The plan to convert five city parks into stormwater detention sites has been in the works for two years. Paresh Lad, a Public Works analyst, said designers took inspiration from Spring Branch’s James W. Lee Park, which was converted into backup detention for Brickhouse Gully, a concrete-lined channel that drains part of the White Oak Bayou watershed.

District A Councilmember Amy Peck, who represents the area, said the detention works well when the park “fills up with water.”

“My constituents are happy with it,” Peck said while reviewing the city five-park pilot during an April meeting of the council’s Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure Committee.

One, Joanne Cortez, has witnessed how the world modifications to James W. Lee Park have improved drainage in the two years since the project was completed. A 28-year-old resident of the neighborhood, Cortez ventures out in rain gear to watch the park’s new baseball field fill with stormwater, sparing nearby homes.

While Cortez and other neighbors were initially concerned the park “would always be a pool of water,” their fears proved unfounded. The field dries up quickly when the water drains, she said.

Charlotte Lusk, assistant director of the Parks Department’s green space management division, stressed that park users’ needs have been taken into consideration as the plans move towards construction. Parks officials have gone “back and forth with Public Works” to ensure that features, such as sports fields, fishing ponds and walking paths, remain viable after storms, she said.

However, city officials say, one potential problem could complicate post-storm clean-up efforts: trash.

While the city has not indicated whether additional funding would be made available to speed up post-storm trash collection, a planning document for council members said such considerations “will need to be accounted for in maintenance plans” due to the high amount of debris likely to collect in storm waters.

Lusk said parks officials would clean trash and debris from affected parks “as soon as possible” after storms.

Vice Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum, who grew up near Cambridge Village Park and now represents the area, said retrofitting parks for detention may save residents undue hassle in the run-up to large storms.

The neighborhood around Cambridge Village Park has long experienced street flooding, Castex-Tatum said, a hardship she said has forced residents to park their cars elsewhere and walk through flooded streets to get home in heavy rains.

The park drainage project, she said, “will greatly improve the quality of life.”


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