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Project Barker Aims to Address Katy Area Flooding


October 20, 2021

By Natalie Cook Clark

The Willow Fork Drainage District presented information on Project Barker, a flood risk reduction and park project, at a stakeholder meeting last night. They are committed to the project but need help finishing it. The Katy area experienced massive flooding during Hurricane Harvey, and officials warn this will happen again.

Project Barker plans to address future Katy area flooding risk by creating park space that will positively impact both the environment and education and youth programs. Hurricane Harvey devastated the area in 2017.

Katy Area Must Address Flood Management

“I want us to be the generation that addresses flood management in a significant way,” says Wendy Duncan, Willow Fork Drainage District (WFDD) Board President.

WFDD was established in 1985 with the purpose to address drainage as more homes and development moved west to the Cinco Ranch area. It has grown to 5,718 acres of land that includes 15+ miles of drainage channels, 50+ miles of storm sewer, 30+ miles of off-street trails, and 3 public parks.

Katy Not Prepared for Flooding Events

When Hurricane Harvey hit in August of 2017 it brought devastation to the greater Katy area and further emphasized what many officials and experts knew, this area is not prepared to handle flooding events.

While Harvey was horrible, many officials believe that it could have been worse, and we need to be better prepared.

“Barker Reservoir requires for them to flood homes,” stressed Stephen Robinson, Partner with Allen Boone Humphries Robinson LLP. Robinson presented clear facts on the flooding problem at the meeting. This issue is also personal to him as his home flooded with over 3 feet of water during Harvey.

Only 38% of the total storage in Barker Reservoir is available on government owned land. This means that any overage will result in the flooding of homes and businesses.

WFDD went to work quickly after Harvey and repaired channels in October 2017 with reserve funds. This turned out to save more homes and money as a Halloween storm that year would have resulted in the re-flooding of a significant portion of the area impacted by Harvey.

Wendy Duncan, WFDD Board President addressed flooding concerns at a stakeholder meeting last night.

“We need to have control over our own destiny,” says Duncan. The Barker Project is the first project not about repairing from Harvey, but a project designed to make the community stronger.

The project involves increasing flood storage capacity on a cost-effective basis. It is a solution that can be replicated to continue to expand storage within the Barker Reservoir, while creating active park space that will benefit the community and positively impact the environment.

A Storm Like Harvey Will Happen Again

“This is not the end,” says Duncan. “Hurricane Harvey wasn’t a one-time fluke. It will happen again.”

“The answer is to increase conveyance, increase storage, or both,” says Robinson.

The greater city of Houston has seen this work as out of 22 bayous in the greater Houston area, Sims Bayou paid for itself during Harvey. It’s the only bayou designed to handle such an event.

The biggest problem is the lack of conveyance in Buffalo Bayou, yet Houston hasn’t made any changes to the bayou to mitigate the known problems outlined in the 1940 study,

“Nothing has been done to Buffalo Bayou,” says Robinson. “If we can’t flow 18,000 CFS down Buffalo Bayou we need to increase storage.”

The Army Corps of Engineers agrees with and approves Project Barker. They will also help with the work.

“Every bucket of dirt out of the reservoir can be a bucket of water that doesn't end up in people's homes,” says Duncan.

Maps courtesy of Project Barker.

A Natural Park Will Address Flooding Needs

Barker Project will cover 340 acres excavation area with a total project of 422 acres. It will create a natural park, to cut down on maintenance, that will serve as low land wetlands to protect homes and businesses during future flooding events.

WFDD Seeks Funding, Partners

“WFDD has the will to do it and we are committed,” says Duncan. “We don’t have the funds to do it without sacrificing fiscal responsibility to the community we serve.”

So far, the project has a committed $10 million dollars plus a $2 million-dollar grant from the State.

“The more cash we have upfront the cheaper the project gets,” says Duncan.

WFDD has made the decision to not increase the tax rate at this time.

Duncan hopes to be able to show the federal government the power of our community. “I want to be able to say that I have X amount of districts bonded together to solve this problem, and we need your help.”

“If we sit around and wait for the federal government to provide funding, we will be waiting another 100 years and 3 more studies,” says Duncan. We need to start this project. We need to start moving dirt and start projects that will provide flood mitigation that was recommended through the 1940 study.”

WFDD is seeking downstream partners. They don’t expect help from Houston but are seeking a portion of the $2.5 million granted to Harris County Flood Control.

In addition to mitigating flooding, Project Barker will also provide educational opportunities for Texas Master Naturists, Scout/youth programs, and other programs.

November Community Town Hall Meeting

WFDD will hold a Town Hall Meeting on this subject next month. Follow Project Barker online for more information. The WFDD Board asked area MUD districts to talk and see how they can commit or contribute to the project.

Learn more about WFDD at their website.

“This is a generation project that impacts the entire region,” says Duncan. “Are we going to be the generation to fix this in a meaningful way?”


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