Subsidence blamed for disasters similar to Florida collapse

GALVESTON COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- An old subdivision in the Baytown area no longer exists due to years of subsidence.

But what exactly is that and what causes it?

Historically, areas along the coast, like Galveston, Jamaica Beach and other coastal communities, are known to have the largest numbers of subsidence, which is when you start seeing the ground sinking.

Now, areas throughout Houston and surrounding counties are seeing greater instances of subsidence.

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Michael Turco is the general manager of the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, which was created decades ago to specifically track and monitor subsidence.

"We've been dealing with subsidence here for the last 40 plus years," Turco explained. "Subsidence is the lowering of land surface elevation so it happens very slowly in our area. Sometimes it's hard to see on the surface."

Turco said the areas dependence on ground water is one of the major factors that cause this, which means in specific areas where this is happening, the ground is gradually sinking.

Turco said one of the prime examples of this is the Brownwood subdivision, which used to be home for thousands of residents in the Baytown area. Due to subsidence overtime, the area sunk an estimated 9 to 13 feet.

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They got a rude awakening earlier this week when part of an exterior wall fell away from their building during the night. The commotion may have been startling, but as ABC13's Charlie Haldeman reports the incident brought another incident to the top of their minds.

Turco said as a result, the area started seeing more flooding and eventually had to be abandoned decades ago. Now, a nature center stands in its place.

"The largest water infrastructure project in the country right now is ongoing in our region to solve that problem," Turco said. "It's something we watch very closely and are working with regional water providers throughout the region so that they can get off of ground water and stop the subsidence that is happening today."

Shuhab Khan, professor of geology in the department of Earth and atmospheric sciences at the University of Houston, has also been tracking subsidence in the area for more than 10 years.

He said areas where there is more development are seeing this issue.

"There is more construction and so there is more groundwater use in those areas," Khan said. "Like Katy, here around Sugar Land and Fort Bend County area."

You can check out this interactive map on the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District's website, which shows exactly subsidence is occurring in the Houston-area region.

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