'Our water has nowhere to go': Northeast Houston residents petition city for more drainage funding

Rosie Nguyen Image
Wednesday, June 7, 2023
'Our water has nowhere to go': Residents petition for drainage funding
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Neighbors in northeast Houston are petitioning for the city council to provide more money to combat flooding in their area.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Neighbors living in northeast Houston petitioned one last time on Tuesday to City Council for more money to combat flooding in their area, ahead of its scheduled budget vote on Wednesday.

Some of the residents who spoke during the public comment session expressed frustration and exhaustion from dealing with the poor drainage infrastructure in their neighborhoods.

Carolyn Rivera was one of them. She's lived in the Settegast neighborhood for the last 45 years, where she raised her five children and plans to spend the rest of her retirement.

But for the past several years, it hasn't felt like the safest place to live. Her neighborhood has an open ditch drainage system instead of a curb and gutter system. She said it often floods or collects standing water during normal rainfall, a problem that was severely worsened by damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

READ MORE: 5 years after Harvey: Exploring the racial inequities in disaster relief distribution

To make matters more difficult, the city doesn't come out to clear the culverts when it becomes clogged with leaves or trash. About two decades ago, it shifted the responsibility for maintenance to individual homeowners.

"When it rains, or a winter storm is coming, I feel panicky because I know that our drains are not kept up, and the water has nowhere to go," Rivera said.

Advocates with the Northeast Action Collective (NAC) said this is a problem plaguing mostly low-income populations and communities of color.

According to an analysis by ABC13's content partner, the Houston Chronicle, nearly three-quarters of all open ditches are in areas with 85% or more minority residents. A third are in areas where the majority of families live below 185% of the poverty line, the point at which many social services begin.

"In areas with open ditches, street flooding leads to stagnant water, which is a public health hazard. This water carries toxins and chemicals from all of the other environmental justice issues in northeast Houston," Alice Liu with Northeast Action Collective said.

The Chronicle reports that Mayor Sylvester Turner's proposed fiscal 2024 spending plan features a sharp increase in tax dollars from $77 million to $123 million for "Build Houston Forward," the city's street and drainage program. Most of the additional funds would be funneled toward large-scale capital improvement projects already in the pipeline, according to the Department of Public Works and Engineering.

RELATED: Outgoing Houston mayor backs increasing drainage team budget to $40M but calls on Harris Co. to help

Currently, the city of Houston has the Storm Water Action Team (SWAT) to address drainage issues, which saw an increase in its funding from $20 million to $60 million. But NAC said the program splits funding evenly between all districts, and they want more resources diverted to areas with the worst issues.

READ MORE:Drainage issues to be fixed as city of Houston approves additional funds for repair

Liu and Rivera joined other neighbors and advocates in making one last plea for a proposed amendment by Councilmember Tarsha Jackson. It would add $20 million to the already-existing Local Drainage Program (LDP). The extra money would be prioritized for neighborhoods with the most critical need.

"This is a historic moment that has been in the works for the past four to five years that NAC has been fighting for more investment in drainage infrastructure. We've been unsuccessful in the past," Liu said. "But this is just one piece of the larger puzzle. The issue of drainage infrastructure in Houston is not going to be something that's going to be solved by $20 million."

"Hopefully, it will open up communication between the residents and the city of Houston, where we can work together to solve the problem," Rivera said.

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