HOUSTON — With all the recent rain and an expected washout this Labor Day weekend, some neighborhoods continue to light up the City of Houston’s 311 helpline with flooding and drainage complaints.
KHOU 11 Investigates analyzed 4,418 311 calls this year to find the hot spots for high-water issues.
The Westbury neighborhood in southwest Houston is one of them, with 26 complaints near Willowbend Boulevard between Fondren Road and Hillcroft Avenue.
It doesn’t take a hurricane to create havoc for homeowners.
“A light rain causes a backup, and there’s no reason it should be backing up,” homeowner Philip Conn said.
The water backups make for traffic backups, and not just your routine variety.
“It makes it dangerous because people do crazy things,” homeowner Michelle Potoczniak said. “We’ve had people drive through our yards to try and escape the water."
A stormwater operations supervisor with Houston Public Works said the area has a very old underground storm sewer system that does not have the capacity to handle normal rain events.
“The pipes have settled, and the ditches have silted enough that the pipes are lower than the discharge point into the channel, so that’s a problem because the water is going nowhere,” said Johana Clark, senior assistant director of stormwater operations for Houston Public Works.
But any significant relief isn’t coming any time soon. An $11 million dollar drainage project in Westbury is only approaching 60% design completion with construction expected in about a year. On nearby Fondren Road, a $25 million paving and drainage project is expected to break ground in September 2024.
Another hot spot with 27 drainage complaints this year is in the Sunnyside neighborhood near Cullen Boulevard and Bellfort Street on the city’s south side. Homeowner Harold Mourning shared photos of stormwater rising just shy of his front door in the 4500 block of Sunflower Street.
“The drainage is not flowing, the ditches are not flowing,” Mourning said. “The city needs to take care of their business.”
The drainage infrastructure in the Sunnyside area was constructed back in the 1950s.
“For major rain events, the capacity is not there,” Houston Public Works’ Clark said. “That’s one of the neighborhoods that requires a complete reconstruction project.”
Such a project has been designed with an estimated budget of $111 million, but Clark said the city is waiting on federal funding to proceed.
The neighborhood with the most 311 complaints about flooding and drainage is Cottage Grove, just northeast of Memorial Park.
Rows of densely-packed townhomes have replaced single-family homes with yards in recent years. Houston Public Works said a big challenge is overgrown weeds in roadside ditches in the neighborhood.
Clark said per city ordinance, it is the property owners’ responsibility to do basic maintenance like mowing ditches and keeping them clear of debris that could impact water flow.
“We have over 2,400 miles of roadside ditches city-wide,” Clark said. “We must count on the community to do that part.”
She added there are pending work orders to dig out, flush out and regrade some ditches in Cottage Grove that have had soil build up over the years.
As for the Westbury neighborhood, Clark’s message to homeowners isn’t an easy one.
“What I tell them is, well -- and I know they don’t want to hear it -- but they need to be patient, there are already projects coming in place,” Clark said.