Of the multiple comments that were made by Wharton County citizens during a Commissioners Court meeting on Monday, June 24, it was drainage throughout Precinct 1 that dominated the concerns of around a dozen citizens.
Others brought up, in limited fashion, solar energy and its economic effects or lack thereof to the county, speeding and drainage in Precinct 2.
It appears that citizens who complained about the flow of drainage were from the Boling and Lane city areas. The dates in question were the rain event that spanned June 5 into the next day.
Some who didn’t flood during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, did this time nearly two years later. Some said they flooded again.
Their meeting comments were directed at Richard Zahn, who is the commissioner for Pct. 1, and in some capacity Judge Phillip Spenrath, who said he and commissioners Doug Mathews (Pct. 4) and Steven Goetsch (Pct. 3) “were in awe” with the standing room only crowd.
Half a dozen citizens spoke about how water runoff is lacking and even sitting in areas near and around Magnet, Lane City, Boling, Pecan Valley, Bear Bottom, Caney Creek, Baughman Slough, San Bernard River and county roads 442, 167, 103, 162, 123 and State Highway 60.
One unidentified resident said Zahn is not capable of doing an adequate job and pointed to finances.
Another resident told Zahn she wants a dam constructed near Caney Creek.
“Give this man the money he needs to do this,” one man who was not identified said. He was referring to Zahn, who had been out on the field during this latest major rain storm.
It was suggested that the only way to obtain that money for improved drainage is to raise taxes, which is likely to come up once again when the Commissioners Court begins discussing the budget this summer.
Among some of the officials who spoke during the meeting were Andy Kirkland, who is the county’s Emergency Management coordinator, Eric Scheibe, with Scheibe Consulting, who is a contracted engineer with the county, and Brian Koch, regional watershed coordinator with the Texas State Soil & Water Conservation Board.
Zahn requested drainage in Precinct 1 be placed on the meeting agenda after hearing a multitude of concerns from his constituents.
“We’re all aware on June 5 we had a major rain event. Wharton had 11 inches, Burr area 15 inches and Lane City 17 inches,” Zahn said.
“We had 3- to 4-inch rainfall every hour. Prior to that a week ago we had 6 inches of rain with water already in the ditches and the creeks. This (June 5) rain came, everything filled and had nowhere to go. Water was running uphill.
“There were homes that had water in them that never had water before,” he added.
Scheibe’s firm is based in Austin, and has worked with WC on various projects for several years, including tributary mapping and two-dimensional hydraulic models along the Colorado and San Bernard rivers. Zahn had asked Scheibe to look into another matter in the fall of 2017 – the irrigation canal that today residents are concerned with.
Some of Scheibe’s comments also pointed to activity the county had done in the mid-1990s at the request of its county engineer, whose name did not come up.
Much of what Scheibe said centered around an irrigation canal that residents referred to as a “levy” and was parallel to Nelson Lane.
Utilizing industry practices in the last decade, the county moved forward without a permit and according to some residents, WC produced work on private property.
Elected officials, who were not in the current Commissioners Court, could not determine if in fact that did occur. Spenrath assured residents he would find out.
Added Scheibe: “Construction of this canal was not done with a permit so that was the emphasis of this report, to determine if there was adverse impact.
“There were limitations back in the 1990s when hydraulic modeling was used and the result of their analysis was there were no adverse effects.”
He said the work was based on a “two-year event,” which amounts to about 4 inches of rain in 24 hours and did not take the Colorado River into account, but rather rainfall readings.
It resulted in a diversion channel being constructed parallel to Nelson Lane that would then drain to the Colorado River, Scheibe said.
In the 1990s, a survey done of the canal’s height was not tied to a vertical dam, Scheibe said, but rather what he described as a “site specific benchmark.” He said this survey was based upon three nails that were driven into three different trees and no other description.” Therefore, Scheibe was unable to obtain an accurate elevation.
He said 2D modeling (through computer technology) of the Colorado River was received this month, which is half a year before the Houston-Galveston Area Council said Wharton County would have it.
He said he would like to study the new data and compare it to date obtained from the past, but not before the meeting discussion turned to “drainage easements” and possibly widening or deepening culverts and ditches in landowner property.
Some of the areas mentioned were FM 1299, CR 132 and Nelson Lane. The Court would have to receive approval from landowners if it began earthwork on private property, Spenrath said.
“Right now, I couldn’t speak to whether we could handle a 100-year event; I don’t have the calculations to say the ditch needs to be a certain amount,” Scheibe said.
One of the residents who spoke was Nicole Hammond, a resident of Pecan Valley area since the 1970s.
“The flooding concerns and ineffective drainage system is this area has been an unrelenting battle with our county officials for 25 years,” said Hammond, reading from a prepared statement.
She said the county became a National Floodplain Insurance Program (NFIP) participant in 1974, requiring it to have a mitigation plan.
She said in the early 1990s, the county should have adhered to NFIP requirements when it “assisted the implementation of a canal/levee on the north side of a grass farm along CR 167.”
Scheibe said he would have to defer to the county attorney if there is a legal mechanism involved in this matter.
Pct. 2 Commissioner Chris King was not present during the meeting.