Flood control project protects community during hurricanes

Oct. 1, 2020
Houston’s Clear Lake Water Authority completes phase 2 of Exploration Green.

HOUSTON -- Clear Lake City Water Authority completed work on the second phase of Exploration Green, a massive 178-acre flood control project in southeast Houston.

The project, named in honor of the community’s local exploration legacy and its proximity to Johnson Space Center, is transforming a former golf course into five massive detention ponds that can each hold 100 million gallons of stormwater (the equivalent of 750 Olympic-sized swimming pools). In addition, Exploration Green will also serve as a nature park comprising 105 acres of natural habitat with wetlands and native grass land areas, six miles of hike-and-bike trails, two athletic fields and other amenities.

The second phase of the project features a 26.2-acre detention pond, 18 acres of natural habitat with wetlands, and 1.3 miles of hike-and-bike trails. The first phase, which was completed in April 2018, included a 23.7-acre detention pond, 15.2 acres of natural habitat with wetlands, and 1.25 miles of hike-and-bike trails.

Clear Lake City Water Authority (CLCWA), the local provider of water, sewage collection and treatment, and storm drainage services, is spearheading the project. Exploration Green Conservancy, Inc., a non-profit organization, is serving as CLCWA’s partner to develop and preserve the project’s green spaces. Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN), a planning, engineering and program management firm, is the project’s design engineer.

Building the detention ponds has turned out to be immensely beneficial to the community. During Hurricane Harvey, although only 80 percent of the Phase 1 pond was excavated at the time of the hurricane, it helped detain 100 million gallons of water, protecting at least 150 homes from flooding. In 2019, Tropical Storm Imelda hardly made a dent on the community, and the project withstood Tropical Storm Beta easily. Ultimately, when all five phases are completed in 2021, Exploration Green will protect 2,000 - 3,000 homes.

“With the recently completed Phase 2 undergoing a test from Tropical Storm Beta, it was a great indicator to see how well Phase 1 and 2 integrated together,” said Jennifer Morrow, CLCWA’s general manager. “This opportunity to provide retrofitted detention to a community previously struggling with drainage has been a huge benefit so far, and we are looking forward to completing the entire project.”

“Communities throughout Texas are looking for ways to mitigate major flooding events like Harvey, Imelda and Beta,” said Wayne Swafford, P.E., LAN’s president. “Exploration Green is transforming Clear Lake from a flood-prone community into one of the most flood-resilient communities in Texas. In addition, it is creating a healthy, sustainable neighborhood for its residents.”

Economically the project protects homes from flooding, increases home values and decreases flood insurance costs. Located in an area that was in economic decline, the project has already begun to revitalize home values. Anecdotal evidence from area realtors indicates that homes abutting the project have increased in value by 50-100 percent over the past three years. 

Situated in the  center of the Clear Lake community, this project provides easy green space and trail access for strolling, walking, jogging or biking. Nearly 70 percent of the 40,000 people living in the direct Clear Lake area will be within walking distance of Exploration Green, and the remaining 30 percent will be less than a mile from one of the sections.

Finally, the wetlands and native trees, grasses and wildflowers have provided an attractive habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife. iNaturalist reports indicate that hundreds of birds, plants, insects and reptiles have been verified at Exploration Green.

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