Houston may add a new feature to 5 nearby parks: rainwater drainage

Sports fields and walking paths at five Houston parks can be converted into rainwater traps during heavy rains. plan City officials hope it will reduce flooding in nearby neighborhoods.

The five recreation areas – Boone Park, Hackberry Park, Cambridge Village Park, Edgewood Park and EP Hill Park – are located in south or southwest Houston and were selected after a citywide review of flood-prone neighborhoods by the Departments of Public Works, Parks and Recreation. , which is collaborating on the pilot project.

If the pilot program is deemed successful, it could be deployed to other parks across the city as part of Houston’s flood mitigation efforts, according to city officials, who described it as a small but important way to protect homes as climate change intensifies hurricanes. increasingly heavy rain, Overburdening the city of Houston Infrastructure and Flood Defenses.

A public hearing on the pilot is scheduled for 9 a.m. July 13 at City Hall.

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Under the plan, the five parks will undergo construction to improve their ability to hold water during heavy rains. At Hackberry Park in Alief, for example, officials are proposing converting an old golf course into a wetland and deepening multiple ponds to better contain rainwater. At Edgewood Park in southeast Houston, the city will erect a new soccer field slightly lower than the rest of the park to hold large amounts of water.

If possible, the changes will be accompanied by upgrades to attract wildlife and improve park amenities, said Kelli Ondracek, director of natural resources for the Parks Department.

“The end goal will be to help with the floods in a major storm, but on a day-to-day basis these parks will still operate the way they always have,” said Ondasek.

Design and construction at Hackberry and Boone Gardens, in Alief, is expected to cost $8.1 million and disaster recovery costs will be paid for by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Roberto Medina, a public works spokesperson. He said no cost estimates had been given for the other parks.

Houston’s extensive network of bays and streams played an important role in flood management. For at least a decade, city planners have designed public lands, from Brays Bayou to Keith-Wiess Park in North Houston, with an emphasis on rainwater retention.

A plan to convert five city parks into rainwater retention sites has been in the works for two years. Parish Ladd, a public works analyst, said the designers drew inspiration from James W. Lee Park in Spring Branch, which has been converted into a reserve prison for Julie’s Brickhouse, a concrete-lined channel draining part of the White Oak Bayou watershed.

District Council member Amy Beck, who represents the district, said detention works well when “the park is full of water.”

“My constituents are happy with that,” Beck said, while reviewing the five-park city experience during the April meeting of the council’s Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure Committee.

The first, Joan Cortez, has watched how the city’s modifications to James W. Lee Park have improved drainage in the past two years since the project was completed. Cortez, a 28-year-old neighborhood resident, ventures out in his rain gear to watch the park’s new baseball field fill with stormwater, avoiding neighboring homes.

While Cortez and other neighbors were initially concerned that the park would “always be a puddle of water,” their fears proved unfounded. She said the field dries up quickly when the water runs out.

Charlotte Lask, assistant director of the Parks Department’s Department of Landscaping Management, stressed that the needs of park users have been taken into account as plans move toward construction. She said park officials have gone “back and forth with Public Works” to make sure features, such as sports fields, fishing ponds and hiking trails, remain viable after storms.

However, city officials say, one potential problem could complicate clean-up efforts after a storm: garbage.

While the city did not clarify whether additional funding would be made available to speed up garbage collection after the storm, a planning document for council members stated that such considerations “must be taken into account in maintenance plans” given the large amount of debris likely to collect in storm water.

Lask said park officials will clean up trash and debris from affected parks “as soon as possible” after storms.

Pro-Tim Deputy Mayor Martha Castex-Tatum, who grew up near Cambridge Village Park and now represents the area, said modifying the parks for confinement could save residents from unnecessary trouble in the lead-up to big storms.

Castex Tatum said the neighborhood around Cambridge Village Park has long suffered from street flooding, a hardship it said has forced residents to park elsewhere and walk flooded streets back to their homes in heavy rain.

She said the park’s water drainage project would “dramatically improve the quality of life”.

nora.mishanec@chron.com