Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Beryl strains Houston’s drainage infrastructure, causing flooding in some neighborhoods | Houston Public Media

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Colleen DeGuzman/Houston Public Media

The home of Aldine resident Richard Reyes was flooded with nearly a foot of water by Hurricane Beryl.

The rain had stopped, so Richard Reyes, an Aldine resident, thought his home was safe from flooding.

But at around 8 a.m. on Monday, he said water started gushing into his living room and bedroom.

“In a matter of half an hour, it went from there to there,” Reyes said, pointing from his front door to his back wall. “It flew in like a waterfall.”

Hurricane Beryl, a category 1 hurricane that killed at least seven people as of Tuesday, left many Houstonians with debris-filled roads, fallen fences and for some of the more unfortunate, flooded homes.

Reyes, 73, said his house took in nearly a foot of water. He was using a bucket to get some of it out while his son, who lives with him, was working on moving a large tree that had fallen in front of their home.

This is the first time his house has flooded. He said he knew there were risks of flooding when he moved into the neighborhood five years ago, and back then “when it would rain, the water would never go down for like a month.”

That was before the city’s New Roadside Ditch Re-establishment Program, which dug around 2,500 miles of roadside ditches around the city last year, including Aldine. He added that his neighborhood also got new, huge drainage pipes to increase water retention.

But it wasn’t enough.

“We almost got away with it, but we didn’t,” he said.

Aldine resident Richard Reyes

Colleen DeGuzman/Houston Public Media

The home of Aldine resident Richard Reyes was flooded with nearly a foot of water by Hurricane Beryl.

Reyes is an artist and some of his paintings got soaked. He’s involved with Talento Bilingüe de Houston, a local culture center. He has several Chicano-themed paintings up on the walls of his living room and bedroom. He’s glad those are safe from the flooding, but some of his older pieces which were leaning on the ground got destroyed.

“It’s hard to see,” he said.

He said he’s going to have to toss out all of his bedroom furniture, but he said what’s keeping him afloat is the kindness his neighbors have offered him.

“Five years is not a long time to know your neighbors but this guy here to the left of me he, that’s his generator that we are using,” Reyes said. “And that guy to the right of me, he came out with his saw to cut the tree. The guy across the street from me, he lent me his water pump to pump the water out.”

Improving drainage infrastructure, especially in areas prone to flooding such as Aldine, is an issue Houston City Council has long been dealing with.

In 2019, a lawsuit was filed against the city over a decade-long controversy over how the city calculated funding for drainage and street projects. Plaintiffs argue that the city has “been illegally withholding hundreds of millions of dollars from the Dedicated Drainage and Street Renewal Fund,” Matthew Erickson, an Austin-based attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

He added that the city was “violating the charter amendment voters approved in 2018. Thanks to this ruling, that practice must now stop.”

Last month, a state appellate court rejected the city’s second attempt to appeal the case and avoid spending hundreds of millions of dollars more on such projects.

City Attorney Arturo Michel has said the city plans to make a third appeal before the Texas Supreme Court, but City Controller Chris Hollins warned city council last week that they may risk facing a much higher dollar figure if they do.

“We could lose that suit and be on the hook for what my office estimates to be between $110 million and $120 million,” Hollins said.

Reyes is still working on pumping water out of his bedroom and what has made it more difficult is that he also doesn’t have clean running water. But he’s staying positive. He is also known as Pancho Claus, the Tex-Mex Santa Claus, after all.

His nonprofit, Pancho Claus, delivers toys to children in impoverished neighborhoods during the holiday season.

“You don’t even have water to clean up yourself after,” he said while sitting on his front porch, which was full of debris and all his furniture to dry. “But I’m glad there is a good breeze and I have a good rocking chair here.”

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