Turkey Gully Clay

Water flows past a clay formation in Turkey Gully in the Timbergrove neighborhood. At the request of residents, the Harris County Flood Control District removed a mound of clay from the waterway earlier this year to help improve drainage capacity and flow. (Photo by Adam Zuvanich)

Flooding is almost an ever-present threat in Houston, especially during hurricane season. But when Tropical Storm Nicholas was barreling toward the city earlier this month, some Timbergrove residents were not quite as concerned as they might have been in previous years.

It had been only a few months since the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) heeded the request of some engaged neighborhood residents and improved the drainage capacity of two nearby waterways.

In May, the flood control district enlisted a contractor to clear 1.6 acres of brush and remove 10 trees that were downed, structurally unstable or hampering water flow in Shelterwood Gully near West 11th Street, according to Jason Krahn, the manager of the district’s Infrastructure Division. Less than a month later, Krahn said the HCFCD removed a mound of clay that was impeding flow and putting stress on the banks of Turkey Gully, which runs through the Timbergrove neighborhood and into nearby White Oak Bayou.

“We want to say thank you for listening to our request and working with us,” said Timbergrove resident John Zavala, who made the request along with fellow Super Neighborhood Council 14 member Tim Hassett.

Zavala said he and Hassett became aware of the clay formation during a Turkey Gully cleanup event in January, when a group of volunteers that included Houston City Council member Abbie Kamin picked up trash and debris from in and around the gully. There also was woody debris, downed tree limbs, concrete rubble and remnants of an old chain-link fence behind a flood-prone empty lot on Timbergrove Lane that the flood control district had previously purchased, and it also cleaned up those materials at the request of Zavala and Hassett while placing a sign on the property to discourage illegal dumping.

Zavala and Hassett had brought the concerns to Krahn’s former supervisor, Sandra Musgrove, who oversaw the work before retiring in early July. Krahn said the flood control district spent $10,051.21 on the work in Turkey Gully and an additional $5,163.04 on the Shelterwood Gully project.

Regarding the project in Turkey Gully, Krahn said the clay mound that was removed stood about 5 feet above the normal water line. And while water was meandering around the clay, it put stress on a nearby bank where tree roots are exposed, Krahn said.

“We did see a benefit from doing it in that it take stress off that bank,” Krahn said. “We’re always there to help the residents and grateful they had a good rapport and contact with the district. We’re always ready to help out any way we can.”

Krahn also said the flood control district encourages other neighborhood residents to be engaged, open lines of communication with the district and relay flood-related concerns they might have. The flood control district maintains more than 2,500 miles of bayous, creeks and man-made drainage channels, along with dozens of large stormwater detention basins and about 2,300 buyout lots across the county.

So HCFCD officials cannot be everywhere and see everything that might be impeding drainage, which is why Krahn said it values the input of community members.

Zavala said it also took persistence, persuasion and relationship-building on the part of him and Hassett, who convinced the flood control district that even though the clay mound was a natural formation that still allowed for the flow of water, removing it improved the flow and thereby reduced flooding risks for nearby properties.

“We got involved and got with flood control, and they produced the goods,” Zavala said. “Everybody wins. The bayous have less debris in them, they hold more water and water flows faster.”

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