ACEC Texas Awards Gold Medal to LAN for Clear Lake Flood Control Project
By Jay Srinivasan
The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Texas awarded civil engineering firm Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. (LAN) a gold medal for its work on the first phase of the Clear Lake flood control project in Harris County. The award, given under the water resources category, will be presented during the ACEC Texas Engineering Excellence Awards Gala at the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston on March 30, 2020.
The Engineering Excellence Awards Competition has been held by the American Council of Engineering Companies of Texas since its inception in 1975 to honor and recognize outstanding achievements within the engineering community. A panel of judges around the state select projects based on innovation, future value to the engineering profession, social and economic considerations, complexity and exceeding the client’s needs.
The project, named Exploration Green in honor of the community’s local exploration legacy and its proximity to Johnson Space Center, is transforming a former 178-acre 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, 12 miles of hike-and-bike trails, two athletic fields and other amenities. The first phase of the project, which was completed in April 2018, includes 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. LAN is the project’s design engineer.
Building the detention ponds has already turned out to be immensely beneficial to the community. In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey came ashore creating a storm of an intensity and duration unparalleled in Houston history. The hurricane dumped an estimated 45 inches of rainfall on the Clear Lake area and even more in some surrounding neighborhoods. 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. Ultimately, Exploration Green will protect 2,000 – 3,000 homes.
“Communities throughout Texas are looking for ways to mitigate flooding events like Hurricane Harvey,” 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 nearly 400 species of birds, plants, insects and reptiles have been verified at Exploration Green.