The detention pond was full. The nearby gully where excess water was supposed to be pumped was full, too. And neighbors in the Tomball neighborhood of Northern Point didn't feel like sitting around to watch the water rise into their homes.
A group of neighborhood handymen bought a batch of PVC pipes and a generator, put on their boots, hopped in a boat and made their way out to the pond themselves. Since the pond and nearby gully had simply become one, the pumps were merely recirculating the water without moving it anywhere, only worsening the flooding problem. "It was like turning on the jets in a hot tub," said Northern Point HOA President Bruce Weaver.
So in a last-minute DIY drainage project, the neighbors attached the PCP pipes to the detention pond's pump hoses —then tried to reroute them over nearby railroad tracks and into a different ditch. Only problem: The hose was slightly bigger than the PCP pipes. Needless to say, despite the neighbors' best efforts, doing the job of the Municipal Utility District with just hours' notice and with Home Depot supplies was simply no match for Harvey's record-shattering flooding.
"If they could have gotten a good hose where they were pumping 100 percent of the water over the tracks, they probably would have been doing some good," Weaver said. "But it was just too late."
Weaver said about 160 homes flooded in their Tomball neighborhood but that, curiously, nearby subdivisions didn't have a flooding problem. He blamed the Harris County Municipal Utility District No. 368 for its placement of the emergency pump in their pond, saying it was at an inaccessible location, leaving both neighbors and drainage workers alike unable to move or modify it in case it became useless — which it did.
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Ray Lakey, president of MUD 368, said there was frankly nothing the MUD could have done in this situation, because no one could have anticipated a 500-year flood. He said the detention pond was only designed for a 100-year flood, and he doesn't believe that placing the pump at the other end of the pond would have made a significant difference in this case.
"These systems were working like they were designed to work — but they were never designed to handle that much water," Lakey said.
He didn't look too kindly on the neighbors who tried to address the flooding themselves, saying they could probably be criminally charged for "operating district equipment without being a licensed operator." But the utility district isn't looking in that direction, he said.