Houston reversed its decades-old ditch policy, putting the responsibility back into the hands of city workers. Houston City Council unanimously voted on Wednesday, to implement the New Roadside Ditch Re-establishment Program.
"Previously the onus was on the property owner and now the city is taking back that responsibility," said Mayor Sylvester Turner.
During the city's budget session, Mayor Turner made mention of the reversal after advocates like the Northeast Action Collective had been fighting for years to get more funding for drainage and infrastructure projects. Houston Public Works outlined the new program during the city's Transportation, Technology and Infrastructure Committee in August.
For some owners, like low-income residents, maintaining ditches became a burden. According to the city, about 80% of open ditches are in Northeast Houston, an area the city is making a high priority for ditch maintenance along with Houston's Complete Communities.
Under a five-year proactive plan, the city will do routine inspections to ensure the ditches are draining properly, but two-year city-wide evaluations of all open ditches will be conducted before the five-year cycle starts. Responsibilities include regrading, clearing and grubbing, flow line establishment, culvert flushing and repair, and removal of heavy debris/obstruction – upkeep that could prevent neighborhood flooding.
While the city maintains the bulk of the responsibility, residents will still have to keep the grass cut, pick up small litter in their ditches, and not install items that are not permitted.
"It’s a game changer for the residents in District B," said Council Member Tarsha Jackson, who represents most of Northeast Houston. "It means a lot to the residents in District B. As you know, we have a lot of open ditches and we deal with a lot of flooding."
District A Council Member Amy Peck said she supports the reversal, but she was concerned about the implementation of the program. Pecks said she allocated $100,000 to a similar program in her district, but it was put on pause.
"We were told this program (roadside ditch re-establishment) would take care of all the roadside ditches in District A only to find out that really most of the money is only being spent in one area of town that is not District A."
Peck suggested the program be re-evaluated in terms of what areas should be of high priority because she said her district deals with major flooding as well.
"It doesn’t seem like this program is being implemented with any kind of equity or using any kind of data to look at what areas are flooding," she said. "If we were looking at that data, I think District A would be on the immediate list of ditches that we’re looking at here."
District I Council Member Robert Gallegos recommended code enforcement, spelling out what city departments are responsible for when issues like grass weeds are so many inches high or when illegal dumping occurs in ditches – that he said he's currently dealing with at Clinton Park in the Northeast part of his district.
"I’m being told well if this happens, you need to go to solid waste, if this happens, you need to go to public work … .in regards to dealing with the ditch."
Turner encouraged all council districts to continue to work with Houston Public Works as the groundwork for the policy gets solidified.