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Property owners along Navasota River seeking solutions to damaging instances of flooding

Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 11:12 PM CDT
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GRIMES COUNTY, Texas (KBTX) - Flooding of the Navasota River is causing adverse effects to the land of nearby property owners, some of whom have hundreds of acres underwater when the flooding occurs.

Cheryl Langford is a rancher and one of those landowners. She says her land has been in her family for seven generations and over 150 years.

“This water here is an enormous amount of water,” Langford said. “Out of my 378 acres, I have maybe 80 that is on this bluff that my cattle can retreat to.”

The water that floods Langford’s property is over 17 feet higher than normal on this particular occasion. She says the flooding comes from water released by Lake Limestone Reservoir near Thornton.

“We’re getting our lands eroded, and our property is getting devalued,” Langford said. “We have loss of use of our land. I have weeds that come in here from God knows where.”

The flood plain of the Navasota River spans five counties, so Langford isn’t the only person experiencing issues. Mike Southerland also owns property along the river as a member of a partnership. He says when the flooding is at its worst, only five of his 126 acres are accessible.

“One of the partners wants to sell, and in these conditions it drives the values way down. It’s almost worthless,” Southerland said. “As a matter of fact, I checked with a real estate agent, and he said, ‘Yeah, it’s going to be hard to get rid of that property.’”

Langford and Southerland say over the past 20 years, the Navasota River has been flooded unnaturally by Lake Limestone 38 times. Langford says over the past five years, it seems like it’s gotten worst and lasted for longer periods of time.

The Brazos River Authority oversees Lake Limestone, but they say the reservoir isn’t the problem. Brad Brunett is the regional manager of the Central and Lower Brazos Basin for the agency, and he explains how they make their decisions to release water from the reservoir.

“Whatever is flowing into the reservoir, that’s what we release out of it,” Brunett said. “We try to mimic what Mother Nature would have done had the reservoir not been there.”

The Brazos River Authority keeps the water level at Lake Limestone at 363 feet above sea level, releasing water downstream when rain events cause it move beyond that. But Brunett says the reservoir isn’t the problem.

“Everyone’s focus on the reservoir is a misplaced focus. It’s not the problem,” Brunett said. “The problem is when it rains, it floods, and our concern here is that by focusing on the reservoir, we’re focusing on the wrong problem. If you took the lake out of the picture, back before 1978, the flooding downstream is going to be about the same as it is with the lake there.”

Despite that, some property owners on the Navasota River want the Brazos River Authority to implement new policies and regulations when dealing with the water that flows out of Lake Limestone.

“I would like for them to try a different method of operation,” Southerland said. “They’ve dropped down to 355 feet and they’ve still operated without causing anybody problems. If they drop down to 355 and start getting these humongous rains upstream, they can start releasing water gently.”

“We want them to lower the level of the lake to be able to take on water, to be able to pre-release gently, instead of gushing it out when they’re at the top of their limit, which stays the same all the time,” Langford said.

Brunett says it depends what the definition of gently and gradually means. He also says the intensity of the rain that’s falling and the saturation of the ground from frequent rainfall complicates matters and those defining those terms.

“Anything that we do to lower the level of the lake or to reduce the operational full level reduces our ability to provide water, especially during drought times,” Brunett said. “I’m not saying there’s nothing that you can do, but there’s nothing that you can do without having negative impacts on other aspects of the reservoir.”

“We understand that this happens and this needs to be dealt with, but it has to be dealt with with some consideration of what is happening here,” Langford said.

The Brazos River Authority says they’ve submitted a letter to the Lower Brazos Flood Planning Group to investigate the flooding that happens in the lower Navasota River to develop a flood plan. Brunett says that group was created by legislation in 2019 that broke the entire state into different flood planning regions. He says they’re tasked with preparing the first statewide flood plan by 2024.

Meantime, Langford hopes to start a petition to landowners in the area to submit to Gov. Greg Abbott in hopes he will intervene.

Property owners in the area looking for solutions can visit the website that Southerland and Langford created to address these issues.

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