Alan Potok, a retired engineer who specialized in water resources for 40 years, has started a petition calling on officials to take immediate action to prevent the San Jacinto River from flooding the areas that were inundated during the Hurricane Harvey aftermath.
The petition is titled “San Jacinto River Corrective Action Petition” and it reads: “We, the following undersigned residents of the Kingwood/Humble area in Texas, having suffered physical, economic and environmental damages caused to our community by what appears to be irresponsible actions by the San Jacinto River Authority during Hurricane Harvey, make the following requests to our local, state and federal government representatives: (1) to pursue modifications of the roles and responsibilities of the appropriate governmental authorities managing Lake Conroe, Lake Houston and the San Jacinto River West Fork as necessary to make sure such a tragedy is less likely to occur in the future; (2) to advance administrative enforcement and penalties as appropriate against public and private entities that contribute to the unlawful deposition of sediment, including increased flood flows which threaten to increase the risk of future flooding to the Kingwood and Humble area communities; (3) to bypass traditional engineering and environmental studies to the extent allowed by law in favor of initiating the dredging of the San Jacinto River West Fork to provide immediate relief to flood risk to the Kingwood/Humble area in compliance with the City of Houston’s responsibility under the National Flood Insurance Program.”
Potok is a resident of The Enclave in Kingwood, which was entirely flooded with 3-4 feet of water in homes. He and his wife happened to be on vacation in California when his home started to flood.
“Our daughter called us in California and said, ‘You need to come home, your house is flooding.’ As we headed back, we bought supplies that weren’t available here, such as a generator and dehumidifier,” he said. “We have a one-story home and everything was destroyed. We were devastated along with the half-million people who were flooded. But we are grateful for two things: we had a car still and a suitcase full of clothes, and we have the resources to rebuild, while so many others don’t.”
As an engineer, Potok worked in flood mitigation and regional water supplies in California and later in the Houston area. He says he knows the key players in the area: the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), the City of Houston, and the Harris County Flood District.
“While I was in California, I was watching the rainfall gauges here. Then when the flooding happened, I was confused. I knew the river authority had documents to deal with this kind of situation that had been approved by the state,” he said. “My complaint is not why they did it, it is when they did it and to the extent they did it.”
He is referring to the SJRA’s decision to release a large amount of water from Lake Conroe downstream, flooding areas that had never flooded before.
Potok said the petition was somewhat of a response to City of Houston Council Member Dave Martin, who has implored those affected by Harvey and the subsequent flooding to stand up and get involved.
“I see no practicality in suing the SJRA; I want to bring them to the table and have them lend to the solution. Let’s do it to extend better protection to the people affected. We need to get the river dredged so Kingwood has some level of comfort and confidence that this will not happen again. People are wondering, ‘If I rebuild, will it happen again?’ As long as that sand is in the water, people will be nervous,” Potok said.
Potok plans to hold the petition open until Jan. 8. As of Dec. 15, there were already 1,600 signatures. The petition is being spread by volunteers standing in front of Kingwood businesses and going door-to-door in affected neighborhoods.