What does Johns Creek, GA, and Houston, TX have in common?

Houston, TX is a very large city in the USA, now ranked #4 in population and size. So how could little Johns Creek have anything in common?  Recently we witnessed some horrific flooding in Houston from Hurricane Harvey, so….how does this apply to Johns Creek?

Remember that Houston is the fastest growing city in Texas over the last 5 to 7 years with a 23% increase in population and housing.  Who is the fastest growing city in North Fulton County measured by density? Johns Creek is more DENSE per square mile than Roswell and Marietta.
Houston is much bigger in land mass and millions of people live there, how can we have any issue similar?  Let’s explore a historical problem that the current leadership in Johns Creek really doesn’t want to address. Storm Water management, what is that?  All of your highways, roads, parking lots, schools have storm drains which capture the rainwater and send it on its way. So why should I care?  Where does it go?
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As we continue to develop, build, expand more buildings, roads, highways, parking lots we create less and less land that naturally absorbs rainwater. The compounding effect is much GREATER volume and much GREATER velocity (speed) of water that is no longer absorbed by the undeveloped land.
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The current stormwater management system was put in place by Fulton County and the state via (GDOT). The low lying area’s within Johns Creek have retention ponds with earth dams designed to catch the stormwater runoff and slowly release the excess into the Johns Creek or tributaries that lead to Johns Creek or the Chattahoochee River.
The financial structure of this arrangement is that by law the subdivisions or neighborhoods that have these detention ponds must maintain the condition of them at their expense. This costly burden on the homeowner associations benefits the whole City including visitors who travel our roads, and highways safely whenever we have a rain storm. Is this a fair and equitable arrangement created by government?
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When Johns Creek became a City, those of us aware of this problem were excited we would get the better attention and solutions to our problem, but after 11 years, it has been ignored.
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Allow me to take you through a bit of history and show you the “dirty underbelly” of aggressive growth and high density. The picture below was taken in 2000, this is a backyard in Stonehaven that the Johns Creek river splits the owner’s yard in half. The bridge was built in 1993 the width of the creek/river was 35 feet wide. The water never reached within three feet of the bridge ever. 

In 2009 in the same backyard during the flood, in the middle of the picture below is a locked sewer cap and raw sewerage is coming out. This is NOT in the creek/river but as you can see somehow the sewer system becomes pressurized during the flood. 

The tool shed sitting on a 6-inch concrete pad was 40 feet from the creek bank.

In the 2013 Flood, note the fallen tree that is crashing into that very bridge. While in 2009 was only three years after the city was formed you can see what growth and development can do to a small little creek.

The development of all the property adjacent to the Standard Club on Medlock Bridge Rd, the Mixed-Use Development “Johns Creek Walk”, the Catholic Church and Jewish Temple on Parsons Rd, Emory Hospital also added more development and hardscape. You MUST develop greater infrastructure to deal with these stormwater events BEFORE you widen roads or develop the land. 

Is this the only location in Johns Creek with this issue?

NO, according to the City Manager Warren Hutmacher there are over 110 similar issues regarding stormwater and retention ponds.

Does the city provide any financial assistance to the subdivisions who have these retention ponds that capture all the stormwater runoff and silt from the roadways, parking lots, schools that contribute to this problem? NO.

This is a historical problem that is only growing worse.

The creators of these issues are the state of GA in the form of (GDOT), Fulton County and now for 11 years, the City of Johns Creek. The erosion continues and that sleepy little creek has gone from 35 feet wide to about 55 feet wide. Over 13 trees were lost in the 2013 flood and the shed with about 800 lbs of tools floated away. Fortunately, the shed was stuck between some trees so the owner was able to salvage some tools. A 700 lbs covered swing was swept away.

So as you can see this is very dramatic, yet more development is planned as we discuss this. I have brought up this subject many. many times to the Mayor and City Council and most recently the other night to the Planning Commission. The only thing I can say from my observation is we just might be trying to become the next Houston, TX which would really be sad.

The irony of it all, we form a new city called “Johns Creek” yet we abuse this small body of water which is our namesake? WE NEED T-SPLASH NOT T-Splost first before you actually harm people. This is a safety issue if we continue the “Ostrich” approach of ignoring the issue as the current leadership has done.

Since we’ve become a City 11 years ago what has been done to improve our stormwater management? Absolutely NOTHING…..why? Who in our local government has been here the whole time?

Tom Corrigan

11 Responses to What does Johns Creek, GA, and Houston, TX have in common?

  1. Bruce says:

    But…..we have billboards. Great article Tom.

  2. R says:

    If you don’t believe this is true, we have relatives living in the Northern suburbs of Houston adjacent to golf clubs like Atlanta Athletic Club whose $ x, xxx, xxx homes flooded out.
    They are looking for the “Back to the Future” car to make some changes to the irresponsible decisions by the “Greety Developers” of the not to distant past!!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article, Tom! We need help with this Storm water management in Johns Creek and Georgia! We need a NEW MAYOR and NEW City Manager.

  4. Texan says:

    I lived in Houston for 22 years and Johns Creek area for 27 years, and I can tell you that there’s not a single thing the two cities have in common. Houston’s stormwater management and Johns Creek’s could not be any more different.

  5. Keith says:

    You’ve made many valid points as they relate to problems being faced by JC as a result of development; however, your comparison of JC to Houston is inappropriate as it is an apples to oranges comparison. Had you compared to the issues facing JC to Austin, it would have been more appropriate.

    As for the link to The Atlantic article, the problems Houston is and has been facing which were highlighted as a result of devastating flooding resulting from Harvey are nothing new. Images of water craft on Houston interstates were common when I lived there 35 years ago. Houston is literally sinking (the elevation of the Astrodome today is a couple of feet lower than when it was built in 1969). There is a earthen barrier on the northside of and running parallel to I-10, which is intended to prevent common flooding from flooding the world headquarters of most of the world’s largest energy companies. The tollway on the west side of Houston is elevated due to the common flooding. Point is flooding in Houston had been an ever present problem for decades…..

    When I lived in Austin, prior to living in Houston and even prior to the explosive population growth Austin has experienced since we left, Austin increasingly faced flooding issues as a result of development and the increased water runoff with rain water crossing concrete and asphalt that had once been raw land. That would seem more applicable to the issues you were highlighting facing JC.

    • Tom Corrigan says:

      Dear Keith
      Obviously Houston is a much older and larger city by land mass and population. What is apples to apples, is you do NO planning with your infrastructure and ignore the issue you are heading in the exact same direction. I am no authority by any means on this issue, but I can tell you what I have observed over 20 years living in Johns Creek. Development is not a problem if you add to your calculations what you plan to do with storm water. Fulton County ignored the issue and now so has Johns Creek City government. The compounding affect of more volume and velocity doesn’t take any time off, we live in an area that has above average annual rainfall. So will this improve on its own? The plans being laid out for real estate development and road expansion, will they help this situation?

      As you may have noted in the Atlantic article at the end, all storm water issues need to be addressed on a case by case basis. They don’t say anything about ignoring the problem. I would much rather be “pro-active” than the current reactive when it comes to this issue. It might be too late if we continue as we are now. It’s never a problem, until someone gets really hurt or worse. Why should we stand by and wait? I guess you can pick any city you so choose, but the point is nothing has been done in 11 years….why?

  6. E J Moosa says:

    It’s actually quite embarrassing to take visitors for a walk along our namesake, Johns Creek. Trash piles up in the creek from Chattahoochee High School. Footballs, basketballs, LAX balls.(our school tax dollars flushed down the creek.

    There’s enough sand in Johns Creek to create a beach. Now I wonder where that has come from?

    We have nice new signs that say “Crossing Over Johns Creek”. Just do not look down. It may not be a pleasant sight south of Wilson Road.

    Have you ever looked at the retention pond for Johns Creek High School? We can get 3 inches of rain and that pond will be empty. Why? There’s a crack in the overflow pipe that runs nearly to the ground. It’s also full of litter and debris.

    Where are the ICC codes for drainage ponds? Let’s implement those before we start coming into homes for inspections.

    The City needs to hit the brakes on any more growth before the problems are too large to reverse. We know they will not.

    More fun to dream about the future than to take care of the present.

  7. Concerned says:

    Ernest, Could you please call up the Chattahoochee High School principal and tell them about the litter and debris problem as well as the broken pipe and ask him to have the grounds crew take care of the mess. Since the schools are the jurisdiction of Fulton County, it will probably be Fulton County that will clean it up. Thanks!

  8. norm says:

    There is no better time than now…heading into an election…to push the candidates to get educated on this and articulate plans to address. Tom’s dead-on about the need to address this issue now…it only gets more expensive and painful as we go.

  9. 20 year resident says:

    I just returned from a forum on Sustainability where water challenges from flooding, water runoff, contaminated retention ponds, and other problems largely due to over-development hurt residential and commercial areas. Reaction rather than impact studies and planning. Sounded familiar. Let’s learn from other’s history and mistakes instead others learning from ours.

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