Case Study

Exploration Green Stormwater Park, Texas, USA

Sector: Water
Highlights: ecological uplift, community engagement, recreation, biodiversity, property value
Project owner: Clear Lake City Water Authority
Project start:
2016 – 2023
Location/s:  Texas, USA
Community impacted: Urban
Hazards mitigated:
Floods
Number of people made more resilient: 30,000
Case study provided by:  Exploration Green Conservancy / Clear Lake City Water Authority

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Exploration Green is a groundbreaking initiative in the Clear Lake area of Southeast Houston, transforming a defunct golf course into a stormwater detention centre, nature preserve and recreation area. Led by the Exploration Green Conservancy and Clear Lake City Water Authority, it serves as a model for urban resilience, offering vital ecosystem services, community benefits, and environmaental enhancements.

About the Project

Exploration Green combines resilience, community engagement, environmental restoration, and economic uplift to benefit the local community of Clear Lake. Amid interest from developers to turn the defunct golf course into a large commercial development, residents from the local community approached the Clear Lake City Water Authority (CLCWA) for an alternative use of the land. The CLCWA developed a five-phase plan to be implemented over 15 years, outlining a model stormwater detention system that also brings nature to an urban space, enhances natural habitats and provides opportunities for residents to connect with nature. Hurricane Harvey in 2017 created a need to shorten the completion time to 8 years. The CLCWA engaged the local community in developing the master plan for this project from an early stage and residents and local businesses had the opportunity to provide their input through a series of town hall meetings.

At its core, the project addresses the pressing issue of seasonal flooding that has long affected this region, the impacts of which have been worsened by 60 years of residential and commercial development and are projected to increase with the onset of climate change. The flooding is a result of stormwater run-off which increases with the rise of impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots, driveways, homes and commercial buildings, which prevent the ground from soaking up the rain. The goal of stormwater detention is to quickly drain the stormwater off the streets and other areas into large ponds. The pond water then gradually discharges into natural waterways.

Exploration Green encompasses 200 acres into an innovative stormwater park, nature sanctuary, and recreational haven, exemplifying a holistic model for sustainable urban development to address flood risk in cities. It includes five large, connected detention basins/ponds, detaining 1,680 acre-feet of water. The project also installs new wetland areas, which provide another means of managing stormwater quality in the area. Wetlands are important to naturally filter the water from the stormwater detention lakes before it flows into tributary streams. These wetlands use hydrology and hydraulics in their design and are positioned in the areas anticipated to receive the highest volume of stormwater. With the capacity to hold up to 500 million gallons of stormwater in total, the project stands as a crucial defence against the destructive impacts of these floods, protecting over 2,000 nearby homes and businesses. They also allow the main street arteries to drain quicker for evacuation in major storms.

But Exploration Green transcends its primary function as a stormwater detention centre, emerging as a fusion of nature, recreation, and conservation. The former golf course has been reborn into an urban oasis, replete with wetlands, permanent lakes, and native plantings that have given rise to a thriving ecosystem. The project offers 40 acres of wetlands, creating a serene backdrop for residents to explore and reconnect with nature. It features six miles of paved trails and two athletic practice fields, offering recreation and education opportunities for over 500,000 people.

Achieved outcomes

Social

Exploration Green has championed community involvement throughout the process, with town hall meetings contributing to decision-making and over 1,300 community volunteers dedicating more than 17,000 hours of their time to bring the stormwater park to life. The result is not just a functional stormwater solution, but a vibrant recreational hub. As such, local communities benefit from an enhanced quality of life through recreational opportunities, improved mental and physical wellbeing, a stronger sense of community and civic engagement and improved community resilience.

Environmental

The initiative also provides critical ecosystem services, including stormwater mitigation, water purification, carbon sequestration, bird habitat islands for migratory birds, and habitat restoration. The greenery and wetland plants contribute to cleaner air and water, enhancing the overall environmental quality of the region. The project’s wetlands and permanent lakes have created a habitat for over 150,000 wetland plants and the upland areas and islands are now home to over 2,500 new trees and shrubs as well as native grasses, and wildflowers, bolstering the region’s biodiversity.

However, the most considerable impact of the project is its role as a critical line of defence against flooding. Exploration Green will contribute to managing stormwater for an area of approximately 8,000 acres and will reduce flood risk for the approximately 30,000 people who live within the drainage area, in addition to multiple business and community facilities located in the vicinity.

Economic

Even in its developmental stage, the park proved its functionality during Hurricane Harvey, protecting 150 homes that typically experienced flooding in similar storm events. Construction was completed in September 2023, and it is poised to safeguard over 2,000 homes and businesses in the area during a 15+ inch rain event; this translates to an estimated $300m in savings from flood damages over a 15-year period. It also contributes to an increase of $120m in property values for the community.


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