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Fred Boyum stands outside of his home at the entrance of Sam Houston Lake Estates on August 22, 2023. Boyum helps fellow neighbors transport necessities like food and water to their homes when the roads are bad.
Climate Change in Texas

No water, roads or emergency services: How climate change left a rural neighborhood nearly uninhabitable

In Liberty County, one neighborhood has been slowly abandoned as years of flooding and intense rains prompted a spiral of decline. A struggling buyout program shows the complexities and limitations of “managed retreat” from disaster-prone areas.


Top left: Linda Nelson and Thad Todd stand in front of a “Tiki Hut” they had on their property in Sam Houston Lake Estates in 2014. “We used to sit outside there and have coffee and Dr. Pepper,” Nelson said. Top right: A temporary bridge buckles under the force of floodwaters in 2017 following Hurricane Harvey in Sam Houston Lake Estates, isolating the community from the roadway. Bottom left: Thad Todd and Linda Nelson’s house, which Todd remodeled himself, is shown days before Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017. Bottom right: Betty, a pitbull mix, debates whether to take a dip in the rising floodwaters during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 in Sam Houston Lake Estates. “She loved the water,” said Linda Nelson. “She was always trying to get in to cool off, but we tried to keep her out because of the gators.”
Kim Click, general manager of the Lake Livingston Water Supply, flips through photos of the flooding around the Trinity River at the water supply office on June 27, 2023.
Phillip Everett, superintendent of the Lake Livingston Water Supply Corporation, stands at a trailer containing a water tank located the entrance of Sam Houston Lakes Estates, a neighborhood that has been lost to flooding, on June 27, 2023.
Tree parts show low water level in a small body of water inside of Sam Houston Lake Estates on August 22, 2023.

“It was nothing like this”   

Marvin Stovall, a road foreman for Liberty County Precinct 2, drives through the Sam Houston Lakes Estates neighborhood on August 22, 2023. Stovall used to attend weekend dances at the community center at the entrance of the neighborhood over 50 years ago.
Full-time Sam Houston Lakes Estates resident Kenneth Brister stands in the doorway of his home on the riverfront of the Trinity River on August 22, 2023.
Fred Boyum looks at the remains of a home where one of his friends used to live in the Sam Houston Lake Estates neighborhood on August 22, 2023.

Life in the bottoms

Fred Boyum stands outside of his home at the entrance of Sam Houston Lake Estates on August 22, 2023.
Edward Gibson checks on his various pets outside of his home at the entrance of Sam Houston Lakes Estates on June 28, 2023.
Robert “Bobby” Lawrence and his wife Linda outside their home along highway TX-105 on August 22, 2023.

Bought out 

Jinelle “Linda” Lawrence carries paperwork outside of her home along highway TX-105 on August 22, 2023.
Ducks form a line to graze before sunset outside of the home of Bobby and Linda Lawrence along highway TX-105 on August 22, 2023.
Ray Tarver takes a break while mowing the lawn around his home located in New River Lake Estates on June 28, 2023. Tarver and his wife Shirley are seeking a buyout for their property but are currently in limbo due to a property dispute with Shirley’s late sister’s husband, who is in prison.

Up the river

Hector Torres Vasquez works on his property located in New River Lake Estates on June 28, 2023. Vasquez bought his property in in 2019 to relocate his auto shop and hadn’t heard of the buyout program for homeowners.
A chicken cares for its chicks on the property of Hector Torres Vasquez located in New River Lake Estates on June 28, 2023. Vasquez bought his property in in 2019 to relocate his auto shop from Houston to a quieter area.
Gulf fritillary butterflies visit a Brazilian vervain near the Trinity River inside of Sam Houston Lake Estates on August 22, 2023.

“I’ll make a home” 


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