When I go to various flood mitigation meetings around town, I often hear – with some jealously and resentment – that the San Jacinto River Watershed seems to be getting the lion’s share of flood mitigation funding. This is not true, but it’s a popular misperception. Those who believe they are underfunded tell me constantly how unfair they think it is.
Flood Damage and Mitigation Funding Varies Greatly by Watershed
So I’ve done some research on this subject and would like to call your attention to two reports. The first is a regional report by the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium called Strategies for Flood Mitigation. It examines equity in funding between different watersheds. It found that the San Jacinto River Watershed has 3% of the region’s population, historically has received 0% of the region’s flood mitigation funding, and yet sustained 14% of the region’s damages during Harvey. That would seem to suggest that San Jacinto River Watershed residents suffered almost five times more damage per capita than other watersheds.
I wondered if there could be a correlation between underfunding of flood mitigation projects and excessive damage. That led me to another report that lists spending by watersheds in dollars: Harris County Flood Control District’s (HCFCD) annual federal briefing. It’s Flood Control’s annual report to the Federal Government about how Federal funds are being spent here. The link above is to the 2018 version, published last March. That was just BEFORE the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started its West Fork dredging project. Note also, it was BEFORE Harris County passed its $2.5 billion flood bond in August. So what follows is a snapshot of the way things were BEFORE Harvey, not now.
SJR Flood Mitigation Projects Underfunded Until Recently
A re-reading of that Federal Briefing confirmed my suspicions and the findings of the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium. The San Jacinto River watershed is by far the biggest in Harris County. With the exception of a few buyouts and flood gages, until now, it has received NO federal dollars for flood mitigation projects (at least through the County).
By far, the vast majority of the money spent goes to capital improvement projects such as channelization and detention. Virtually all of that money is spent in six areas according to the Active Federal Projects Summary in the HCFCD Federal Briefing. They are:
- Sims Bayou
- Clear Creek & Tributaries
- Greens Bayou
- Brays Bayou
- Hunting Bayou
- White Oak Bayou
Previously, projects were completed for the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, Halls Bayou, Buffalo Bayou, Vince Bayou, Little Vince Bayou, and Cypress Creek. There are no capital projects listed for the San Jacinto River Watershed, past or present.
Higher Percentages of Budget than Damage
So how did the watersheds fare that are receiving federal funding? According to pages 24 and 25 of the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium report:
- Sims Bayou had 19% of the budget and 2% of the damage.
- Clear Creek had 13% of the budget and 7% of the damage.
- Greens Bayou had 8% of the budget and 7% of the damage.
- Brays Bayou had 23% of the budget and 18% of the damage.
- Hunting Bayou had 8% of the budget and 1% of the damage.
- White Oak Bayou had 14% of the budget and 3% of the damage.
With No Budget, SJR Tied for Third Highest Amount of Damage
Compared to the six creeks and bayous above, the San Jacinto River had 0% of the budget and 14% of the damage. Here’s how it looks in graph form, taken from the Flood Mitigation Consortium report.
What can we deduce from this?
Flood mitigation spending, without a doubt, reduces damage.
The San Jacinto River watershed is by far the most underfunded compared to others.
People in the Lake Houston Area need to fight future underfunding. We have been too quiet and therefore neglected for far too long. We must remain vigilant in coming years to ensure that the projects we have been promised (additional dredging, detention and floodgates, plus better ditch maintenance) are in fact delivered.
Harris County and the federal government together are spending $1.342 billion dollars on capital projects for Sims Bayou, Clear Creek, Greens Bayou, Brays Bayou, Hunting Bayou and White Oak Bayou. The San Jacinto currently gets only one twentieth of that due to the current Corps dredging project.
Before you call Judge Emmett and your county commissioners, I would like to point out that they have already committed to a more equitable distribution of project dollars from the $2.5 billion flood bond passed in August and that the Lake Houston area should get its fair share in the future. Phone calls at this moment are not necessary. Vigilance is. We can’t change the past, but together we can change the future.
Posted by Bob Rehak on October 24, 2018
421 Days since Hurricane Harvey