Flooded Street by Julie Yandell. During Harvey.

County Suggesting New Way to Prioritize Flood-Bond Projects

Harris County Flood Control has developed a new way to prioritize bond projects after a trial ballon turned into a lead balloon. Initially the county ranked projects based, in part, on readily available income statistics to achieve its equity goal in ranking projects.

However, giving low-to-moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods higher priority than affluent neighborhoods facing greater flood threats hardly seemed fair. It sparked a tsunami of criticism.

When flood control shared its initial formula for ranking projects with small groups of community leaders, they pushed back immediately. They argued that the worst flooding problems should be tackled first. As a result, the county developed an alternative formula that didn’t rely on income.

Homes in Barrington in 500-year flood plain during Harvey. Photo courtesy of Julie Yandell. She was forced to flee with her husband and 81-year-old neighbor when waters rose without warning.

Factors in Initial Proposal

Version 1.0 of the prioritization attempted to rank-order projects based on seven factors, each given different weights.

  • Existing Conditions – Drainage Level of Service (How Bad Things Currently Are) – 20%
  • Equity (LMI) – 20%
  • Flood Risk Reduction (Looking only at # of Structures, not their Value) – 20%
  • Long-Term Maintenance Costs – 5%
  • Minimizes Environment Impacts (To reduce Permitting Delays) – 5%
  • Potential for Multiple Benefits – 5%
  • Project Efficiency (Cost of project/# of Structures Benefitted) – 15%

Problems with Version 1.0

Scoring projects using these criteria pushed Kingwood – one of the hardest hit areas in the city – farther down the list in most cases. Therefore the leaders of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative sent a letter to the new County Judge listing these concerns.

  • Failure to appropriately recognize benefits from multi-million dollar partnership matching grants
  • Failure to capture full flooding impacts and full project benefits by not considering commercial property, schools, hospitals, and senior-care facilities
  • Not recognizing benefits to LMI areas received from projects executed in non-LMI areas
  • Not considering Costs/benefits of pre-Harvey Capital Improvement Projects
  • Lack of inclusion of URGENT NEED criteria in the matrix

To see the entire letter, click here.

Version 2.0 Already Published

Based on initial feedback, Harris County Flood Control has already posted version 2.0 of the ranking formula. The goal: to provide a defensible methodology for determining when one project will start versus another.

Differences in Version 2.0

Version 2.0 of the formula:

  • Takes LMI consideration out
  • Adds an eighth criteria, “Do we have a funding partner for a project? Yes/No?”
  • Changes weighting to give more urgency to parts of town that historically have had a lower level of service.
  • Looks at some old criteria in new ways.

Here are the new weights and criteria:

  • Flood Risk Reduction – 25%
  • Existing Conditions Drainage Level of Service – 20%
  • Lack of Service – 15%
  • Project Efficiency Weighting Factor – 15%
  • Partnership Funding – 10%
  • Long Term Maintenance Costs – 5%
  • Minimizes Environmental Impacts – 5%
  • Potential for Multiple Benefits – 5%

“You Have to Start Somewhere”

“You have to start somewhere,” said Zeve. “We’re trying to be as transparent as possible so people understand the order in which we attack projects.”

Harris County Flood Control posted a new web page to address misconceptions surrounding the prioritization process.

To see the thinking process behind how the new formula works, click here.

Revised Project List To Be Posted Soon

The revised project-priority list has not yet been posted. That should happen tonight or this weekend according to Zeve. They need to score and calculate many factors for hundreds of projects. I can’t wait to see the outcome. More news to follow tomorrow.

How to Be Heard

If you would like to participate in this process, or send written comments, please email Gabe Baker at gabe.baker@cjo.hctx.net.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/1/2019

549 Days since Hurricane Harvey