Cambio, Zeve and Gilman Update Pachyderm Club on Lake Houston Area Flood Mitigation Efforts

Three local luminaries updated residents on the status of various flood mitigation issues and projects Monday night at the March meeting of the Lake Houston Pachyderm Club.

  • Kaaren Cambio, is the field representative for Congressman Dan Crenshaw and a board director for the SJRA.
  • Matt Zeve is the Deputy Executive Director for the Harris County Flood Control District. His team is responsible for managing $2.5 billion dollars worth of projects approved last year as part of the Harris County Flood Bond.
  • Chuck Gilman is the Director of Flood Management with the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA).

Each talked for about 20 minutes.

HUD Homeowner-Grant Update

Cambio explained the holdup for homeowners who may have recently applied for HUD grants from funds that became available in January. Grant restrictions require that at least 70 percent of the money goes to people with low to moderate incomes (LMI). But not enough LMI households have applied yet to reach the 70% goal. As a consequence, applications for the other 30% are being held up.” If you think you may be eligible for assistance, but have not yet applied, check out the State of Texas General Land Office’s Recover Texas website. This will help point you in the right direction no matter where you live.

Mouth Bar Dredging

Cambio also addressed the FEMA/Army Corps Dredging Project on the West Fork and the possibility of extending it to the mouth bar. Cambio said the City has not yet refiled a permit request for long-term storage of the spoils. The original permit request last April was reportedly kicked back. The Corps required more information about the volume of sand to be removed from the mouth bar and the method of storage. The landowner was invited to refile when the information about the volume of sand due to Harvey was determined. However, Tetra Tech has not yet supplied the City with the results of its core sampling study. So the permit request has not yet been refiled and the entire project is at a standstill. “The Corps is still waiting on the permit application,” said Cambio.

Stephen Costello, the mayor’s flood czar did not return inquiries about the delays. In mid-January, he said that he expected results by the end of that month. In the meantime, two local geologists developed a reliable way to estimate the volume without core sampling.

The giant sand bar at the mouth of the West Fork that is backing water up throughout the Humble/Kingwood area during floods.

Dam Gates and Upstream Detention

Cambio also briefly addressed upstream detention and additional gates for the Lake Houston Dam. “Future projects are determined by the watershed studies that are underway,” she said. “Those projects need to be based on knowledge. Potential upstream detention is something we are hopeful for. But we need the San Jacinto River Basin STUDY currently underway to make sure we do the right projects in the right places. We need to base the study on projected development for the next 50 years.”

“Dam gates could be done with HUD CDBG-DR money if the rules allow. But we don’t have HUD requirements yet for how the money can be spent. We also don’t have the permits required.”

Flood Bond Project Prioritization

Matt Zeve addressed several misperceptions regarding project prioritization for flood bond projects. He emphasized that:

  • No projects are being eliminated, and in fact, some may be added.
  • The county is not shifting money from rich areas to poor.
  • LMI data is no longer part of the formula being used to determine which projects kick off first.

“The worst projects will be handled first.” Zeve then went on to define how he defined worst. He used the example of homes that experienced a 100-year level of flooding on a two -year rain. Compared to a neighborhood that experienced a 100-year level of flooding on a 50-year rain, the area that flooded on the smaller rain would be handled first.

To see the current formula for prioritizing projects, see the HCFCD website.

More Than Half of Flood Bond Projects Already Started

Zeve also emphasized that 134 out of the 237 projects in the flood bond have already started and that they are broadly distributed throughout the county. He said the county is “looking far beyond Harvey” with the flood bond money. He’s addressing projects that were needed before Harvey as well as projects that will help with future floods still decades away.

Zeve stated that the bond fund contains money set aside to help fund gates once they are designed. (Editorial comment: …assuming that the San Jacinto River Basin study determines they are needed.)

Huffman-Area Drainage Survey Kicking Off

Finally, Zeve addressed a study being kicked off in the Huffman area.  It was approved in November 2018, The project will include an engineering investigation into the sources of flooding and offer options for reducing flood damages. Here is a link to the scope of work document. To view the entire scope, click here.

Seasonal Lowering of Lake Conroe

Gilman said that the SJRA board voted for the seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe again this year. He explained how that should help mitigate flooding somewhat until other mitigation measures can be put in place. For details of how the plan works, click here.

He also discussed four key pieces of legislation. SB7 and HB13 which would establish resiliency funds to help jumpstart mitigation projects in the future. Case in point: it took FEMA almost a year to approve a $2 million watershed study that could affect additional dredging, detention and gates. The project is just now kicking off and will take another year to 18 months to complete.

I previously reported on SB7 when it was called SB695. The bill was renumbered when it became one of the Lieutenant Governor’s Top Twenty picks for this legislative session, according to Cambio. That greatly enhances its chances of success. HB13 is a comparable house bill, currently in the Natural Resources committee. If both pass, they would go to a conference committee to iron out differences.

Here is the current text of SB7 and a legislative summary of the bill. The Water and Rural Affairs committee heard testimony on it yesterday.

Gilman also urged the public to support SB6. It relates to emergency and disaster management, response, and recovery. SB8 relates to state and regional flood planning.

The Pachyderm Club plans to have another flood-related meeting in May. It will feature Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle addressing readiness for hurricane season which starts on June 1. Most hurricanes that make landfall in Texas occur in August and September with the statistical peak occurring on September 11. But it’s never too early to get those hurricane kits ready.

Major Unanswered Questions Remain

All in all, there was a lot of encouraging news last night. But…

Like a lot of things related to flood mitigation, the more you know, the more questions you have. For instance, why hasn’t Tetra Tech collected the mouth bar core samples that Costello says are so crucial? How will that affect $18 million in remobilization fees if the Corps leaves the river before the mouth bar project is approved? $18 million could go a long way toward dredging the mouth bar. This is far from pocket change. It’s major bank. Taxpayers deserve to know.

To See Video of Meeting

The Pachyderm Club streamed the video of their meeting. To view it, click here. The HCFCD portion begins at the 30:20 mark on the video. SJRA begins at 42:00.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/12/2019

560 Days after Hurricane Harvey