Corona Virus Lockdown Expansion Will Not Affect Flood Mitigation

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced a tightening of the lockdown already in place because of the corona virus. For the full text of the County’s 20-page order, click here.

Summary of Key Provisions

Starting tonight at 11:59 P.M. and lasting through April 3, 2020, “this Order requires all individuals anywhere in Harris County, to stay at home – except for certain Essential Activities and work to provide Essential Business and Essential Government services or perform essential infrastructure construction, including housing.”

Rustling Elms Bridge over Taylor Gully during peak of May 7, 2019 flood.

Non-essential and prohibited:

  • All exercise facilities including gyms, swimming pools and martial arts studios must close.
  • A broad range of retail shops must close including barbers, hair salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, game rooms, massage parlors, malls, flea markets, movie theaters, concert halls and more.
  • All public and private gatherings occurring outside a single household or living unit are prohibited.
  • Nursing homes, retirement, and long-term care facilities must prohibit non-essential visitors except for end-of-life visitation or critical assistance.
  • Restaurants will remain closed except for drive-through and carry-out orders.
  • Churches may only provide services via video or teleconference.

Essential and still exempt:

  • Grocery stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Gas stations
  • Convenience stores
  • Liquor stores
  • Car dealers and repair facilities
  • Professional services, such as legal, accounting, insurance, etc.

Flood Control Not On List

The corona virus prohibited and exempted lists stretch for 20 pages. They are too numerous to summarize here. However, as I read through the list, nowhere did I see “flood control” or “flood mitigation” work. That made me wonder whether we had potentially traded one type of crisis for another.

So I reached out to county officials and asked how today’s corona virus order would affect the activities of the Flood Control District. Said another way, were they considered “essential activities.”

Flood Control Deemed Essential, Will Continue

The answer: Yes, Flood Control is considered essential under the infrastructure and construction provisions of the order. No, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) will not shut down mitigation projects.

Matt Zeve, Deputy Executive Director of HCFCD had this to say. “Everyone who can will work from home. We had already been phasing that in before today. All construction and field work will continue as normal…with appropriate social distancing and hygiene procedures of course.”

Moving Into High-Risk Season for Flooding

As we move into April and May, the rainiest months of Spring, that’s comforting. A reader asked me today, “What would happen if we got a flood on top of the corona virus?” My first inclination was to tell her she needs to write the screenplay and go to Hollywood. But then I said, “That’s actually pretty plausible.”

People mucking out houses in unsanitary conditions and tight, crowded spaces could accelerate the spread of the virus. Crowded rescue boats and choppers would make a first responders nightmare, especially when rescuing people with the corona virus. Thousands of evacuees in churches, schools and convention centers. Evacuating high-risk populations like the elderly from nursing homes. These are not pleasant thoughts.

That’s why I’m glad that the work of flood control will continue as normal. Hurricane season is only nine weeks away.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/25/2020

939 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 188 since Imelda