Watersheds with Low Voter Turnout Get Most Flood-Mitigation Funding

Sixth in a series of eight articles on flood-mitigation funding in Harris County

In August of 2018, Harris County voters approved a historic flood bond of $2.5 billion. Afterwards, KTRK ABC13 created an interactive precinct-by-precinct voter turnout map for the referendum.  Now, with spending data for flood mitigation projects in hand, we can see that, in general, but not in every case:

  • Watersheds with the highest turnout are getting the least money
  • Those with the lowest turnout are getting the most money.

Ironically, the worst-damaged areas generally had the lowest turnout.

Four Maps Tell Story

Let’s start by looking at four maps. They show: 

  • Location of six low-income watersheds used in a quartile analysis
  • Location of six six high-income watersheds used in the same analysis
  • Voter turnout for the 2018 Harris County flood-bond referendum
  • Damage from Harvey

Ironically, low-income watersheds had the lowest turnout for the 2018 flood-bond referendum and they’re getting the vast majority of flood mitigation funding.

Previous articles in this series have shown that, out of 23 watersheds in Harris County, six low-income watersheds:

Location of Lowest Income Watersheds

The low-income watersheds are all located primarily inside the Beltway.

Most of Greens Bayou is inside Beltway 8, though a portion of it wanders just outside.

Location of Watersheds with Highest Income

Now let’s look at the location of the six high-income watersheds.

High-income watersheds are all outside the beltway.

Who Approved that $2.5 Billion Flood Bond?

Now look at the voter turnout map below from the 2018 flood bond referendum. 

  • Light areas had the lowest voter turnout. 
  • Dark areas had the highest voter turnout. 

Note the area inside the yellow outline. It contains all the watersheds that Commissioners Ellis and Garcia complain about the most as having the least funding: Greens, Halls, Hunting, White Oak and Sims.

To see turnout in both absolute numbers and percentages in individual precincts, go to the interactive version of this map. Click on the visual above or here.

Some precincts in those watersheds had 0 voters. That’s right. No one showed up at the polls. At all. Many precincts had less than 1% turnout. Those light tan-colored areas generally had 1-5%. 

The darkest areas, such as those around Kingwood, had turnout in the 20 to 30% range – generally 5-20 times higher than in the neighborhoods where most of the money is going. 

In fact, Kingwood precincts had five of the top eight turnout percentages in the county. But Kingwood has NEVER received even ONE Harris County FLOOD CONTROL DISTRICT capital improvement project.

Damage Concentrations

Compare damage in Harvey (below) with the area outlined in yellow in the map above.

When you consider these four maps together with the historical funding data discussed in previous posts (see links below), they show that most of the money is already going where most of the damage was. 

But large pockets of damage exist elsewhere that get comparatively little to no funding.

For instance, in the map above, note the curving arc of damage along Cypress Creek in the northern part of the county which extends into the Humble/Kingwood area.

People in those damaged areas turned out in high percentages for the flood bond. But they are seeing the vast majority of flood-mitigation projects being built in neighborhoods that didn’t even bother to vote in many cases. That doesn’t bode well for future bonds referendums.

Misleading Statements Undermine Trust in Government and Future

Some political leaders are telling poor people that flood-mitigation projects are all going to rich neighborhoods and the Houston Chronicle blindly repeats what they say without checking the real numbers. Or even bothering to mention projects already completed.

Twitter feed of Chronicle writer who wrote the article above.

But as I’ve shown in previous articles (see links below), depending on how you measure it, up to three quarters of the money is actually flowing to poor neighborhoods.

Funding in six highest and lowest income quartiles.
Funding in six low income watersheds compared to 15 higher income watersheds

Certain Harris County commissioners have fought to prioritize funding for minority and low-income neighborhoods. And in the next Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday 6/29/21, they’re pushing to expand that prioritization framework to include future projects and funds. See Item 191 on the agenda.

Yet poor people believe all the money is going to rich watersheds – because that’s what their leaders tell them. And rich people see the lion’s share of the money going in the opposite direction.

Everyone believes someone else is getting the funding. So who would vote for another flood bond at this point? No one.

How are you going to convince people that taxed themselves $2.5 billion – and think they aren’t receiving any benefit from it – to vote for the next bond?

We need to restore trust in government by giving people accurate information, not misleading them with racial rhetoric for political gain. More on that tomorrow.

For More Information

For more information, see: 

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/26/2021

1397 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.