Post-Harvey Regulatory Update: Mixed Results to Date

Here’s a regulatory update on the synchronization of flood regs in cities and counties throughout the region.

Harris County can spend billions on flood mitigation, but if upstream communities keep sending more water downstream, we may never see improvement. That’s why Harris County Flood Control and Harris County Engineering launched an initiative to harmonize regulations in 2020. The program is still active but has had mixed results to date.

The red barrier marks the limit of Harris County. Woodridge Village in Montgomery County on the far side contributed to flooding hundreds of homes twice in five months during 2019. This image underscores the need for cooperation. Photo courtesy of Allyssa Harris.
Five Upgrades Recommended

The departments identified five key measures that they asked surrounding cities and counties to implement:

  1. Use Atlas 14 rainfall rates for sizing storm water conveyance and detention systems.
  2. Require a minimum detention rate of 0.55-acre feet per acre of detention for any new development one acre or larger. However, a single-family residential structure and accessory buildings proposed on an existing lot is exempt from providing detention.
  3. Prohibit the use of hydrograph timing as a substitution for detention on any project unless it directly outfalls into Galveston Bay.
  4. Require no net fill in the current mapped 500-year floodplain, except in areas identified as coastal zones only
  5. Require the minimum Finished Floor Elevation (FFE) of new habitable structures be established at or waterproofed to the 500-year flood elevation as shown on the effective Flood Insurance Study.

The county used partnership agreements as a lever. Communities/counties that didn’t update their regulations were not eligible for partner funds from the flood bond. The pitch worked well in some cases, partially in others, and not at all in a few. 

Where Adoption Stands

The table below shows where things stand in different communities. The three columns represent those who:

  • Already finished upgrading regulations to minimum standards.
  • Identified updates but have not yet made them
  • Have not taken any action to update their ordinances or regulations.
Cooperation status as of December 2021

EHRA is an engineering company working with Harris County to analyze current regulations and identify which areas need updates. In the last column, municipalities/counties either didn’t respond, chose not to participate, or refused. Waller, Brazoria County and Galveston County did not respond. Montgomery County said it would not participate. The other four didn’t request the free EHRA analysis when offered.

According to the Harris County Engineering Department, an analysis only takes a month. And some cities have updated their regulations within a month of completing the analysis.

In fairness, it’s important to note that some jurisdictions, such as Montgomery County, have adopted Atlas 14 standards, even if they haven’t adopted the other recommendations.

Ways to Help

Please help address the holdouts. Do you know influencers in communities that have not yet updated their regs? Can you leverage industry connections willing to show support? Spread the word within your community? Generate some buzz online? Write an email to your county commissioner or judge? Enlist the help of friends or relatives in neighboring communities?

The further we get from the pain of Harvey and Imelda, the less motivated people seem to be to adopt regulatory reforms. So please act soon.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/17/2022

1602 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.