When it comes to flood control in Harris County, you often hear claims of “historic disinvestment” in low-to-moderate income (LMI) neighborhoods. Residents allege that they flood because Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) funneled dollars into affluent neighborhoods for decades while ignoring lower-income watersheds. But are those claims true? Not if you look at the numbers since 2000.
What Data Shows
See the table below. I compiled it from data supplied by HCFCD in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request. The table ranks each watershed in the county by its percentage of LMI residents. It also breaks them into two groups – those with percentages of LMI residents above and below 50%.
Harris County has 23 watersheds.
- Column 1 shows the watersheds broken into two groups – those with more or less than 50% LMI residents.
- Column 2 shows the percentage of LMI residents in the watershed. Those with the highest percentages of low-income residents are the least affluent.
- Column 3 shows the historic investment in flood mitigation between 2000 and the end of the third-quarter 2021.
- Column 4 shows the historic investment plus inflation compounded annually.
- Column 5 shows the percentage of inflation over time.
No Historic Disinvestment
In raw dollars, the eight least affluent watersheds received 61% of all dollars since 2000. Fifteen more affluent watersheds received only 39%.
The 8 less-affluent watersheds received $700 million more than the other 15!
After accounting for inflation, the eight low-to-moderate income watersheds received on average almost $300 million each. The rest received only about $90 million each.
Notice also how the rates of inflation tend to be much higher in the less affluent group. That’s because HCFCD has been spending more money in these watersheds over a longer period of time. For example: If a watershed received a $10 million project in 2000, more inflation would apply than if the investment was made yesterday.
Funding Flows to Damage
The reality of flood bond spending is far more nuanced than most people have the time or desire to explore. At a high level, though, funding flows to damage.
Older neighborhoods inside the Beltway have higher flood risk because of older development regulations, older building codes, and storm sewers or ditches that have filled in with silt or vegetation. See pictures below from Halls Bayou.
The people in this neighborhood (Halls Bayou) claim they “flood every time.” But if you look at historical gage data, you will see that Halls came out of its banks at Tidwell only twice in the last 20 years – once during Harvey and once during Imelda. Harvey was bad. During Imelda, the bayou overtopped banks only by a foot.
I conclude that repeat flooding in the neighborhood shown above comes from blocked street ditches. They turn neighborhoods into giant detention ponds. But the ditches are the responsibility of Precinct Commissioners, not HCFCD.
To sum up, I do not see a pattern of historic disinvestment by HCFCD in Harris County’s LMI neighborhoods.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/25/2022
1610 Days since Hurricane Harvey