Army Corps pitch

HCFCD Asks for Army Corps Help with Tunnels, Halls Bayou, Addicks/Barker

In June 2022, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) pitched the Army Corps (actually the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, referred to as ASA(CW)) for help with three large projects. They included Flood Tunnels; Halls Bayou; and the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. This leave-behind summarizes the presentation.

Setting the Stage

The presentation begins with a history of the relationship between the Army Corps and HCFCD dating back to 1937. It references past joint projects such as work on the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs; and Brays, White Oak, Little Vince, Cypress, Greens and Sims Bayous.

It also references projects not yet completed such as work on White Oak and Hunting Bayous, and Clear Creek. Finally, it looks forward to future collaboration on Buffalo Bayou, Halls Bayou and a County Wide-Study that “lifts up and empowers our diverse communities to thrive.”

The intro contains graphics that summarize:

  • Damage during Hurricane Harvey
  • Atlas-14 rainfall vs previous estimates
  • Current and Active Army Corps projects
  • A county-wide map of “Recently flooded” (from Harvey) structures overlaid on a social-vulnerability map

The leave-behind then makes three “asks” corresponding with each of the three major projects.

Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Resiliency Study

The first ask is for help “finding the right solution for Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.” It talks about managing residual risk and liability. Specifically, it asks for support through the completion of the Corps’ Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Resiliency Study.

It alludes to policies and processes impeding needed progress. Then it says, we must blaze a trail for a new equitable flood risk management paradigm.

An engineer familiar with Buffalo Bayou told me that the study had been cancelled at one time because of a poor Benefit/Cost Ratio. It wasn’t because, as you often hear, that home values were low. It was because land acquisition costs were so high. Possible workarounds: several proposed “innovations” including:

  • Flood tunnels
  • A comprehensive benefits framework that includes more than a strict benefit/cost ratio.
  • “Emphasis on community resiliency, environmental justice, and climate change adaptation.”

The last update of this study on the Corps’ website is from late 2020. The final report has not yet been released. This post from 2020 summarizes the findings of the interim report.

County-Wide Section 203 Study

Section 203 of the Water Resources Development Act was amended to let non-Federal sponsors conduct feasibility studies that serve as the basis for authorization of new water resources projects, such as flood tunnels. But acceptance of the results is at the discretion of the ASA (CW). One objective of the presentation: to get the ASA(CW) to partner Harris County on a County-wide flood risk study.

The county pitched the partnership as:

  • A potential “pilot study for Justice40”
  • Climate change preparedness
  • Empowering vulnerable communities to withstand and recover from flood events.

Justice40 is a Biden initiative, announced within his first few weeks in office. It uses every lever at his disposal “to advance environmental justice and spur economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities. The “40” refers to Biden’s promise to deliver at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from Federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. One of the priorities: mitigation initiatives that reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flooding.

Halls Bayou Section 118 Study

According to the presentation, the Federal government had a project to study flood-risk management on Halls Bayou from 1990 to 2016 when it was “de-authorized.” The county wants to restart it. Section 118 refers to “Pilot programs on the formulation of Corps of Engineers’ projects in … economically disadvantaged communities.”

Harris County wants the Corps to include Halls on its list of ten nationwide pilot studies for such communities. HCFCD points out that Halls has the highest percentage of Low-to-Moderate Income residents of any watershed in the county (71%). Halls has a poverty rate of 28% and a social vulnerability index of 0.85 out of 1.00. Halls also has frequent, severe, repetitive flooding.

At one time, HCFCD cancelled Halls’ Bayou studies because they all came back with Benefit/Cost Ratios below 1.0. That means costs exceeded benefits. HCFCD hopes to restart those in 2022. Section 118 gives the ASA (CW) a way to apply other criteria that compensate for a low BCR in disadvantaged areas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/7/22

1773 Days since Hurricane Harvey