Flood-bond update spending by watershed September 2022

Flood-Bond Update Shows Progress Slowing…Even More

Harris County Flood Control District’s latest flood-bond update shows that spending reported during the month of September slowed again. In:

  • July, monthly spending was $66.4 million.
  • August, monthly spending was $20.7 million.
  • September, monthly spending was only $8.1 million.

In September, HCFCD spent less than half of what it did in August and one-eighth of what it did in July.

All this comes at a time when many projects are wrapping up engineering and moving into the more expensive land-acquisition and construction phases. Also, construction has not been slowed by heavy rains; we’re still on the verge of drought. So the trend is opposite of what you would expect.

Spending by Watershed

The table below shows spending by watershed reported in the last two flood-bond updates. Note: The update presented to commissioners is delayed about six weeks. In the November 15th meeting, commissioners received the “October” update which actually showed bond spending through the end of September. Calculating the difference from the last two updates shows how much money HCFCD spent in each watershed during the last reported month (September).

Transcribed from maps in August and September 2022 Flood-Bond Updates.

This shows that five watersheds received NO money. And Luce received only $250. So, a quarter of the county’s 23 watersheds had virtually no activity.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the watersheds’ locations, see the map below from the Bond Update.

September 2022 Flood Bond Update
From HCFCD’s September 2022 Flood-Bond Update

Spending Decrease in Perspective

Let’s put $8 million into perspective. The recent “running rate” through July was more than $60 million per month. September is about 1/8th of that.

If $8 million per month becomes the new “running rate” – with $3.9 billion more to go – it would take another 40 years to complete all the projects in the bond. That’s in addition to the 4+ years we’ve already spent.

Harris County originally conceived the bond as a 10-year effort.

Other Indicators

“Spending to Date” is not the only indicator that things may be starting to come off the rails.

  • Construction contracts awarded somehow decreased from 48 to 40 even though the value increased from $393 million to $415 million.
  • HCFCD awarded 11 new “agreements” for a total of $11.6 million during the month, but the totals to date don’t add up with those reported the previous month.
  • Professional services invoices paid decreased from $4.8 million to $253 thousand – a 94% decrease.
  • Reported “overall progress” didn’t budge. It remained at 23.5% of the total bond.
  • “Key performance indicators” decreased again – this time from .97 to .95. This is a project management measure of on-schedule performance. Above 1 indicates “ahead of schedule.” Below 1 indicates “behind schedule.”
  • “Home buyouts in progress” decreased from 331 to 285. But HCFCD has spent only 31% of buyout funding secured to date. So there are many more to go.

For the complete update, click here.

Lake Houston Area

The San Jacinto watershed is the county’s largest. It received less than $50,000, but had the deepest flooding during Harvey. The only spending shown in the update for the San Jacinto is for “drainage system repairs” at an unspecified location.

The update shows no other active maintenance projects and no active capital-improvement projects in the entire Lake Houston Area.

The entire watershed’s percentage of all flood-bond spending for the month was 0.58%.

Why the Slowdown?

Several sources have indicated a variety of reasons:

Management Turnover – HCFCD lost its top three leaders recently: Russ Poppe, Matt Zeve, and Alan Black. These architects of the flood bond had decades of experience between them. They had conducted input sessions in each watershed, had a deep understanding of the issues, and were imbued with a sense of urgency.

Less Experienced Management – Two of the three have been replaced by an academic who formerly managed the Subsidence District and an administrator from Washington DC. Neither has direct Flood-Control experience. Reportedly, it takes them weeks to make decisions that used to be handled immediately. The Subsidence District has a budget one-thousandth the size of the 2018 flood bond. Can you say “apples and oranges?”

More Layers of Management – There’s now a whole new department – County Administration – between Flood Control and Commissioners Court.

Delays in Other Departments – As previously reported, Community Services has failed to submit a plan for how to spend $750 million allocated to Harris County for flood mitigation by the Texas General Land Office and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Drawdown of Flood Resilience Trust Funds – Also as previously reported, the County is already running out of money in the Flood Resilience Trust Fund. This was designed to provide backstop funding to keep projects moving in case grants, such as the GLO/HUD funds, were delayed.

A Nightmare Scenario

Although Democrats on Commissioners Court previously reaffirmed their intent to develop all projects in the original flood bond, that was with a close election hanging over their heads. With the election behind them and a super-majority in hand, they can now do anything they want with impunity – including cancel projects in the Lake Houston Area to fund projects in other precincts.

It hasn’t happened yet, but given the history of recent money-grab attempts, as with Garcia’s attempted diversion of $191 million from Cedar Bayou, it could. Stay tuned.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/16/22

1906 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.