During Lina Hidalgo’s first term, hundreds of millions of dollars in flood-mitigation projects went to low-income watersheds while the Lake Houston Area went begging. So what does the recent election mean for the area’s flood-mitigation goals and strategies? What can we do to reduce flood risk with the deck stacked even further against us? It’s time to hit the flood-mitigation reset button.
Before the election, Democrats insisted that they still intended to complete all the projects in the 2018 Flood Bond. But now with a super-majority on Commissioner’s Court, they have the power to spend that money wherever they want with impunity.
We need to regroup and develop new strategies to attain our goals. We can no longer afford to rely so much on Harris County.
Understanding the Process
Flood mitigation has political, technical and financial aspects. They all demand coordination. After Harvey, Guy Sconzo, former superintendent of Humble ISD, and the Lake Houston Area Chamber formed a task force with area leaders to identify the causes of flooding and work toward solutions.
After initial successes, sadly, Sconzo died. It happened shortly after the passage of the 2018 Harris County Flood Bond and the State’s Flood Infrastructure Fund. Not long thereafter, the task force disbanded. People assumed that projects would just happen. They didn’t.
Roadblocks since Harvey
No one fully understood how long the process would take, all the steps that were involved, how much projects could ultimately cost, the intense competition for funding, and how projects could languish without a coordinated effort to remove roadblocks as they arose.
- The Equity Prioritization Framework put Lake Houston Area projects at the back of the bus.
- Precinct re-districting made commissioner’s Cagle and Ramsey learn new areas.
- Adrian Garcia tried to divert $191 million designated for Cedar Bayou projects to his new Precinct 2.
- Multiple parties filed lawsuits against the SJRA.
- Lake Conroe residents fought against lowering their lake seasonally to help protect downstream residents.
- Lake Conroe’s State Rep introduced a bill to deny board representation to downstream residents.
- The Flood Control District lost three veteran leaders who architected the flood bond.
- Harris County added layers of new management, i.e., the county administrator’s office, slowing projects down.
- Other watersheds and Commissioners falsely claimed that Kingwood was getting all the money.
- New issues have come to light, such as insufficiently mitigated upstream development.
- A program to harmonize floodplain regulations throughout the region got lost in a purge of Harris County’s Engineering Department.
12-Step Plan for Flood Mitigation
We must overcome our addiction to expectations of fair treatment and learn that we must fight for our homes and safety. We must become masters of our own fate and hit the flood-mitigation reset button now. So, what to do?
These are my personal recommendations.
- Re-constitute the Lake Houston Area Task Force
- Educate people about the risk they still face.
- Acknowledge that most of our problems originate outside the county.
- Update and prioritize our goals.
- Acknowledge we can’t achieve them alone and work to build bridges to those who can help.
- Coordinate with them and Harris County Flood Control.
- Don’t count on Harris County for much help.
- Finish studies already started (i.e., Taylor Gully, Atascocita).
- Check on progress of all projects monthly to ensure next steps (i.e., construction bidding) happen promptly.
- Identify roadblocks and work to overcome them.
- Search for alternative funding and partners if necessary. UPFRONT!
- Stop assuming projects will manage themselves. Hire a project manager to report monthly to the reconstituted task force.
Harris County Flood Control District began engineering studies long before Harvey for the projects you now see in construction. Then, when Harvey hit and voters passed the 2018 flood bond, they were ready to go.
Other areas had to start from scratch and are still running the gauntlet of feasibility, preliminary engineering, final engineering, and environmental studies.
In the the Lake Houston Area:
- HCFCD started four drainage studies and finished three (Kingwood, Huffman, Cosby). Atascocita is still underway.
- HCFCD started a study for Taylor Gully that is months past due.
- HCFCD completed a study of the Kingwood Diversion Ditch two years ago but has yet to act on it.
- SJRA completed its San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Study.
- SJRA also completed several smaller studies (i.e., sedimentation and sand traps).
- SJRA is studying two detention basins upstream on Spring Creek tributaries, which the City of Houston studied more than 50 years ago.
- San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group finished its preliminary report.
Who is ensuring that engineering studies consider realistic funding alternatives? How much time, effort and money have we wasted by working in silos? Maybe a renewed Lake Houston Area Flood Task Force could help with those issues.
We need earmarks for funding at the state level. But who will fight for them? How will our representatives and senators know what to fight for? And how much the projects cost?
Any area with a completed study should have a project moving forward and be looking for funding. If it doesn’t, then someone is messing up the process.
Reliable sources tell me not to expect much from Harris County. Rodney Ellis wants to rub our noses in the Woodridge Village land purchase every chance he gets. So, we have to accept that and work around it.
First Meeting Held on Reconstituting Task Force
The good news in all this is that a preliminary meeting of area leaders on the City, County, State and Federal levels was held on November 8th at Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s office. Everyone attending agreed on the need to reconstitute the Task Force and hit the flood-mitigation reset button. The group also examined a number of possible issues to focus on. More news on the new Task Force as it begins to set priorities.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/22/2022 with thanks to Dr. Charles Campbell for the post’s photo.
1911 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.