HCFCD Updates Show Continuing Bond Slowdown

A Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) year-end spending report shows a continuing bond slowdown. The most recent spending update to Commissioners Court reflects all activity through the end of 2022.

The big news to report is that there’s not much news to report.

The December update showed that the San Jacinto Watershed received only $76.6 thousand during the month, ranking it 15th among all Harris County watersheds. HCFCD has only spent 2.5% of all bond money spent to date in the entire county.

A separate Biannual Update shows that the paltry progress is NOT the result of available funds. The San Jacinto has about $167 million in committed funding, but has received less than $30 million from the bond so far.

But before we dig deeper into the San Jacinto, let’s look at the continuing bond slowdown in Harris County as a whole.

December Overview

Compared to November 2022’s update, the December 2022 update shows that HCFCD:

  • Has spent a total of $1.177 billion to date, up from $1.150 billion at the end of November, a $27 million increase.
  • Bought out 27 homes countywide.
  • Secured another $30 million in funding ($1.734 billion up from $1.704).
  • Saw no change budgeted active capital construction projects ($0.00, likely a reporting mistake).
  • Saw no change in budgeted active maintenance projects ($0.00, likely another reporting mistake).
  • Awarded just one construction project worth $7 million.
  • Saw its schedule performance index dip below 1.0 for 11 months in a row. (1.0 means on-schedule).
  • Completed another 0.3% of the bond, bringing the percent completed up to 24.1% with 43.3% of the time elapsed.
  • Still has NO active construction projects in the lone Republican-led precinct. All 18 are split among three precincts with Democratic commissioners.

Reporting Mistakes

Regarding those goose eggs under “active projects,” it appears that someone just picked up the active projects pages from November and changed the dates to December. However, the HCFCD website does show figures updated through January 2, 2023. Using those as the most current figures instead would mean:

  • The total budgeted for active maintenance projects FELL from $50.6 million to $37.2 million, a decrease of $13.4 million.
  • Likewise, the total budgeted for active capital improvement construction projects FELL from $239.8 million to $223.5 million, a decrease of $16.3 million.

I’m not sure which is worse. Zeros, decreases, or errors?

Continuing, Prolonged Slowdown

Another major concern is the continuing lag in the Schedule Performance Index (SPI). This is a measure of on-schedule performance. Temporary decreases can often happen between projects. However, HCFCD has fallen behind schedule and stayed behind for 11 months in a row. The last time it reported an SPI of 1.0 was in January of 2022.

At the current rate of spending, it will take HCFCD more than 20 years to finish the bond.

Slow performance means we all live with flood risk longer than necessary and pay higher flood-insurance premiums than necessary.

For all of last year, HCFCD averaged between $20 and $23 million per month in spending.

Compiled from HCFCD monthly updates.

Under previous leadership, HCFCD averaged $35 million per month and the rate was climbing, not falling.

Spending By Watershed During December

The table below shows spending in all 23 Harris County watersheds plus countywide spending for the month of December 2022 (in the “Difference” column). HCFCD reported a decrease in Countywide spending with no explanation. The District also shows NO spending at all in three watersheds.

Compiled from HCFCD Bond Updates from November and December of 2022.

The San Jacinto Watershed is the county’s largest. Floods have damaged more structures in the San Jacinto than in all but seven other watersheds. The damage total includes five major storms since 2000 – Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey, Imelda.

Yet the San Jacinto has received only 2.5% of total flood-bond spending through 2022, ranking it #15 on that scale.

To date the San Jacinto has received only 13% of the $223,256,195 allocated to it in the bond. Compare that to 79% for the Brays Watershed and 75% for the Greens.

Commissioners Court Agenda Also Shows Slowdown

HCFCD has only 11 items on the Commissioners Court agenda for Tuesday, February 21. Contrast that with engineering which has 108.

And few of HCFCD’s requests involved new flood-mitigation work.

  • Four items transitioned projects to HCFCD’s maintenance program.
  • Four items involved contract changes.
  • One involved a permit for a MUD doing environmental enhancement work.
  • One would let Pasadena build recreational facilities on HCFCD property.
  • One would reimburse Union Pacific for a preliminary engineering study that UP was doing to relieve repetitive flooding along Halls Bayou adjacent to its railroad tracks.

Bi-Annual Bond Update

For additional information on the progress of the bond, see this Bi-Annual Update issued by HCFCD in January. It contains dozens of spending breakdowns. Especially interesting are the funding-gap calculations on page 11. See table below.

From HCFCD’s Jan. 2023 2018 Biannual Report.

Note that the table above shows different “actual spending to date” figures than the monthly updates farther above.

Regardless, these figures show that lack of funding is NOT responsible for the slow progress in the San Jacinto Watershed. The San Jacinto has $167 million dollars in committed funding. We’re just not spending the money.

Political priorities, not funding availbility, are the reason for the continuing bond slowdown – at least in the San Jacinto watershed. Spring Creek residents are way behind, too.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/19/23

2000 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.