San Jacinto West Fork at US59 during Harvey

San Jacinto Flood-Mitigation Spending Down 81% in One Quarter

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. On 4/20/23, I reported about a drastic slowdown in the rate of Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) spending. Data obtained via a FOIA request indicate that with a few exceptions the slowdown has affected watersheds across the county.

Two thirds saw a decline in flood-mitigation spending last quarter. But the decline in the San Jacinto Watershed, which had the eighth most flood damage in Harris County in the last quarter century, was particularly steep.

The San Jacinto watershed decreased from $1.614 million in the fourth quarter of 2022 to $306,000 last quarter – an 81% decline in one quarter!

Admittedly, that’s over a very small base to start with. But that in itself is a testament to how little flood-mitigation activity there is in Harris County’s largest watershed at this time.

4Q22 to 1Q23 Changes

Comparing the last quarter of 2022 with the first quarter of 2023 shows that spending increased in only eight watersheds: Greens, Luce, White Oak, Armand, Goose Creek, Barker, Vince, and Spring Creek. Spring increased only from $24,000 to $37,000 in the first quarter.

Arranged in order of 4Q22 spending.

Increases totaled only $6.1 million. They were offset by $16.4 million in decreases, for a net spending decline of more than $10 million. Spending totaled only $38 million for the quarter.

San Jacinto Ranking Slips

Below, you can see how each watershed ranked solely on the basis of first-quarter spending.

Watersheds ordered by 1Q23 spending

The San Jacinto watershed slipped to 17th place in 1Q23 (down from 14th when the ranking includes spending going back to 2000).

Spending by watershed since 2000
From 1/1/2000 to 3/31/2023. Data supplied by HCFCD in response to FOIA request.

San Jac had ranked as high as 7th in post-Harvey spending back in mid-2021.

HCFCD construction in the San Jacinto watershed has seen multiyear delays in start dates while other areas received higher priority based on factors unrelated to flooding.

So-called “equity policies” instituted by a majority of Harris County Commissioners starting in 2019 have punished San Jacinto residents. That’s because the watershed contains only 31% low-to-moderate income (LMI) residents and the area is predominantly white. Under the County’s current policy…

“Socially vulnerable” areas with higher percentages of minorities and LMI residents get priority, even if they have less severe flooding.

Damage No Longer a Factor in Allocation

For instance, in five major storms since 2000 (Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey and Imelda), the San Jacinto Watershed had the eighth largest number of damaged structures. It also ranked fourth in the percentage of the population affected by flooding (see below).

When looking at flood incidents as a % of population, the San Jacinto has fourth highest % in Harris County.

Clearly, Hunting and Halls Bayous need all the help they can get. So do Greens and the San Jacinto Watershed. But the San Jac is getting little. Despite the percentage of residents who have flooded. Not to mention that 40% of all businesses in the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce also flooded.

If I hear County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Commissioner Rodney Ellis or Commissioner Adrian Garcia talk about “worst first” one more time, I’m going to send them “GET REAL” cards. What rationale do they offer for ignoring the watershed with the deepest flooding – the San Jacinto?

worst first
Feet above flood stage at 33 gages on misc. bayous in Harris County during Harvey.

Here’s what that 20+ feet of floodwater looked like.

San Jacinto West Fork at I-69 during Harvey

If Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Ellis and Commissioner Garcia want to see “social vulnerability,” I challenge them to visit Kingwood Village Estates, a complex 1.2 miles from the San Jacinto West Fork that caters to seniors.

Residents trying to escape as Harvey's floodwaters rose
Twelve seniors ages 65 to 95 from Kingwood Village Estates died as a result of Harvey.

I doubt Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia will take me up on that challenge. So, in the meantime, we need to accelerate flood-mitigation spending – across the board. HCFCD spent just $38 million in the first quarter in the entire county. That’s very close to the spending rate before the 2018 flood bond.

We need to determine the reasons new projects are not starting in a timely way. We’re only 25% of the way through the flood bond. We have plenty of pressing projects waiting.

Policies, procedures, practices and people that subject anyone anywhere to higher-than-necessary flood risk longer than necessary need to change. More on that in a future post.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/22/23

2062 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.