HCFCD spending by Watershed during 2Q24

Where HCFCD Spending Goes

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) spending data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act Request shows that countywide:

  • Spending now tops $2 billion since Hurricane Harvey back in 2017
  • It modestly rebounded between the first and second quarters of this year
  • More money is now going to land acquisition and construction compared to other phases of the project lifecycle, while less money is going to upfront studies
  • On a per watershed basis, watersheds with a majority of Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) residents still get far more than those with a minority of LMI residents.
  • Spending in the San Jacinto Watershed continues to lag despite high flood risk
  • Spending has fallen off a cliff in some watersheds.

For details, see below.

Modest Rebound Compared to 1Q24

The chart below shows HCFCD spending in 27 quarters since Hurricane Harvey. It shows a dramatic uptick between 2018 and 2021, followed by an even more dramatic decline through the first quarter of 2023. Since then, spending has averaged slightly more than $60 million per quarter, about half of the peak in 2021.

What accounts for the lower totals recently?

  • Changes in leadership and personnel turnover at HCFCD
  • Restructuring at HCFCD
  • Numerous changes in “equity” allocation formulas that required reprioritization of projects
  • Lengthy delays at Harris County Community Services involving more than $750 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds.
  • Inflation during COVID forcing a re-evaluation of the Bond project list

The 2018 Flood Bond was considered a 10-year project. We are now almost 6 years into the bond, which was approved on the first anniversary of Harvey, but the money is only about 40% spent. That means projects are moving slower than originally anticipated. And that gives inflation a chance to gobble up a higher percentage of them.

More Money Now Going to Land Acquisition and Construction

On a positive note, more projects are moving off the drawing boards and into construction. You can see this trend most clearly by comparing two pie charts that show spending broken down by project phase. The first shows spending since Harvey and the second shows spending during the last quarter.

Looking back at the last 27 quarters, HCFCD spent 76% of its funds on right-of-way acquisition and construction. But during the last quarter, those combined percentages jumped to 85% – up 9%.

Meanwhile, feasibility studies and preliminary engineering reviews fell from 8% to 3% during the comparable periods.

Perhaps we’re starting to mitigate more than ruminate.

Since Harvey
During second quarter this year

The following table may make it easier for you to compare percentages if you are viewing this on a phone.

Spending in Watersheds with Majority LMI Populations

The percentage of LMI residents in a watershed helps determine eligibility for flood-mitigation grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Harris County has 23 watersheds. Of those, 8 have a majority of LMI residents.

Regardless, since Harvey, those 8 received almost as much money as the other 15 put together.

Since Harvey

Looking only at the last quarter, that trend has moderated somewhat.

Second quarter this year only

But on a per watershed basis, the 8 LMI watersheds still each receive an average of 5.5% of the budget. Meanwhile, the 15 other watersheds each receive an average of 3.7%.

This is largely a function of the weighting given to LMI-majority projects in Harris County’s equity prioritization project scoring formula.

Spending by Watershed: A Study in Extremes

Comparing bar graphs of spending by watershed shows extreme differences between the highs and lows that are getting wider.

Since Harvey, difference between high and low equaled 100 to 1.

Note also the disappearance of the middle ground.

During second quarter, difference between high and low equaled 375 to 1.

During the second quarter, the entire San Jacinto Watershed – the county’s largest – received less than $400,000 of support…while moving up from 13th place to 11th.

Harris County watersheds in the upper San Jacinto River Basin include Spring, Cypress, Willow, Little Cypress, Luce and San Jacinto. They all funnel through the Lake Houston Area.

Since Harvey, they have received about 20% of HCFCD spending. But they drain an area about 50% larger than where the rest of the other 80% of the money went.

And as we saw in May, that can have a huge impact on flood damage.

From the San Jacinto River Basin Master drainage study.

I wish HCFCD spending flowed to the Lake Houston Area as fast as the water.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/5/2024

2502 Days since Hurricane Harvey