Tag Archive for: $750 million

GIS Data Reveals Likely Source of NE Houston Flooding Unrelated to Historic Disinvestment

In northeast Houston, where residents and activists frequently chant “historic disinvestment,” I accidentally stumbled onto a much more likely cause of the frequent flooding than systemic racism. It happened while browsing a GIS database with hundreds of layers containing a broad range of information. The instant I saw it, it unlocked a mystery. Tumblers suddenly aligned that unlocked the mystery. But let’s start this story with accusations that made no sense to me.

Accusations of Systemic Racism Not Supported by Spending Data

Three years ago, I joined the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force. Ever since, I have heard a constant drumbeat of “historic disinvestment” by many members who believe they are victims of systemic racism by Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD).

They claim that they aren’t getting their fair share of flood-mitigation funds when, in fact, financial analysis reveals the opposite. They get the lion’s share.

LMI vs. Non-LMI flood-mitigation funding
LMI vs. Non-LMI flood-mitigation funding through Q3 2021.

Eight watersheds with a majority of low-to-moderate income residents have received almost two thirds of the funding going back to 2000. That’s out of a total of 23 watersheds. The money has flowed to damage – as it should.

Many people, however, don’t believe that. The loudest complaints have come from the Northeast Action Collective. They waged a battle to remove flood-control executives from office who were working tirelessly on their behalf.

Regardless, falsehoods repeated often enough eventually rose to the level of “accepted truth.” Even experts can be fooled. Jim Blackburn, the renowned professor of engineering at Rice, repeated the “historic disinvestment” claim without presenting any proof in a Houston Chronicle story last week.

He claimed residents of Halls and Greens Bayou watersheds weren’t getting their “fair share” of flood mitigation money. In fact, Greens Bayou ranks #2 in terms of money received. Only Brays Bayou has received more.

Spending by Watershed from 2000 through 2023Q1. Source: Harris County Flood Control District via FOIA request.

And tiny Halls Bayou ranks #2 in spending per capita. Together, the two bayous have received more than $390 million to date.

And they could soon receive another $466 million out of the $750 million that the GLO and HUD recently granted Harris County for flood mitigation. If HUD approves the recommended projects totaling $466 million, Halls and Greens will have received $856 million – far more than any other watershed. (Technically Halls is a sub-watershed of Greens, but HCFCD tracks spending as if it were separate.) This is hardly historic disinvestment.

More Likely Cause of Flooding Overlooked by Critics Crying Racism

Today, while learning a new (to me) geographic information system, I randomly clicked on a “wetland” layer. Boom! Guess where the largest concentration of wetlands in Harris County is. The northeast!

Note Lake Houston in the upper right, once home to untold acres of wetlands before the dam was built in the 1950s.

As a reminder of what these wetlands once looked like, see the photos of Emily Murphy who kayaks along the shores of Lake Houston.

Emily Murphy wetland photo by Lake Houston
Photo Courtesy of Emily Murphy

Regulations discourage building in wetlands for good reasons. Water collects there. The soil is less permeable. They are low, poorly drained, and unstable.

In addition, USGS points out the many positive benefits of wetlands. “Wetlands provide habitat for thousands of species of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Wetlands are valuable for flood protection, water quality improvement, shoreline erosion control, natural products, recreation, and aesthetics.”

But because they’re cheap land and available, some less-than-scrupulous developers often try to build in them. I’m told by engineers I trust that that has always been the case and always will be.

Back in the 1950s, farms and ranches occupied most of the northeast Houston area. Here’s what it looked like then.

Note the San Jacinto River in the upper right in this 1953 pre-Lake Houston aerial image from Google Earth.

And here’s what the same area looks like today.

Note the presence of Lake Houston in the upper right in this 2022 image.

There are still big undeveloped areas in the image above. But many developments have also filled in large parts of the northeast that were once wetlands in the 1950s image.

Dangers of Building Over Wetlands

According to USGS, “Wetlands are transitional areas, sandwiched between permanently flooded deepwater environments and well-drained uplands, where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land… The single feature that most wetlands share is soil or substrate that is at least periodically saturated with or covered by water.”

Wetlands are almost always terrible places to build houses.

Four years ago, I posted about the disadvantages of building over wetlands. Pictures of the Woodridge Village property, then under development by Perry Homes, dramatized how unstable the soils were. Dangers of building over wetlands include shifting slabs, cracked driveways, mold, erosion, clogged storm drains, flooding and more.

Unsuspecting buyers of former wetlands can literally get sucked in by low prices. Seventy years later, the original builders and buyers are long gone. And pre-digital soil samples and drainage analyses (if they were ever done) have long since disappeared into the fog of history or a dusty warehouse.

Wetland-mitigation banks near a development should raise red flags to buyers today. There’s one on the northeast corner of Beltway 8 along, you guessed it, Greens Bayou. There are also two in Colony Ridge: the Houston-Conroe and Tarkington Bayou Mitigation Banks.

In conclusion…

Today’s residents in such areas pay for previous owners’ lack of knowledge – not because of historic disinvestment.

I’m not saying early owners didn’t exercise due diligence. We just didn’t know then what we know now.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/22/23

2215 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.

GLO Suggests Plan to Streamline Flood Mitigation in Harris County

Citing the urgent need to spend half of a billion flood-mitigation dollars quickly, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) has made a common-sense suggestion to streamline flood mitigation in Harris County. It recommended making Harris County Flood Control District a “direct recipient” (rather than a “sub-recipient”) of the half billion dollars carved out of $750 million awarded to the County in 2021.

Harris County Commissioners put Community Services, not Flood Control, in charge of managing the $750 million award. But Flood Control is spending two thirds of the money.

The GLO suggestion would streamline working relationships, speed up mitigation, and give Harris County a fighting chance to spend the money before the deadline.

Following the Money

In May 2021, the GLO recommended allocating $750 million of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) money to Harris County for Harvey mitigation and recovery. In March 2022, HUD approved the recommendation.

Later that year, Harris County Commissioners Court decided to have its Community Services Department (CSD) administer the funds rather than Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD).

Since then, CSD recommended giving two-thirds of the money to HCFCD and distributing the rest to various entities within the county. But so far, CSD has only received one application from a potential partner. And six years after Harvey, none of the money has yet been spent moving dirt to reduce flood risk for Harris County residents.

Meanwhile, the county is under HUD deadlines to use the money quickly or lose it.

So, on June 20, 2023, Mark Havens, Deputy Commissioner of the GLO, asked County Judge Lina Hidalgo to make HCFCD a direct recipient. Hidalgo reportedly did not reply to the letter.

The change would shorten lines of communication and reduce layers of administration while speeding up mitigation, protecting residents, and hopefully beating the imminent HUD “use it or lose it” deadlines.

Going into the third year since the announcement of the $750 million flood-mitigation award, none of the money has yet been spent.

Commissioners Court Will Discuss Issue on Tuesday

After more than six months of deliberation, CSD eventually allocated $502.5 million to HCFCD from the $750 million. CSD was then going to allocate most of the rest to unspecified sub-recipients within the county after soliciting applications from potential partners.

However, on next Tuesday’s Commissioner Court agenda, Item 401 reveals…

CSD has found only one entity interested in applying for any of the remaining money in more than six months.

Backup to Harris County Commissioners Court Agenda Item 401

The July 18 Commissioners Court agenda also contains a motion by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia to approve the GLO proposal. See Item 331.

The County is under two “use it or lose it” deadlines for the funds. And GLO is under pressure from HUD.

How NOT to Advertise for Applications

As of this morning, 7/16/23, CSD’s web page that solicits applications has not been updated for two months. It still talks about a May 4th meeting in the future tense.

Screen Capture from solicitation announcement page on 7/16/23.

It also contains some hysterical typos in the first line above. “Applicant’s Conference” singular? “Question” singular? They expected to have only one attendee and one question!?

Worse, it takes a lot of work to find the application web page. CSD’s home page has no direct link. The architecture of CSD’s site revolves around consumer issues such as rent relief and bus ridership, not applicants for mitigation projects.

To get to the $250 million pot of gold at the end of this rainbow from the CSD Home Page, one must click on:

  • Links
  • Harris Recovery (a separate web site)

Not very intuitive! CSD blames the lack of response on a $20 million funding limit. That may be so. But the first rule of sales is, “Make it easy for the customer.” And that certainly didn’t happen here.

Projects Put on Hold While $250 Million Sits on Table

Management turnover has also plagued CSD. Under Lina Hidalgo, the department has had six different directors in 4.5 years.

To make matters worse, under Hidalgo, HCFCD has had four leaders in the last TWO years.

Meanwhile HCFCD is still looking for money to complete projects in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. Moreover, Harris County Engineering is putting subdivision drainage projects on hold for lack of funding. And all this is happening while a quarter of a billion dollars is still sitting on the table.

I hope Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Garcia and Commissioner Ellis can connect those dots and streamline flood mitigation quickly.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/16/23

2147 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.

Harris County Approves $825 Million Flood-Mitigation Project List For HUD/GLO Funds

On June 6, 2023, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) recommended to Commissioners Court a flood-mitigation and disaster-relief project list totaling $825 million. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocated the funds to Harris County via the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The projects will require another $145 million in local-match funds from the 2018 Flood Bond. Thus, the projects are worth close to a billion dollars.

Commissioners Court unanimously approved the project list with little discussion. Each precinct will receive a relatively equal amount of projects and funding, according to Commissioner Ramsey.

Two Buckets of Money

The money comes in two buckets: Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds totaling $322.5 million and hazard mitigation funds totaling $502.5 million. HCFCD intends to use both primarily for channel improvements and stormwater-detention-basin projects.

Further, HCFCD has divided its project list into primary and backup recommendations.

Factors Used to Determine Recommendations

HCFCD developed the project list with the following factors in mind:

HUD normally gives priority to projects that help minority and low-income areas. However, the two major buckets have different LMI requirements. They also have different deadlines.

HCFCD must spend 100% of the Disaster-Relief (DR) funds by August 2026. And they must benefit areas where 70% of the residents qualify as LMI (below the average income for the region).

The Mitigation funds have more time and a 50% LMI requirement. No less than 50% of the $750,000,000 – from which the $502.5 is carved – must be expended by January 12, 2027, with the full balance expended by January 12, 2032.

So the DR funds have more urgency attached to them and that list includes projects closest to “construction ready.”

Reason for Backup Projects

According to HCFCD, the project list will likely evolve based on review by GLO, project schedules and project costs. Budgets are estimates based upon today’s dollars. They will change as projects advance. 

Fatal flaws may also become visible as projects advance toward construction. So, HCFCD requested and received permission to substitute alternate projects as needed if the intended projects become non-viable.  

1 Recommended, 1 Alternate Project in Lake Houston Area

The “recommended” list includes one primary project in the Lake Houston Area: Taylor Gully Improvements.

It also includes one project on the alternate list: the Woodridge Village Stormwater Detention Basin, part of which is already under construction.

Locations of HCFCD Mitigation and Disaster-Relief project recommendations

9 Upstream Projects

HCFCD is also recommending nine upstream projects on tributaries that feed into Lake Houston.

Primary recommendations include:

  • Upper Cypress Creek Floodplain Preservation
  • Part 3 of the Kluge Stormwater Detention Basin on Little Cypress Creek
  • Rehabilitation of the Kickerillo Mischer Preserve Channel on Cypress Creek
  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Part 1 on Willow Creek
  • Channel Rehabilitation, Batch 5 on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • East and West TC Jester Detention Basins on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek
  • Detention for Channel Rehabilitation on the Main Stem of Cypress Creek, Batch 5

Alternate recommendations include:

  • Boudreaux Stormwater Detention Basin Phase II on Willow Creek
  • Mercer Stormwater Detention Basin on Cypress Creek

Click here to see the full list of projects.

Project-Specific Data Available Soon

The project list does not include information on how much these projects would contribute to flood reduction – either locally or downstream. However, HCFCD expects to post that information to its website before the projects go to the GLO for approval in the coming months.

Partnership-Funding Gap Affected

Likewise, HCFCD did not include with this list an estimate of how much it would affect the partner-funding gap.

Some time ago, HCFCD projected that it could finish all the projects in the flood bond using a combination of:

  • Taxpayer approved funds
  • Partner funds already committed
  • Harris County Toll Road Authority money allocated to the Flood Resilience Trust.

But to finish all the projects in the Flood Bond, HCFCD “phased” some projects. It knew it wouldn’t have enough money to complete 100% of some large projects. So, several phases might have been included and others deferred.

It appears that several projects on today’s list include some deferred phases. So the “partner-funding gap” may not be reduced as much as originally thought. Net: HCFCD may or may not have to look for additional funds. The District expects it will know more after GLO approves the list.

HCFCD must also come back to Commissioners Court by July 18 with an estimate for ongoing maintenance and land management costs for all the projects.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/6/2023

2107 Days since Hurricane Harvey

$750 Million Flood Plan Ignores Flood Risk, Public

Twenty-two months after learning it would receive $750 million from the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Texas General Land Office (GLO) for Harvey Flood Mitigation, Harris County Commissioners finally approved a Method of Distribution (MOD) for the money on 3/14/23.

The MOD must be approved by the GLO and HUD before the county can begin spending the money. However, the plan virtually ignores flood risk and public comments.

What Happened to Flood-Risk Reduction?

The basic purpose of the HUD money, administered by GLO, is to reduce flood risk. The word “risk” appears 490 times in the MOD submission. Only one problem!

The proposed project scoring matrices never mention “risk,” at least not directly.

The plan contains one scoring matrix for Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) Projects and another for Partnership Projects.

HCFCD Projects

For the portion of the money going to the Harris County Flood-Control District, the MOD bases funding on:

  • LMI (Low-to-Moderate Income) Population Percentage (35 points)
  • Social Vulnerability (30 points)
  • Population (15 points)
  • Repetitive Flood Loss (20 points)

Unfortunately, giving weight to damages as opposed to risk, gives the same weight to areas that have already been mitigated as it does to areas that have not received a penny.

The MOD also says distribution of flood-control funds will be governed by the Equity Prioritization Framework (even though it doesn’t explain how). The 2022 version of that Framework gives 20% weight in scoring projects to “Existing Conditions.” Existing Conditions refer to the capacity of a channel to manage flood events of different intensities. But that’s as close as the MOD comes to addressing flood risk in project scoring.

Watersheds with a majority LMI population have roughly a billion dollars worth of uncompleted 2018 flood bond projects. With roughly a half billion of the $750 million going to HCFCD, the LMI and SVI requirements put on that portion of the money virtually guarantee that none will be left for more affluent watersheds.

So even though HUD and GLO rules allow 50% of the money to be spent in more affluent watersheds, the criteria adopted by Commissioner’s Court will likely preclude any of the money going there.

Partnership Projects

The portion of the money going to Partnership Projects has slightly different criteria. But that matrix also includes NO references to flood risk. It scores projects based on:

  • Project Readiness (20 points)
  • Percent LMI Population (25 points)
  • Project Efficiency (cost per person and building benefitted) (20 points)
  • Ancillary Benefits (environmental, economic, quality of life) (10 points)
  • Partner Contribution (25 points)

Nowhere did the plan provide direct comparisons of flood risk so that areas with the highest risk could be addressed first. Neither did the plan address flood severity. Thus, areas already mitigated that got one inch of flooding will rank as high as unmitigated areas that got 20 feet.

worst first
Chart showing feet above flood stage of 33 gages of misc. bayous in Harris County during Harvey.

Virtually No One Happy

The Harris County Community Resilience Flood Task Force submitted a letter strongly prioritizing flood-risk reduction. That got ignored as were most of the 235 pages of other public comments submitted.

Virtually no one seemed happy with the plan or the fairness of the distribution of money.

The county did not bother to respond directly to those who took the time to study the plan and submit comments. However, it did provide responses within the plan itself.

To paraphrase one of the generic responses: “Thank you for your comment. Here’s what we’re going to do. The GLO encourages regional and countywide investments in flood mitigation. But we’re prioritizing population in low income and socially vulnerable areas.”

Typical comment and response to proposed MOD. Name of commenter redacted.

Harris County has already spent $1.7 billion on flood mitigation since Harvey – the vast majority of it in LMI areas. There’s no hint of spreading the $750 million around to other areas.

Transparency Issues Also a Problem

The Harris County Community Services Department (CSD) will manage this money. But CSD has a serious transparency problem.

  • The transparency portion of its website hasn’t been updated in six months.
  • The MOD portion of the website hasn’t been updated for six weeks, even though much has changed since then.
  • Potential partners have complained about being in the dark.
  • Two weeks ago, the interim director promised to put out a call for partner projects. But the website still hasn’t announced the opportunities yet.
  • CSD still has not posted the plan approved by commissioners.

CSD’s lack of transparency was a major theme in the hundreds of pages of public comments.

What Next for Flood-Bond Projects in Outlying Areas?

With virtually all of the HUD money going to LMI areas, and with not enough money left in the flood bond to finish all the projects, Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia owe us an explanation. How do they intend to fulfill the County’s promise to voters who approved the 2018 Flood Bond thinking they would get something out of it?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/29/2023

2038 Days since Hurricane Harvey

$750 Million May Be Swirling the Drain

Yesterday morning at a joint press conference, the Texas General Land Office and Harris County Commissioners pledged to work more closely together to speed up flood mitigation. But four hours later, a chaotic 90-minute discussion in Commissioners Court made me wonder whether the rapprochement would ever bear fruit. At risk: $750 million.

Almost 22 months after the Texas General Land Office (GLO) requested $750 million from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for Harris County Harvey flood mitigation, County Commissioners still haven’t agreed among themselves on which projects to support.

That’s important because GLO must determine that any proposed plan meets HUD requirements before the County can begin spending money…half of which must be spent in the next 33 months.

Harris County must spend all funds by August 31, 2027 and 50% by December 31, 2025.

Harris County Community Services Department

Given how things have gone so far, I’m beginning to wonder about those deadlines. However, hope remains. Read on.

County, GLO Pledge Cooperation

At a joint press conference early on 3/14/23 that featured four Harris County Commissioners and the new GLO Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, Buckingham emphasized the need for speed. In an effort to mend the GLO’s relationship with Harris County, Buckingham also pledged to work more closely with the county to help speed things up. To hear the entire 15-minute press conference, click here.

One of Buckingham’s top priorities is improving communication with local leaders to expedite funds available to benefit local residents.

Joint press conference between GLO and Harris County Commissioners
Joint Press Conference: Thao Costis, Interim Executive Director of CSD; Dr. Tina Petersen, Executive Director HCFCD; Lesley Briones, Precinct 4; Dawn Buckingham MD, GLO Commissioner; Adrian Garcia, Precinct 2; Tom Ramsey PE, Precinct 3; Rodney Ellis, Precinct 1; and Christian Menefee, County Attorney.

History of Grant

The Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) had projects that met the current HUD criteria for hazard mitigation funds back in 2020.

Most just weren’t competitive with other areas’ requests given the rules in the first round of statewide competition. But we’re in a different situation now. After getting so little in Round One, the GLO requested a $750 million allocation to Harris County in May 2021.

Shortly after that, Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Adrian Garcia and Commissioner Rodney Ellis assigned planning responsibilities to the County’s Community Services Department (CSD) instead of HCFCD. But both organizations have had several changes in leadership since then. CSD has had a total of six different directors under Hidalgo so far.

It’s hard to get up much speed in a revolving door. So instead of a plan, we’ve gotten excuses.

“We’re working on it.” “We’ll have that for you in September.” “…in October.” “Before the end of the year.” “Definitely in February.” “Final plan in March.” Now it’s April!

Outline of Plan Approved Without Projects

Yesterday, Commissioners Court actually agreed on a high-level outline of the plan – but without any projects or partners defined.

CSD Interim Director Thao Costis proposed a confusing scoring matrix for potential projects and a spending breakdown that included:

  • $97.5 million for administration and planning
  • $502.5 million for 2018 Flood Control Bond Projects
  • $100 million for Partnership Projects
  • $50 million for Other County Flood Mitigation Projects.

That increased HCFCD’s allocation compared to her last presentation.

And as soon as discussion on the outline began, Commissioners started peppering it with amendments – for almost 90 minutes. In the end, it finally passed, but it was difficult to tell exactly what commissioners were voting on.

So they sent staff away to compile a marked up version of one section – partnership requirements – that reflected numerous changes requested by all commissioners. They brought the marked up version back several hours later and commissioners voted to replace the original partner section they had just approved with the marked up version. But as of this instant, the County Clerk still has not published the text of the final approved version. Good luck to the County Clerk.

Partnership Criteria Refined in Meeting

Re: partnerships, at Commissioner Ramsey’s request, the Court expanded the list of eligible entities beyond municipalities. It now includes MUDs, Public Improvement Districts, School Districts, Public Transit Providers, Economic Development Corporations, TIRZs, Management Districts and Public Ports located within Harris County.

Commissioners also preliminarily approved an amended list of draft criteria for partnership projects. According to Commissioner Ramsey’s staff, they include:

  • Preliminary engineering must be complete or almost so.
  • If right of way is needed, the applicant must already own it.
  • Applicants must adopt the minimum standards for communities in Harris County.
  • Projects can range in size from $3 – $20 million.
  • Partners must agree to cover all cost overruns.
  • Projects will be graded on:
    • Readiness
    • Percent of low-to-moderate income population
    • Efficiency (a combination of cost per person and cost per structure benefitted)
    • Ancillary benefits, i.e., protection of hospitals, schools, etc.
    • Partner’s contribution as percent of total project cost.

Next Steps

CSD will develop an application form for partners. Then:

  • CSD will invite potential partners to a workshop outlining requirements for any deal.
  • Potential partners must submit applications.
  • A consultant will score all applications and develop partnership recommendations.
  • CSD must publish the results and invite public comment.
  • Commissioners, GLO and HUD must approve projects before work can begin.

All that could take years that we don’t have.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the partner application process (which hasn’t even started yet), it’s hard to see how anyone could develop a definitive project list by April 4th, the next commissioner’s court meeting. Hats off to CSD’s Interim Director Costis if she can do it.

Frankly, the chaotic discussion surrounding the $750 million yesterday bewildered me. It was a civics lesson in the value of Robert’s Rules of Order.

The free-for-all starts at about 2:47:09 into the meeting video and goes for almost 90 minutes. Given how long it has taken to get this far and all the steps still ahead, one wonders about the county’s ability to make the final deadline.

Rays of Hope

At the press conference Tuesday morning, GLO offered to work more closely with CSD to compress timelines. Commissioners appeared to welcome the idea.

The GLO also mentioned that more funding might be possible for flood mitigation. However, Commissioner Buckingham could not give a specific figure.

As Harvey disaster relief efforts wind down, the GLO will roll any unused money into flood mitigation, so that it doesn’t have to return to Washington.

The difference between the two buckets? Disaster relief funds go to individuals for repairing damage from past floods. Flood mitigation funds go to government entities for reducing future flooding.

More about the status of disaster relief in a future post. The GLO will hold another press conference in Harris County Thursday on disaster relief efforts.

Posted by Bob Rehak on March 15, 2023

2024 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.

Last Chance to Comment on Distribution of $750 Million in HUD Flood-Mitigation Funds

Tuesday 2/21/23 at 5 P.M. will be your last chance to comment on Harris County’s proposed distribution of $750 million in HUD Flood-Mitigation funds.

Harris County Community Services Department (CSD) will request Commissioners Court approval of its plan for allocating $750 million in HUD Harvey mitigation funds Tuesday. (See item 489 on the Agenda.) The Texas General Land Office (GLO) has conditionally approved the preliminary plan and sent it back to Harris County for public comment.

However, the plan still consists only of a high-level outline. The county wants to split the money between itself and Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) after allocating 13% for planning and administration.

CSD doesn’t intend to say exactly what areas will get how much for which projects until AFTER public comments.

Preliminary Plan Still Contains Little Detail

CSD has posted a 15-minute YouTube video that explains the process. See the screen captures below from the video.

Basically, CSD wants your comments on a high-level outline for dividing up the money. Below is what they recommend.

Less than half will go to HCFCD. AFTER approval tomorrow, the County will develop a list of projects for submission to the GLO. See last line in slide below.

CSD’s video discusses the criteria the county intends to use when developing a project list.

Input obtained prior to developing list.

It appears that Harris County wants all of the money to benefit low-to-moderate income, socially vulnerable neighborhoods…the same neighborhoods that have gotten the lion’s share of funding to date.

Sound familiar? Even though 50% of the $750 million can go to higher income areas, up to 100% could go to low-to-moderate income areas. And it looks like the county wants to go in that direction. Again.

Public Comments Close at 5 P.M. Tuesday

The only way to get your fair share is if enough members of the public demand a more even split. We don’t have enough money to finish the flood bond without spending all of the $750 million on flood mitigation. But CSD’s plan would give less than half to HCFCD.

We need the entire $750 million to fully fund the 2018 flood bond. Given the prevailing politics in Harris County these days, if any projects get cancelled for lack of funding, they will likely be those in middle- to higher-income neighborhoods.

Get Your Promised Share of the 2018 Flood Bond

So please protest any diversion of these funds away from flood mitigation.

By law, CSD must forward all comments received by Tuesday at 5 P.M. to the GLO and HUD for review.

So hurry. Email your comments NOW. It will only take five minutes.

Deadline: February 21 at 5PM.  

Email to: DRplancomments@csd.hctx.net

Below is a sample letter with key points to make. Feel free to cut-and-paste or adapt.

Sample Letter

To whom it may concern:

I strongly protest the outline that Harris County Community Services presented to the GLO for the distribution of $750 million in HUD CDBG-MIT Harvey flood-mitigation funds.

Since adoption of Harris County’s Equity Prioritization Framework, the County has been funneling 2018 Flood Bond money and other local funds to projects in high LMI and SVI areas. 

Now, however, without all of the $750 million going to flood mitigation, there likely won’t be enough money to finish all of the defined flood-bond projects that voters approved by 88% in 2018.

Therefore, I suggest:

  1. The entire $750 million should go to Harris County Flood Control District to complete unfunded flood-mitigation projects in the bond. 
  2. Earmark half that money for projects in watersheds with more affluent residents (less than 50% LMI) who have been largely ignored until now.
  3. Prioritize projects by:
    • The number of damaged structures during Harvey
    • Depth of flooding during Harvey
    • Remaining, unmitigated flood risk
    • Ability to reduce threats to infrastructure, such as bridges, schools, hospitals, and sewage treatment plants.
    • Lack of previous flood-mitigation investment in watershed
  4. The County, GLO and HUD need to be fair to all people of Harris County as HUD’s rules allow. Half of the flood-mitigation funding in Harris County since 2000 has gone to just four watersheds (Brays, Greens, White Oak, and Sims). Other areas have needs, too.
  5. CSD should present a detailed plan and stick to it. Vague generalities invite suspicion and undermine trust in government. 
  6. Ensure transparency. Harris County CSD has a poor record of transparency and website updates. Create a dashboard that publicly displays:
    • Encumbrances
    • Spending to date on every project
    • Who gets how much money, when, for what
    • Each project’s progress 
    • Monthly updates
  7. The MOD should include guarantees that the county will meet performance deadlines. Because of the 20 months already squandered since the County became aware of the $750 million, I question the county’s ability to spend the money by HUD’s deadline.

Thank you for considering these thoughts.

Don’t forget to add your contact information so Community Services can tell the General Land Office and HUD where the comment came from.

More Information

The GLO has emphasized the need for Harris County to act quickly. Flood Control has projects already defined that need money. HUD will take the money back if local authorities can’t spend the money within deadlines. So hurry. These projects take a long time. HCFCD has already defined projects in the flood bond. We can’t afford the time to start from scratch to figure out the distribution of $750 million in HUD Flood-Mitigation funds.

For more supporting information, including charts and graphs that you can use to create a custom letter, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/20/23

2001 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.

Action Needed re: $750 Million for Flood-Control Funding

Harris County doesn’t have enough money to complete the 2018 Flood Bond, but is not committing all of a $750 million grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) for Hurricane Harvey flood mitigation.


In the last Harris County Commissioners Court Meeting, Lina Hidalgo admitted that Harris County doesn’t have enough money to finish all projects in the 2018 Flood Bond. See the video starting at 5 hours and 10 minutes.

The $2.5 billion 2018 Harris County Flood Bond program actually contained flood-mitigation projects worth $5 billion dollars. The County anticipated using a third of the original $2.5 billion to attract matching funds from Federal, State and other partners worth another $2.5 billion. However, to date, only about $1.7 billion in partnership funds have been committed. (See page 11 of last bond update.) That leaves a shortfall of about $800 million.

Yet Harris County has had $750 million of HUD Harvey Mitigation Funds sitting on the table for 20 months now. During that time, the County has only submitted a vague, high-level outline for how it wants to spend the money with no specifics. The County wants:

  • 10% for planning and administration ($75 million)
  • 45% for the Flood Control District ($325 million)
  • 45% for “Harris County” ($325 million)
For more details on the plan which has received “conditional” approval, pending public comments, click here.

Where Will Next Half Billion Come From?

$800 minus $325 equals a $475 million shortfall. So only using $325 million for flood control projects still leaves us about half a billion in unfunded projects. The flood resilience trust won’t cover all that. And those calculations, by the way, don’t even include inflation. Project overages are running about 10% to date, according to Dr. Tina Petersen, Executive Director of the Harris County Flood Control District. As more years go by, that 10% is likely to increase given the cumulative impact of inflation.

And because of the way the county has accelerated projects in low-to-moderate income areas, if projects get cut or delayed, the projects will likely be in more affluent areas like Lake Houston.

The entire $325 million being allocated to HCFCD out of the $750 million would not even cover the $335 million of unfinished bond projects in the Halls Bayou watershed alone. Nothing would be left for anyone else.

The outline did not specify how the second $325 million for Harris County would be used. However, the County did reserve the right to shift money to cities (which already had opportunities to submit grant requests to the Texas General Land Office and the Houston-Galveston Area Council).

Get Your Promised Share of the 2018 Flood Bond

Please protest the diversion of these funds. Submit a public comment to Harris County Community Services Department (HCCSD), which prepared the plan. You must submit it by February 21 at 5PM via:  

US Mail

Attn: HCCSD Planning Section

13105 Northwest Freeway, Suite 400

Houston, Texas 77040 

Or Email 

You may also comment at in-person public hearings on Wednesday, February 15, 2023, at 10 a.m. or 5:30 p.m.:

Harris County Community Services Department

9418 Jensen, Houston, Texas, 77093

Original letters always carry more weight than form letters. But if you don’t have time to write your own, copy or adapt the one below and email it to Harris County Community Services Department. By law, Community Services must forward ALL public comments to the Texas General Land Office and HUD. They will give final approval to any plan.

Sample Letter with Key Points

To whom it may concern:

I strongly protest the outline that Harris County Community Services presented to the GLO for the distribution of $750 million in HUD CDBG-MIT Harvey flood-mitigation funds.

Since adoption of Harris County’s Equity Prioritization Framework, the County has been funneling 2018 Flood Bond money and other local funds to projects in high LMI and SVI areas. 

Now, however, there likely won’t be enough money to finish all of the defined flood-bond projects that voters approved by 88%. 

Therefore, I suggest:

  1. The entire $750 million should go to Harris County Flood Control District to complete unfunded flood-mitigation projects in the bond. 
  2. Earmark half that money for projects in watersheds with more affluent residents (less than 50% LMI) who have been largely ignored until now.
  3. Prioritize projects by:
    • The number of damaged structures during Harvey
    • Depth of flooding during Harvey
    • Remaining, unmitigated flood risk
    • Ability to reduce threats to infrastructure, such as bridges, schools, hospitals, and sewage treatment plants.
    • Lack of previous flood-mitigation investment in watershed
  4. The County, GLO and HUD need to be fair to all people of Harris County as HUD’s rules allow. Half of the flood-mitigation funding in Harris County since 2000 has gone to just four watersheds (Brays, Greens, White Oak, and Sims). Other areas have needs, too.
  5. CSD should present a detailed plan and stick to it. Vague generalities invite suspicion and undermine trust in government. 
  6. Ensure transparency. Harris County CSD has a poor record of transparency and website updates. Create a dashboard that publicly displays:
    • Encumbrances
    • Spending to date on every project
    • Who gets how much money, when, for what
    • Each project’s progress 
    • Monthly updates
  7. The MOD should include guarantees that the county will meet performance deadlines. Because of the 20 months already squandered since the County became aware of the $750 million, I question the county’s ability to spend the money by HUD’s deadline.

Thank you for considering these thoughts.

Don’t forget to add your contact information so Community Services can tell the General Land Office and HUD where the comment came from.

For more supporting information, including charts and graphs that you can use to create a custom letter, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/13/2023

1994 days since Hurricane Harvey

Dems Shortchange Precinct 3 by Almost $50 Million in 2022 Bond Allocation

Correction: Since publishing this, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey contacted me to say that the discrepancy is not as bad as this article makes it look. He believes the percentages described below will be applied in a different order resulting in different outcomes. However, he could not provide final totals, saying that the SVI percentages were still being examined. Finally, he emphasized that the money Precinct 3 does get will be put to good use. He also emphasized the need to incorporate miles of roadway in each precinct into the allocation formula. Commissioner Garcia has not responded to my invitation to supply his point of view.

Original Article as First Published

To sell the controversial $1.1 Billion Road and Parks bond in 2022, Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court passed a resolution promising voters that each precinct would get at least $220 million. The $220 million minimum was promoted to voters on the web, in the press, at community meetings, and in handouts and flyers county-wide for three months prior to the November election. For example…

Screen capture from Harris County Engineering Site on 1/31/23
Close-up photo of flier distributed by Harris County at community meetings

But one month into the new administration…

Dems adopted an allocation plan that gives Republican-led Precinct 3 only $173 million – almost $50 million less than the promised $220 million.

Commissioner Adrian Garcia introduced his complicated allocation scheme in a five-part motion. He never did reveal the totals although he did admit that not every precinct received the minimum. Because he bases his scheme on the CDC’s social vulnerability index, not miles of roads that need to be maintained, Precinct 3 will get less money in total and less than one-fifth the dollars per “lane mile” compared to Garcia’s Precinct 2.

Who Gets How Much

Garcia never revealed totals for each precinct. To learn who gets how much, you have to calculate the totals yourself using a vague procedure Garcia verbally outlined during commissioners court on 1/31/23. It’s a confusing, multi-part formula that requires calculating percentages of percentages of percentages of figures found in different documents. Only after adding totals from three different subcategories does the ugly truth became apparent. 

Here’s how I calculated the shortfall. Garcia’s scheme contains three “buckets.”

  • Harris County Engineering gets 10% or $110 million.
  • Each precinct then gets a flat baseline amount equal to 63.64% of the remainder.
  • Each precinct also gets an amount that varies based on the number of “socially vulnerable” residents from the remaining 26.36%.

SVI percentages vary widely. And they radically skew the final totals. Here’s how the math works out.

PrecinctBaseline Amt.SVI %Total Each Precinct
Calculations based on Garcia’s description of formula in meeting and the SVI numbers he supplied

The final totals could vary slightly if you applied the percentages in a different order. But any way you cut it, P3 still gets far less that the minimum guarantee and $50 – $100 million less than Democratic precincts..

This PDF explains what the 10% for Engineering covers and lists SVI populations in each precinct. SVI stands for the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index. However, Garcia does not list a source or date for the SVI numbers, so we have to take his word for their accuracy.

Now, remember, this is primarily a road bond. So, let’s also look at how this allocation translates into dollars per lane mile.

PrecinctLane MilesAllocation$/Mile
Lane miles supplied by Harris County Precinct 3 staff

Precinct 3 has 2-3X the lane miles compared to other precincts. Yet it gets the smallest allocation. Compared to Garcia’s Precinct 2…

Precinct 3 gets less than one-fifth the dollars per lane mile. This is no accident.

During the hotly contested redistricting process in 2021, Democrats gave Ramsey the lion’s share of unincorporated Harris County to maintain. Now, the final shoe drops. They denied him the ability to maintain those roads.

What Do YOU Call It?

Is this a political vendetta? Voter fraud? Financial fraud? Theft of services? A bald-faced lie? Business as usual in Harris County Commissioners Court? Or all of the above? You could build a case for “all of the above.” In my opinion:

  • If this were the prospectus for a new stock offering, the Securities and Exchange Commission would likely launch an investigation.
  • If it were an advertisement, the Federal Trade Commission could level hefty “bait-and-switch” fines.
  • If you told someone you were going to provide $50 million worth of services and then didn’t, but still took their money, the Texas Attorney General could build a felony case for theft of services.
  • Right now, the New York attorney general is suing a former U.S. President for making misleading financial statements.

No Transparency

Before the vote on the bond in November, Garcia could have offered up his allocation formula. But he didn’t do that. 

And before the vote on the allocation formula Tuesday, Garcia could have easily said, “Here’s what each Precinct will get.” But he didn’t do that either. As with the Flood Bond and the Equity Prioritization Framework, this is another example of changing the deal after voters vote.

That’s why, in my opinion, this is deliberate concealment with intent to defraud taxpayers. 

Bob Rehak

Discussion went like this.

Despite Precinct 3 Commissioner Ramsey’s reservations and his plea for more time to study the impact of the proposal, the Dems approved Garcia’s allocation formula on the spot. This was carefully rehearsed.

You can see video and a complete transcript of the discussion here, starting at 4:15:13.

Garcia also revealed other screening criteria for project consideration. Just in case you thought a project benefitting you might squeak through, the eligibility criteria involve factors such as:

  • A 25% weighting for project location.
  • The Equity Prioritization Framework which gives 65% weight to population density and social vulnerability (a second time).

Other Brazen Developments

Encouraged by a 4:1 majority on commissioners court, Democrats have become brazen. Tuesday’s revelation concerning the 2022 bond was one of many.

  • Commissioners still didn’t take any action on the $750 million in HUD funds that have been sitting on the table for a year and nine months.
  • That $750 million – with the flood resilience trust – could pay for every unfunded project in the 2018 flood bond. But instead of asking why Community Services has not prepared a detailed plan that HUD could approve, Commissioners allocated $64 million from local Toll Road funds to keep flood projects moving in Democratic precincts.
  • While not even acknowledging the $750 million in untapped HUD funds sitting on the table, Garcia repeatedly said that we don’t have enough money to finish the flood bond and discussed taking money from the 2022 Road Bond.

I suspect Dems want to cancel Flood-Bond projects in Precinct 3 and then blame the cancellations on a Republican-led GLO, which administers HUD funds in Texas.

That could push independents toward the blue column…at least those not paying close attention.

Lingering Concerns

The concerns outlined above are serious. But those aren’t the only concerns. Readers have written asking:

1) Will there be transparency for this bond like we had for the flood bond? Or will this turn into another give away to campaign donors?

2) How were the SVI numbers calculated?  Are they available for review?  How can we trust those numbers?

3) What other large public agency divides infrastructure money by SVI?  Prove that it is a “best practice” and not a way to game the system to get more money in Precinct 2.

4) This is clearly political punishment for Precinct 3 that puts Republican lives at risk. Is this the example that Harris County “leadership” wants to set for future generations?

5) Are we fueling more distrust in government which has been steadily declining.

Garcia addressed none of those issues. Only one thing is clear. Last Tuesday was a tipping point in the history of Harris County.

If Commissioner Garcia wishes to write a rebuttal, I will post it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/2/2023

1983 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.

County Outlines Plan for $750 Million in Flood-Mitigation Funds

Harris County Community Services Department (CSD) has finally shared a high-level summary of how it would spend $750 million in Hurricane Harvey Flood Mitigation Funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The plan, called a Method of Delivery (MOD), was submitted to the Texas General Land Office (GLO) in December for preliminary approval, but returned to the county in January for tweaks to make it HUD-compliant.

CSD’s presentation is informational; the Department is not yet seeking approval from Commissioner’s Court. But this will be the public’s first peak at CSD’s direction.

While the presentation predictably emphasizes support for low-to-moderate income and socially vulnerable groups, it also contains some surprises. For instance, it mentions supporting activist groups, but fails to mention protecting bridges, hospitals and schools.

I-69 repairs
Damage to I-69 bridge disrupted areas to the north for 11 months after Harvey.
Lone Star College
Harvey flooded 6 of 9 buildings at Lone Star College/Kingwood. Repairs cost $60 million and disrupted classes for more than a year.


George P. Bush, former GLO Commissioner, requested a $750 million allocation for Harris County from HUD in May of 2021. HUD formally approved that amount in March of 2022. But Harris County Commissioner’s Court didn’t approve the grant agreement until August 31, 2022. And CSD didn’t submit its plan to the GLO for review until late December 2022.

The CSD plan reflects both HUD’s mission and the requirements spelled out in the State’s Action Plan. However, the GLO required CSD to make some tweaks to the initial plan to make it HUD compliant. During the tweaking process, Commissioners replaced CSD Director Dr. Adrienne Holloway with a new Interim Director, Thao Costis, the department’s SIXTH leader under County Judge Lina Hidalgo in four years. Costis previously led a non-profit group in Houston that provided services to homeless people.

“These funds intend to mitigate and build resiliency against flood risks in the region.”

Harris County Community Services Department

The Department claims it conducted ample data analysis and public input on the MOD. It says constituents lobbied for prioritizing “(1) low- and moderate-income population, (2) social vulnerability, (3) total population, and (4) National Flood Insurance Program repetitive loss properties.”

However, the presentation does not specify whether:

  • Repetitive losses will be weighed against previous mitigation investments. Will an area that once had high repetitive losses, but which already received hundreds of millions of mitigation dollars, still be prioritized over other areas that have received no flood-mitigation money?
  • Severity of flooding will be considered. Will one inch of flooding in a low-income home count for more than ten feet of flooding in a middle-income home?
  • Threats to infrastructure will be addressed. For instance, the loss of interstate highway bridges, hospitals and schools.

There’s no measure of “current risk,” nothing that addresses “threats to life,” and nothing that balances impacts to the community vs. impacts to individuals…at least in the summary that CSD is now sharing.

Plagued by “Vague”

CSD claims it prioritizes flood control and drainage improvements, natural or green infrastructure, water and sewer facilities, provision of generators, buyouts, and planning activities. I say “claims” because CSD did not provide a list of projects with the presentation. Nor did it provide a matrix for scoring projects.

However, CSD did allude to the April 2020 Harris County Multi-Hazard Mitigation Action Plan which contained 834 action items. As of August 13, 2022, the County reported 9% of those completed.

The CSD presentation also referenced 2018-Flood-Bond Projects. But it’s not clear at this time if a potential project list goes beyond Hazard-Mitigation-Action-Plan Projects and Flood-Bond Projects … or even if there is a list. Nor does the presentation hint at which Haz Mit and Bond Projects would be included.

Finally, the summary makes no mention of any effort to ensure transparency and accountability. The public deserves to know where its money goes!

CSD says it would administer the $750 million grant and work with Harris County Flood Control District to “reduce flood risk and increase resiliency to future natural disasters for Harris County’s nearly 5 million residents.”

But we still don’t know who will get how much for what. Nor do we know what the expected benefits will be.


Though only Harris County and the Flood Control District are eligible to receive HUD’s $750 million, CSD states it will partner with other entities, including cities, within Harris County, that have “shovel-ready” flood mitigation projects. “Additionally, Harris County could sign [emphasis added] a Memorandum of Understanding with the Flood Control District to increase the amount of funding devoted to the 2018 Flood Control Bond,” says CSD. In other words, the County might send some of its share to HCFCD. But there’s no guarantee.

Extension Requested

CSD’s current agreement with GLO requires expending all grant funds by August 2027. But CSD says it will request a 3-year extension.

Splitting $750 Million

The CSD presentation shows that Harris County Flood Control will get only $326.25 million from the $750 million. The rest will go to Harris County. Out of the other $423.75 million, the county plans to spend $97.5 million on administration and planning. That would leave both Flood Control and Harris County with $326.25 million for actual mitigation work.

Word on the street in the engineering community is that the Harris County Engineer’s Office will handle the County’s portion of the money. Adrian Garcia appointees lead the Engineering Department and that would help Garcia influence where the money goes.

Inconsistencies, Typos Raise Questions

CSD’s presentation boils over with contradictions and typos that don’t speak well for “attention to detail” in a grant where $750 million is at stake. For instance, the plan says:

  • Projects will help the county’s entire population, but it prioritizes projects in low- and moderate-income, socially vulnerable areas. 
  • CSD needs a 3-year extension … for shovel-ready projects.
  • The County will partner with other entities within Harris County, but cities and towns get $0.

I can’t wait to hear the explanations…especially how the money will help neighborhoods outside the Beltway given inside-the-Beltway priorities.

Nor can I wait to hear whether the cities in Harris County rebel against a plan that seemingly guarantees them nothing.

The presentation literally underscores CSD’s priorities:

“Once the MOD is approved by GLO, Harris County MOD entities reserve the right to partner with local governmental entities and special districts in the county to perform eligible projects, including but not limited to cities and Flood Control District. Harris County may also partner with local non-profit agency [sic] regarding public service activities that support mitigation and resiliency, particularly in areas were [sic] drainage or other mitigation activities are affecting low-to-moderate income households [sic] stability.”

Yikes! Three typos in one sentence!

Next Steps

This presentation only informs Commissioner’s Court and the Public about the grant’s status. CSD will not ask for approval of any projects on Tuesday. That will come later. The next steps include:

  • Public comments
  • Determining how to partner with other entities (Still, after almost 2 years)
  • Preparation of final MOD that incorporates public comments and responses
  • Approval of final MOD by County Commissioners (2/21/23)
  • GLO review and approval (March/April)
  • After GLO approval:
    • “Call for information of projects” (whatever that is)
    • Submit project packets to Commissioners Court
    • Submit project packets to GLO
    • Start projects (Fall 2023) six years after Hurricane Harvey!

It’s item 381 on the agenda.

Commissioner’s Court begins at 10AM on Tuesday. If you wish to make a public comment, here’s how to sign up to speak.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/28/2023

1978 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.

November Flood-News Roundup

Below is a roundup of flood news this week – seven quick stories.

Montgomery County Buyout Deadline Fast Approaching

The deadline for the current round of buyout applications in Montgomery County is November 30, 2022.

The Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management still has money left in a Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Texas General Land Office (GLO) allocated the money to buy out homes flooded during 2016 and 2017 (Harvey).

There are strict eligibility requirements; see the applications online. However, MoCo is now taking applications from homeowners who flooded repeatedly regardless of income level. Previously, the county was giving preference to low-to-middle income (LMI) families meet HUD’s LMI quotas.

While HUD does cap maximum buyout costs, Montgomery County offers several “credits” that can help people. Those include, but are not limited to special credits for seniors and veterans, and for moving expenses.

The county is hosting a series of meetings to help residents understand their options. More details to follow in a separate post on this subject.

Tammy Gunnels home in Porter flooded 13 times in 11 years before finally getting a buyout last year through the programs mentioned above.

Regional Flood Planning Group Draft Plan

The public comment period for the San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group’s draft plan closed on October 29th. Here’s an overview of their recommendations. One was developing detention on and channelizing portions of Spring Creek. The Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC), one of the Houston region’s leading conservation groups, had concerns with that.

BLC submitted this letter. It details the dangers of channelization to the 14,000 acres it preserves. In particular, BLC feels the report does not adequately consider erosion that could be caused by speeding up floodwaters. They say that detention and channelization projects could destabilize the entire natural system along Spring Creek. They urge more study on sedimentation and erosion before moving forward with construction.

The next step: the Regional Flood Planning Group will consider all comments received and modify the draft plan as needed.

$750 Million HUD Grant to Harris County

After promising to submit its $750 million Method of Distribution (MOD) to the GLO by the end of September, Harris County still has not yet submitted it. GLO first said it planned to allocate the money to Harris County in May, 2021 – 17 months ago!

The MOD is a plan that shows how Harris County would allocate the money. Who gets how much for what? MOD approval is necessary to ensure the County spends the money in accordance with HUD and GLO requirements.

The money could cover all under- and unfunded projects in the 2018 Flood Bond. But in April, Harris County’s new administrator assigned the task of developing the MOD to the Community Services Department instead of the Flood Control District – even though Community Services has had four leadership changes under Lina Hidalgo.

Community Services said that it planned to deliver the MOD to GLO by the end of September and publish the draft MOD by the end of October. Neither happened. The last response from Community Services was at the start of October.

At that time, the department head said the group had determined a “process” for developing the MOD. But they had yet to define any projects. For that, they were waiting for “direction from leadership.” As a result, $750 million that could mitigate flooding in Harris County is still sitting in Washington at HUD.

Meanwhile, GLO also notified H-GAC of a $488 million dollar allocation on the same day in May, 2021. H-GAC has already developed its MOD and gotten it approved. And H-GAC sub-recipients are reportedly already taking bids on projects.

There’s a lot of flood-mitigation money waiting in the wings that could accelerate Harris County projects. The longer Community Services waits, the more it places the money in jeopardy. Fifty percent must be spent in the next three years.

“Water Has a Memory”

New York 1 published a fascinating story about an ecologist tracing New York flooding back to its roots with old maps. The title: “A map of New York City before it was a city could provide answers to today’s flooding.”

The central figure in this detective story is Eric Sanderson. He cross-references current flooding issues with a historical chart of “the city’s buried, drained, filled-in or paved-over waterways.”

In every case, he says, the problems have the same roots. 

People built lives in places that used to be underwater. And water, he says, has a memory. 

“Maybe there was a wetland there, maybe there was a stream there, maybe there was a pond there, and people have forgotten,” Sanderson said in the interview.

We see this constantly in Houston. In one extreme case, a developer cleared property, filled in wetlands and THEN conducted an environmental survey.


All but a few of the 131 mini-homes at the Preserve at Woodridge are now framed out. The closer this site gets to completion, the more I question the accuracy of the engineer’s claim of only 66% impervious cover.

The Preserve at Woodridge will feature some homes as large as 660 square feet and four feet apart. Photo October 31, 2022.
Kids will love this area for Halloween. More candy per footstep.

Flood-Insurance Flap

The Houston Chronicle recently published an editorial about new flood Insurance rates designed to stanch financial hemorrhaging in the National Flood Insurance Plan. The title: “What happened to affordable flood insurance?”

For the first time this year, FEMA is trying to put flood insurance rates on an actuarial basis. But weening people off nationally subsidized insurance is proving difficult. The article claims some people have 500% rate increases even though increases are capped at a far lower rate.

While bemoaning the unintended consequences of well-intended reforms, the editorial proposes a solution: making flood-insurance rates “income based”!

One wonders about the unintended consequences of that. Will the availability of cheap flood insurance encourage building low-income housing only in the riskiest areas?

We shouldn’t forget that it was the availability of cheap flood insurance that encouraged building in flood-prone areas to begin with.

There may be no good solutions to this problem. Many feel government should have never have gotten involved in flood insurance from the start.

One insurance agent I talked to suggested this. “Worst case: offer buyouts to people who can’t afford flood insurance with the understanding that if declined, then there will be no more assistance for financial losses due to flooding.”

I personally favor a two-tiered public/private approach similar to Medicare. Cap the federally subsidized insurance at a level that stops the hemorrhaging. Then, let private insurers fill the gaps up to the full value of expensive homes.

This debate could take years.

New Netflix Series: High Water

Sally Geis, a former Kingwood resident, wrote me about a new Netflix show called “High Water.” It’s based on true events in 1997. It describes a massive flood that took place in Wrocław, Poland. The flood caused $3.5 billion in damages and put almost half of the city underwater.

However, it could have been smaller if one of the villages had allowed the incoming flood waters to be diverted onto their fields. Their “not-in-my-backyard” refusal and the disastrous individual and community consequences are the theme of the series. Sound familiar?

The acting and production design are first-rate, according to Geis. “It’s a story about a real disaster and real problems that can happen anywhere on the globe right now,” she says.

Click here for the trailer.


Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/4/22

1893 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.