Tag Archive for: Army Corps

Bayou Land Conservancy Protects Another 966 Acres in Lake Creek Watershed

Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC) has announced a conservation easement on 966 acres of critical Lake Creek property in Montgomery County. The property is just northeast of Magnolia on Tranquility Ranch, which is owned by Nathan and Lindy Ingram. BLC started working with the Ingrams in 2015.

The conservation easement is across Lake Creek from the 7,000-acre Cook’s Branch preserve owned by the Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation. The proximity of the two large properties will benefit wildlife by maintaining the “carrying capacity” of the land.

Lake Creek flows diagonally through this satellite image from Google Earth. Note how new developments are gobbling up the natural (green) area in the middle where the conservation easement is.

The 966 acres permanently preserved at Tranquility Ranch help meet BLC’s long-term conservation goals and contribute to the environmental health of the region.

The preserve will function as a wetland and stream mitigation bank, known as the West Montgomery Mitigation Bank. It has credits available to developers seeking to offset impacts in this rapidly growing area.

Wild area along Lake Creek where it flows through Tranquility Ranch.

Featuring a mix of hardwood and pine forest, Tranquility Ranch consists of over 400 acres of existing wetland habitat, 20 acres of streams & ponds, and 13,000 linear feet (2.5 miles) of stream frontage on Lake Creek.

In addition to high quality existing habitat, over 90 acres of wetlands and 300 acres of flooded forests will be improved and restored on the land.

Bottomland hardwoods provide habitat for wildlife.

The 966-acre preserve is part of a larger 1200-acre property that hosts a special event venue called The Wyldes at Tranquility Ranch. It hosts retreats, weddings, and other events.

Benefits to People and Wildlife

Jill Boullion, Executive Director of Bayou Land Conservancy, said, “This conservation agreement makes a significant stride towards BLC’s conservation goals to preserve land in the Lake Houston watershed.”

“We’re grateful to landowner Nathan Ingram and his care and protection of this special place,” said Boullion.

“This land will provide positive impacts in the region for generations to come.”

Jill Boullion, Exec. Director, BLC

Preservation of Tranquility Ranch will provide many community benefits. They include flood control, water-quality improvements for drinking water and recreation, and wildlife habitat. The preserve also is an important nesting, wintering, and migratory stop-over site for many bird species, including owls, raptors, and songbirds.

Importance of Lake Creek Preservation to Downstream Flood Protection

Leaving natural areas natural won’t reduce flooding per se. But it will keep flooding from getting worse.

It will also reduce flood damage by ensuring generous setbacks from areas that flood.

Wetlands are nature’s sponges. They retain runoff that might otherwise quickly add to flood peaks downstream. They also clean water.

Bayou City Waterkeeper ranks the wetlands along Lake Creek as one of the five most critical wetland areas in the Houston Region.

For those who may not know where Lake Creek is, it enters the San Jacinto West Fork just south of Conroe, about 9 miles south of the Lake Conroe Dam. See the big green area in the upper left.

watershed map of the San Jacinto
Watershed map courtesy of San Jacinto Regional Water Authority.

From this map, we can see that rainfall from seven watersheds flows under the US59 bridge. Comparing peak flow data from them during the January 2024 flood, we can see that Lake Creek had the highest discharge rate. See below. USGS graphs are arranged in order from highest to lowest, except for the last, which reflects rain falling in all seven watersheds.

Lake Creek peaked at 20,800 cubic feet per second (CFS)
Lake Conroe peaked at 19,100 CFS.
Spring Creek peaked at 9,810 CFS.
Cypress Creek peaked at 6,580 CFS.
Willow Creek peaked at 842 CFS.
Little Cypress peaked at 780 CFS.

All of the streams above flow under the US59 bridge.

USGS registered a peak of 40,400 cubic feet per second at the 59 Bridge.

Note: the first six peaks do not total up to the last because streams peaked at different times.

Of course, these numbers partially reflect uneven rainfall distribution during the January event. And rainfall totals in the Lake Creek watershed were among the highest in the area.

The discharge rates above also reflect watershed size. According to Table 2 in the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan:

  • Spring Creek drains 392 sq. mi.
  • Lake Creek drains 330 sq. mi.
  • Cypress Creek drains 266 square miles (sq. mi.)
  • Little Cypress drains 52 sq. mi.
  • Willow drains 52 sq. mi.

Looking solely at watershed size shows that even if the rainfall distribution had been uniform, Lake Creek would have contributed a major percentage of the overall flow.

And that – in a sentence – is why Lake Houston Area residents should care about conservation along Lake Creek, especially considering that the watershed is developing so quickly!

Conservation Easement Will Protect Land in Perpetuity

BLC conducted an extensive audit of natural resources including wetlands and wildlife on the Ingram property before the conservation agreement was put in place. No matter who the owner is, the easement will run with the land and protect the land in perpetuity. The audit will provide a baseline for future comparison.

Ingram reportedly had offers to buy the land from sand miners and developers but chose to conserve it instead. Said Boullion, “I commend him because obviously it’s not cheap to own and hold that much land in a natural state. So, he looked for a way to monetize his property while conserving the land and benefiting the community. He is one of the most conservation-minded people I know.”

The conservation easement held by BLC will let Ingram sell wetland-mitigation credits through the West Montgomery Mitigation Bank. He will sell them to developers who have no other choice but to disturb wetlands while developing the rest of their property.

For more about how the wetland credits work in Texas, see this page from Texas A&M.

The Army Corps controls and permits the process. But non-profit groups, such as the Bayou Land Conservancy, play a major role in it.

About Bayou Land Conservancy

BLC is one of the leading conservation groups in the Houston region. It preserves land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife. BLC is a nationally accredited, community-sponsored land preservation organization working to permanently protect land, with a focus on the streams that feed Lake Houston, an important source of drinking water for millions of people.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/25/24

2361 Days since Hurricane Harvey

GLO Announces Bolivar Beach Restoration Project to Protect Highway

On 12/13/23, Texas General Land Office (GLO) Commissioner Dawn Buckingham, M.D. announced the approval of Coastal Erosion Planning & Response Act (CEPRA) funding for a Bolivar Peninsula Beach and Dune Restoration project.

The beach-restoration project seeks to:

  • Restore additional essential beach and dune systems
  • Provide crucial protection for Highway 87, Bolivar Peninsula’s only hurricane evacuation route

According to the GLO, the CEPRA funds – initially aimed at an engineering study – will provide both economic and coastal resilience benefits.

Part of SH 87 Already Washed Away

Highway 87 once had a stretch between Sea Rim State Park and High Island that washed out repeatedly over the decades. TXDoT closed it permanently in 1990. Today, eastbound SH 87 stops at High Island. Evacuees must then turn north on SH 124 toward I-10.

The stretch being protected provides the only remaining land-based evacuation route for the 2,800 residents of the Bolivar Peninsula. Seventeen people died there on September 13, 2008, during Hurricane Ike.

The scope of this project: to develop focused beach nourishment engineering design specifications for a U.S. Army Corps permit. Beach nourishment will alleviate tidal impacts threatening SH 87’s eastern terminus on Bolivar Peninsula near High Island.

Satellite Image Sequence Shows Severity of Shoreline Erosion

This series of Google Earth images shows how shoreline erosion now has waves lapping at the shoulder of the highway in this area.

State Highway 87 near High Island in 1974. Note dunes between highway and broad beach.
Same area immediately after Ike. Note erosion of beach and deposition inland from SH87.
Same area in 2023. Note continued erosion of beach toward highway.
Enlargement of nearby stretch shows high tide lapping at riprap which maintenance crews are replenishing (2023).

The beach nourishment engineering design specifications under this project are focused on an approximately four miles of the Bolivar Gulf-facing shoreline beginning at the Galveston-Chambers County line and extending west toward Gilchrist. This is where tides come closest to Hwy. 87 on a recurring basis.

Improving Resilience

“Ultimate benefits from this beach nourishment design work would include protection of the peninsula’s only hurricane evacuation route,” said a GLO spokesperson.

The CEPRA Program helps communities across the Texas coast implement erosion response projects and related studies to understand and reduce coastal erosion as it threatens public beaches, natural resources, coastal development, public infrastructure, and public and private property. 

The Bolivar Peninsula Special Utility District, Bolivar Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, Galveston County Road Administrator Lee Crowder, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry, and Galveston County Precinct 2 Commissioner Joe Giusti played pivotal roles in securing this funding.

Nature-Based Solutions Help Protect People and Wildlife

Commissioner Buckingham said, “As a Texan who grew up near the coast and lived on Galveston Island for more than a decade, preserving our state’s precious shorelines and their communities is a top priority.”

FEMA has found that such nature-based solutions increase quality of life for both humans and wildlife. And make no mistake. This is an important wintering and nesting area for many species of wildfowl that depend on the wetlands in this area.

Snow geese flocking near High Island in December 2008, shortly after Ike.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/1/24

2316 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Homebuyers Beware: Flood Risk is Shifting Target

Homebuyers beware. Flood risk is a shifting target.

This morning, I began reading more than 100 pages of legal briefs in the appeal of the upstream Addicks and Barker awards. I could not help but think how hundreds of millions of dollars in losses and untold heartbreak could have been averted with more due diligence on the part of all involved – buyers, developers and the Army Corps.

Background of Case

For those new to the area, Addicks and Barker are two reservoirs on Houston’s west side. The Army Corps built them back in the 1930s to protect downtown Houston and the ship channel. However, the Corps did not buy all the land inside the reservoirs that was subject to flooding. Later, developers started building on that land. And people bought the homes despite the risks.

During Harvey, hundreds of homes built inside the reservoirs flooded. Residents sued the Corps and won. But the Corps is now appealing the case.

In 2022, a judge ruled in favor of the residents and awarded them more than half a billion in damages. The damages included repair costs, replacement of belongings, and compensation for value lost in their property. But facing hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts, the government isn’t giving up easily. It appealed.

The case has taken more than six years to get to this point and it is far from over. No telling what the legal fees have cost both sides. Or whether plaintiffs will ever see a penny.

This should serve as a lesson to everyone buying a home and to their real estate agents, mortgage lenders, and surveyors.

Tools to Help You Avoid Becoming a Flood Victim

Although tools to identify flood risk may not have been commonly available and readily understandable when the plaintiffs bought homes inside the reservoirs, such tools do exist now.

Two of the easiest to use are the USGS National Map and FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer.

They both show the extent of potential flooding in this area, but each has different strengths. And they show slightly different results. That should raise some cautions if you think of risk as a black-or-white issue.

Use USGS National Map for Elevations, Slopes, Contours

USGS excels at mapping elevations, slopes and contours. This post explains how to use the National Map. Backgrounds include:

  • Satellite imagery
  • Street maps
  • Structures
  • Topographic maps
  • Relief maps
  • Streams
  • Hydro and more.

You can layer these maps and vary their transparency. But the real magic of the USGS National Map is in the measurement tool for elevation profiling. Below is an example.

After activating the elevation profile tool, I drew a line from a residential neighborhood inside the Barker Reservoir, across the dam, to an area outside the reservoir. I chose an area in the southwest corner of the reservoir that flooded during Harvey. It showed this.

Note elevation changes on right where line crosses the dam (gray bar). Homes above the gray are inside reservoir.

The red X shows the height of the dam (108 feet) in the elevation profile. The brown area in the elevation-profile box shows the elevation of the dam, homes, streets and drainage channels.

Homes are generally 6-8 feet BELOW the height of the dam. That should be a giant red flag for anyone considering buying a house inside the reservoir.

Next, zooming out, I turned on the hydro layer. The red circle below, indicated the approximate area and location of the map above.

Note how the flood pool of the reservoir extends beyond the entire neighborhood shown above.

FEMA National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer for Floodplain Information

FEMA actually uses the elevation information from the USGS national map. But FEMA superimposes floodplains to show flood risk in several zones.

Note difference in two maps above in their bottom left corners. FEMA shows some homes inside the reservoir that are outside of mapped flood zones. Aqua = 100-year and tan = 500-year floodplains.

The difference noted above raises an important point. FEMA’s maps are estimates of the probability of unknown future events based on the frequency of extremely rare past events. Those estimates may not have been in effect when the neighborhood in question was built around the time of Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. Maps based on Allison weren’t adopted until around 2007 and are still in effect today.

Harris County Flood Control and FEMA update flood maps periodically when new monster storms come along and surpass past rainfall probability estimates. For instance, FEMA is working on new flood maps based on Harvey, but has not yet released them.

So, if you’re thinking of betting your life savings on a home in a risky area, the best things to do are these:

  1. Ask yourself, “Can I afford to lose everything?” Many families in the reservoirs did.
  2. Consult an independent engineer without any financial incentive in the purchase, i.e., making the deal go though.
  3. Evaluate a variety of homes, not just one. And look closely at the safety margins.
  4. If a home is two feet above the 100-year floodplain, look for one that’s higher. Things change regularly, usually in one direction.
  5. Make “flood avoidance” more important than kitchen appliances in your purchase decision.

A Cautionary Tale Based on Personal Experience

Back in the early 1980s, I owned a house in Dallas near a creek that an engineer and the city certified were 2-feet above the 100-year floodplain. The home flooded within two years, due to rapid, insufficiently mitigated growth upstream.

Several years later, when I bought a house in Kingwood, I looked at ten homes and bought the one on the highest ground. More than 30 years later, all nine of the others flooded during Harvey even though they were all reportedly above the 100-year flood plain.

For a thorough description of why flood risk is a moving target, read this post – Why Do We Flood?

After two years of drought, it’s easy to become complacent about flood risk. Don’t. Ask anyone who has flooded. They will tell you. Your life can change overnight. So homebuyers beware.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/21/2023

2244 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Major Kingwood Shopping Center Almost Back

Hurricane Harvey flooded 100 percent of all the businesses in Kingwood Town Center. Recovery has been a long, hard road. Some retailers threw in the towel. Others hung on by their nails. The shopping center on the northwest side of Kingwood Drive and West Lake Houston Parkway was one of the hardest hit – caught between rising waters from Lake Houston and descending waters from Bens Branch. For several years, the entire center looked like a ghost town.

Kingwood Town Center Old H-E-B
In this shot on the shopping center taken in November 2020, more than 30 stores were vacant.

Finally, the owner sold it to a buyer with deeper pockets who could make needed repairs.

Flood Mitigation Efforts Bolster Confidence

While that was happening, the Army Corps finished dredging the West Fork. Harris County Flood Control District completed a major maintenance project to restore the conveyance of Bens Branch. And the City cleared sediment from under the Kingwood Drive bridge over Bens Branch, eliminating a major bottleneck on the creek.

City of Houston crews remove sediment from under Kingwood Drive Bridge over Bens Branch by shopping center.

The remediation efforts seem to have bolstered confidence and encouraged the return of retailers.

Pardon Their Dust

For the last two years, loyal customers had to dodge construction as the shopping center got a facelift. But last month, the construction trailer and fencing disappeared. Today, I counted only four vacancies in the main part of the shopping center. And workmen are busy doing interior buildout on some of those.

Ghost-Town Look Gone

The ghost-town look is gone…replaced by pristine exteriors, new signage, and fresh landscaping. It will only be a matter of time before the remaining spaces refill.

Here’s how the center looks today.

A new Trek bicycle store recently opened, and makes a nice complement to other retailers.
Around the corner, a fresh new look for the urgent care center and Walgreens.

Still Searching for Anchor Tenant…

Unfortunately, the center still lacks an anchor tenant.

The leasing agent, NewQuest, is rumored to have been in discussions with a large fitness center to occupy that space or part of it. This morning, I saw electricians entering the space to work. But NewQuest did not return a phone call to confirm or deny a deal with a new tenant. NewQuest’s website still shows the space officially for lease.

…But Appraised Value Quadruples Since Harvey

Regardless, you can see another sign of the shopping center’s success on the Harris County Appraisal District website. The appraised value of the center has more than quadrupled since those bleak days after Harvey.

Five-year appraised value history from HCAD.org as of 9/8/22.
Screen capture from HCAD.org as of 9/8/22.

Welcome Back, Retailers!

If you avoided this center during construction, explore what all the small business owners have to offer.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/8/2022

1836 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Hunting Flood-Mitigation Project Nearing Completion

When Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) and the Army Corps began Project Hunting (the Hunting Bayou Federal Flood Risk Management Project) in 2014, they estimated it would cost $100 million and take until late this year.

A flyover of the construction along Hunting Bayou looks like it is nearing completion…right on schedule. It will soon be done, except for the backslapping. Compare the shots below to those I took last year.

Hunting Bayou runs just inside North Loop 610 most of the way from US59 to Wayside. However, starting at Wayside, it dips outside the Loop, then goes back inside again, and finally outside a second time. Eventually, the Bayou works its way to the Houston Ship Channel near the City of Galena Park.

Scope of Project

Project elements include:

  • Excavating a stormwater detention basin on a 75-acre site near the northeast corner of Homestead Road and Loop 610
  • Widening and deepening about 4 miles of Hunting Bayou
  • 9 bridge replacements / 8 modifications and channel conveyance improvements under bridges

Project Benefits

HCFCD says that most neighborhoods near the bayou will see water surface elevation reductions of 3-4 feet for the 1 percent annual chance (100-year) flooding event. The number of homes and businesses subject to the 1 percent (100-year) flooding event would drop from 5,100 to 650. And all homes and businesses will benefit from the reduced frequency and depth of flooding.

Need for Project

The Hunting Bayou watershed has Harris County’s second highest percentage of Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) residents – 69%. That means more than two out of every three people earn less than the average income for the region.

Hunting is a small watershed. It comprises only 31 square miles. Its size ranks 19th out of 23 watersheds in the county.

Population grew only by 2,323 residents between 2010 and 2020. It went from 75,908 to 78,231. That now ranks it 14th in population among all watersheds, and 8th highest in people per square mile.

In five major storms between 2000 and today (Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey and Imelda), floods damaged 15,763 structures in the watershed. But virtually all of that damage came from Allison (8,270) and Harvey (7,419). The other three storms combined damaged only 74 structures, according to statistics compiled from HCFCD Federal Reports.

Thus, Hunting ranked 7th in total damage out of 23 watersheds, but because of its small size and high density, it had 508.5 structures per square mile damaged by floods since 2000. That means…

Hunting ranked #2 out of 23 watersheds in damage per square mile.

Data Obtained from HCFCD Via foia request

The watershed is highly urbanized with a mixture of residential, commercial and industrial developments. It’s home to one of the largest rail yards in the Houston area.

Union Pacific Englewood Yard in NE Houston along Liberty Road (right). HCFCD had to replace three railroad bridges over Hunting Bayou as part of the project.

Aerial Survey Shows Mitigation Construction Almost Complete

On Tuesday this week, I flew over Hunting Bayou with Ken Williams and Bill Callegari. Both are fellow members of the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force. The pictures below show highlights of the construction.

Looking west at Hunting Bayou while hovering over US59 North. The widening of Hunting stretches downstream for about 4 miles to where Loop 610 North (on the left) turns right and heads south.
Same area. Looking SW toward 59 and downtown. Notice the rip rap (irregular chunks of broken concrete or rock) below storm sewer outlets. It disperses the force of rushing water and slows it down to reduce erosion.
Work continues around two neighborhood bridges at Falls St. and Leffingwell St.
Likewise, widening continues at Hirsch Road.
Looking back upstream at all three bridges, plus a pedestrian bridge over a small tributary in the distance.
Wider shot, looking upstream over Wayne Street.
Previously finished section around Wipprecht bridge.
Note how bayou narrows under Lockwood Bridge due to commercial development on either side.
Looking back upstream (west) from over Kelly St. at linear park that parallels another large detention basin. Note the new pedestrian bridges.They have been widened to accommodate the wider bayou.
Rotating 180 degrees from shot above, we can see downstream to rest of park and where the Bayou threads its way under Loop 610N. Also note large detention basin in distance.
Looking back SW from over Kelley Street. Note concrete lining that now protects narrow section under 610 bridge.
Looking SW toward Homestead Road (with the bridge) across the new 75 acre stormwater detention basin.

The Curtis M. Graves Detention Basin shown above provides approximately 1,000 acre-feet of stormwater storage capacity. That’s almost 10 inches of rain falling over a square mile. Construction of the basin began in 2020.

Looking west along 610 N at the section of Hunting that briefly dips outside of the Loop.
Looking NW. Note again the new concrete lining where the channel narrows to go under the Loop 610 N bridge. Water flows toward the camera.

Compare Bayou Downstream From Project

Where the bayou narrows to go under a bridge, the increased water pressure during a flood can cause a “jetting” phenomenon that rapidly erodes banks and undermines bridge supports. Hence, the need for concrete reinforcement.

Looking S along East Loop 610 beyond the eastern end of the project. The Bayou loops around storage tanks (lower right) and heads south toward Wallisville Road, before heading east again. This shows what the bayou looked like before widening. Compare width to previous shots.

The tank farm is the approximate eastern limit of Project Hunting.

Project History

This project began on December 16, 2014, long before Harris County’s Flood Bond in 2018. It was a key project of County Commissioner El Franco Lee (who lived in the area) and Congressman Gene Green. Despite a low benefit/cost ratio, they called in favors and got the project started.

The agreement between the Army Corps and HCFCD lets HCFCD qualify for reimbursement from the Federal government for work completed.

Between the channel widening and detention basin, HCFCD has removed almost a million cubic yards of soil to create more room for floodwaters. Width of the Bayou now varies from about 30 to more than 500 feet between the project limits.

According to data obtained via a FOIA Request, HCFCD and its partners spent $96 million on Hunting Bayou between 2000 and the end of last year. Some of that money has been spent on other projects. To see a complete list of HCFCD projects in Hunting Bayou, visit the District’s Hunting page.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/21/2022

1787 Days since Hurricane Harvey

White Oak Bayou: What A Half Billion Dollars Looks Like

Since 2000, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) and its partners have spent more than a half billion dollars to reduce flooding in the White Oak Bayou watershed. And they aren’t done yet. Before the flood bond is complete, they will have spent at least $575 million to create detention basins, widen channels and make other improvements.

On 7/19/2022, I flew up White Oak Bayou in a helicopter with Bill Calligari and Ken Williams, two fellow members from the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force. Our goal: to learn what the money bought.

This is the second of four posts. The first covered Greens Bayou. The next two will cover Hunting and Halls Bayous.

White Oak Bayou by the Numbers

White Oak Bayou is Harris County’s sixth largest watershed but its third most populous. 51% of its residents qualify as Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI). It’s our fourth most densely populated watershed (people/square mile). Not surprisingly it had the third most damage in 5 major storms since 2000 (Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey, Imelda). The storms damaged 25,739 structures. Look at some of the photos below of structures crowding the bayou and you will understand why.

White Oak Bayou from the Air

White Oak Bayou flows southeast from its headwaters northwest of FM 1960 to its confluence with Buffalo Bayou near downtown Houston. The watershed comprises 111 square miles, with 146 miles of open streams. They include:

  • White Oak Bayou
  • Little White Oak Bayou
  • Brickhouse Gully
  • Cole Creek
  • Vogel Creek

Our helicopter started the White Oak leg of our flight near the Heights north of downtown. From there, we flew upstream. This is what the Heights looks like from the air – a study in population density which correlates highly with flood damage.

White Oak drains most of the Heights. Note the density of development. In 2010, the watershed census was 433,250. But by 2020, it had increased to 464,933.

The lower section of the bayou needs repairs according to HCFCD. The Army Corps straightened, widened and partially concreted lower White Oak upstream approximately to West Tidwell Road between 1964 and 1971. See below.

Looking south toward downtown from over Ella and TC Jester. Most of this segment of the bayou was finished years ago and requires only repairs now.
Looking W, upstream from over West 34th and TC Jester.

HCFCD now maintains White Oak and has observed a number of locations where concrete is approaching the end of its useful life.

Looking upstream from over Garapan Street just north of Tidwell at bank and concrete repairs. (Arbor Oaks buyout area is in upper right. See end of post.)

16 Other Projects in Works

HCFCD currently lists 16 other projects in the White Oak watershed.

Some projects are still being studied. Some are complete or nearly so. As of June 8, 2022, HCFCD was working out a contractor issue on the largest project, which will delay the originally scheduled completion this summer.

Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project

The largest project is the White Oak Bayou Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project. This $124 million project will substantially reduce flooding risks along White Oak Bayou. It started in 1998 in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with the Flood Control District designated as the lead. The two segments of the project are fully funded to completion.

Upstream segment of Federal Project.

Limits of downstream segment of Federal Project

They include:

  • Construction of approximately 15.4 miles of channel conveyance improvements along the bayou from FM 1960 to Cole Creek near West Tidwell in the two segments above.
  • Excavation of six stormwater detention basins to hold almost one billion gallons of stormwater. That’s enough to hold a foot of rain falling across almost 5 square miles.
  • Construction of the Jersey Village Bypass Channel
Stretch of improvements upstream from Alabonson Road.

Upon completion, HCFCD estimates that most parts of the project area will see water surface elevation reductions of 0.1 to 1.8 feet for a 1 percent annual chance (100-year) flooding event.

Looking S. White Oak Bayou Detention Basin near West Little York and Hollister.
Looking S toward White Oak Bayou near Fairbanks North Houston Rd. Basin completed in 2021
A smaller detention basin opposite the one above skirts the south side of White Oak at Fairbanks North Houston (bottom right).
Channel improvements and greenbelt trail still under construction.
Looking west at White Oak where it crosses under Beltway 8. Note bridge improvements and vegetated detention ponds on left on both sides of bayou.

Many smaller detention ponds like those above now line both sides of the bayou and its tributaries from upstream to down.

Arbor Oaks Subdivision Buyout

Since 2003, HCFCD has bought out more than 200 homes in the Arbor Oaks subdivision. It is still buying more on either side of Vogel Creek to build a 431 acre-foot stormwater detention basin and restore the floodplain. That would hold a foot of rain falling over 2/3rds of a square mile.

Acquisition costs in such densely populated neighborhoods can easily exceed construction costs.

This part of the White Oak story dramatizes how costly, difficult and time-consuming it can be to buy out and mitigate areas built in floodplains.

Note the large areas with streets marked, but few or no homes on them. They were bought out and this area will become another large detention basin. Image courtesy of Apple Maps.

Here’s what part of it looks like from a few hundred feet up.

Lower part of Arbor Oaks area on bottom left. Bridge is on West Little York. Looking SE toward downtown.
Looking SE at floodplain south of Little York near Arbor Oaks. Note aging concrete along White Oak Bayou on right.

Many Other Projects

There are so many other projects underway on White Oak that I scarcely have room to mention them. See my previous post that discusses conversion of the Inwood Golf Course to a series of 12 connected detention ponds. It will hold 1200 acre feet. That’s a foot of rain falling over 2 square miles.

Then there’s the Woodland Trails Detention project downstream from Fairbanks N. Houston Road. It’s budgeted at $63.5 million. But it’s still in right-of-way acquisition.

And then there’s the North Canal near downtown. HCFCD and the City of Houston are working to finalize an interlocal agreement. Grant funding calls for completion of the first phase of the project by May 2023.

Finally, don’t forget the detention basins and channel conveyance improvements on tributaries, such as Little White Oak Bayou and Brickhouse Gully.

They all add up to more than a half billion dollars…and counting! Water needs somewhere to go during a storm. If we don’t leave a floodplain for floodwaters to safely expand, they will wind up in peoples’ living rooms.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/20/2022

1786 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Inherent Bias and Limitations of Flood-Mitigation Benefit Index

In the last few weeks, Michael Bloom, a fellow member of the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force, and I have debated the inherent bias and limitations of a Flood-Mitigation Benefit Index (FMBI) proposed by a majority of the Task Force to Harris County Commissioners Court.

According to Mr. Bloom, the index will:

  • Reveal and document patterns of historical discrimination.
  • Help plan where additional flood-risk reduction investments should be made.

Population-Based, Not Damage-Based Mitigation

The formula is: 

Benefit = Total Cost/(Population X Risk)


  • Cost = total flood-mitigation construction spending (and only construction spending) that benefits a census tract.
  • Population = the number of people who live in census tracts.
  • Risk = the annual chance of flooding (applied to census tract(s)) expressed as a whole number. For instance, a 1% annual chance equals 1. And a 10% annual chance equals 10, etc.

The Task Force hopes to calculate and compare the results for each census tract in the county.

The formula measures the historical per capita flood-mitigation costs 
supposedly associated with the “current” level of risk in a census tract – NOT historical flood damage.

According to proponents, “a high benefit score means no more mitigation spending is needed. And a low score means more spending is needed.”

But consider these two examples: 

  1. 4,000 people live with a 1% annual chance of flooding and have received $200 in prior investment. Their FMBI would be 0.05. That’s extremely low. And scores that low indicate such areas need help “regardless of prior investment.”
  2. 8000 people live in the 10-year flood plain and have received $10 million in prior investment. Their FMBI equals 125. That’s 2,500 times higher. 

According to a spokesperson for the FMBI, “A high FMBI means we don’t need to make more investments in that location.” Yet twice as many people live with ten times the risk in the area with the higher index.

So, who deserves the most help? Residents with the lowest FMBI? The formula SAYS they need help the most. But they actually have the lowest risk.

The Value of Market Testing

None of the hypothetical examples used to “sell” the formula hint at the possibility of such an upside-down result. 

The example above proves several things: 

  • The formula can produce inconsistent and misleading results.
  • It doesn’t always measure what it purports to measure. It has validity problems, as previously discussed.
  • Adjusting for population doesn’t prove historical discrimination. The most densely populated area has 50,000 times more investment.

The formula needs rigorous testing and ground-truthing before going any further. This is a best practice for any new scientific formula – especially one intended to guide future investment. 

In addition to producing unintended results, the formula has several other problems that require discussion. 

No Right-Of-Way Acquisition Costs Included

The FMBI formula includes only construction costs. It excludes right-of-way acquisition costs by assuming that they are “uniform throughout the county.” Therefore, “…costs included or excluded will not adversely impact results.”

In fact, Right-of-Way (ROW) Acquisition costs are huge and NOT UNIFORM throughout the county. I have documented that ROW costs typically comprise the second most expensive part of flood-control projects.

All Flood Control and partner spending on all capital improvement projects from 1/1/2000 through the end of Q3 2021. Data obtained via FOIA Request from HCFCD.

A quick glance at the Appraisal District website will tell you that land costs vary widely throughout Harris County and change over time.

The cost of buying floodplain land or wetlands for preservation in rural parts of Harris County pales in comparison to land acquisition costs in densely populated parts of the county.

In fact, acquiring land in densely populated areas for flood mitigation often costs more than construction, according to several engineers I consulted.

Compounding Problems?

I worry that other methodological issues may compound each other, not cancel each other out.

Map of Census tracts in Harris County, Texas.

Consider that:

  • Census tract population typically varies by up to 4X (2,000 to 8,000), according to the Census Bureau. This will produce deceptive spatial comparisons.
  • Some Census tracts may comprise dozens of square miles while others comprise a few city blocks. Typically, flood mitigation projects are not considered at the Census-tract level. According to three engineers I consulted, that’s too small in most cases to be workable.
  • Larger Census tracts may contain multiple watersheds, each with independent levels of risk – or individual watersheds with varying levels of risk. In such cases, the formula would average risk. But averaging can mask a serious problem in one area with a non-problem in another. Thus, the formula has a bias in favor of spatially smaller Census tracts.
    Smaller tracts tend to be more uniform in risk, so problems will likely stand out rather than get lost in an average. But in larger watersheds, flood risk will feather out with increased elevation and distance from a river. That will make it extremely difficult to calculate the number of people exposed to varying degrees of risk.
    Averaging takes the simple way out. But averaging risk is like comparing saints and sinners, then declaring “No problem.”
  • The data collection effort for the index omits many sources of funding. So the formula will calculate investment dollars from some entities and areas, but not others. For instance, the formula will NOT measure drainage funding from Harris County Commissioner Precincts, dozens of cities, and 389 municipal utility districts in unincorporated areas. The difficulty of data collection in these areas will produce another spatial bias. Likewise, the FMBI formula will omit the considerable drainage-improvement contributions of reputable private developers. 

No one has tested how these inconsistencies will affect each other. But there’s an even bigger data integrity issue.

Partially Updated Data

HCFCD and its partners invested more than $1.5 billion in flood mitigation between Harvey and the end of 2021. Since 2000, they’ve invested more than $3.5 billion. But as of this writing, new MAAPnext flood maps only reflect the POST-mitigation risk associated with projects in FIVE bayous: Brays, Greens, White Oak, Sims, and Hunting. The Army Corps partnered with HCFCD in those.

Unfortunately, according to a knowledgeable source, HCFCD has not yet updated the risk maps for its own Capital Improvement Projects in other watersheds. So if you ran the allocation formula now, it would compare PRE-mitigation risk in 18 watersheds with POST-mitigation risk in 5. 

Mitigation in those five watersheds totals $439 million out of $1.5 billion since Harvey. So true, current risk is reflected in only 29% of spending since Harvey and 13% in this century. Those percentages will no doubt increase in the future. But if you ran the numbers today, you would compare numbers with PRE- and POST-mitigation risk.

And consider this. With HCFCD spending at the current rate of about $80 million per quarter, “current risk” is a constantly changing target. So we’ll never be able to compare apples to apples in all watersheds anytime soon.

And we want to use this formula to guide future mitigation spending? Using it could send more money back to fix areas we already fixed!

Difficulty of Assigning Investments to Census Tracts

Another challenge: How do you determine which census tract(s) to apportion project benefits among? Example: Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. The Army Corps developed those back in the 1930s to protect downtown Houston…15-20 miles away! 

Do you credit the investment to:

  • All of downtown?
  • People living inside the reservoirs (who have their own census tract)?
  • The current population of the entire Addicks and Barker Watersheds?
  • All census tracts along Buffalo Bayou and parts of White Oak Bayou, our second and third most populous watersheds?

The Corps certainly didn’t build the reservoirs to protect the people living inside them. That’s what all the lawsuits are about!

And virtually all residents of the Addicks and Barker watersheds live upstream from the Corps’ investment, so they will not benefit from the investment either.

Downtown has immense commercial and economic value but relatively few permanent residents. 

So, who gets the benefit? Again, lots of room for interpretation and misplaced assumptions here that numbers can easily mask! Now, multiply this problem times thousands of Census tracts.

Anti-Commercial Bias

The population-based FMBI has a built-in bias against commercial areas that have little to no residential population. For example, consider the cases of Downtown, the Texas Medical Center, and the Port of Houston. Such areas support employment throughout the region, but the formula discriminates against them by giving huge weight to population and omitting actual damage.

No Thresholds Defined

To my knowledge, the task force has never discussed threshhold “benefit” levels that correlate to “needs help” or “doesn’t need help.” The extremes may sometimes be easy to determine. But what about outcomes in the middle? 

Offsetting Variables

Variables in the formula can offset each other as we saw above. In tight races for funding, who gets the next flood-mitigation investment? The area with the lowest investment, highest risk, or largest population? Such quandaries have not yet been addressed. 

No Agreement on Weights of Other Factors

To help make future flood-mitigation decisions, proponents of the formula also suggest weighing (separately) other factors, such as the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index. It includes the percentage of Low-to-Moderate residents in an area. However, no one has yet discussed the weight given the Benefit Index relative to other factors.

No Consideration of Actual Flood Damage

In deciding where to put flood mitigation projects, engineers traditionally look for damage clusters. It’s that simple. Dollars flow to damage.

Reducing flood damage is a tried and true, measurable way to evaluate projects. So why all the complexity? 

What’s The Point?

What is this formula trying to prove? Is it attempting to develop a new approach to mitigation funding that eliminates a perceived bias in Benefit/Cost Ratios? 

Commissioner Rodney Ellis often talks about how calculating the value of avoided damages in higher value homes disadvantages projects in poorer neighborhoods. That can be true in some instances. Expensive homes can ratchet up benefits (measured in dollars) faster than lower value homes can. And that can result in higher Benefit/Cost Ratios for projects in affluent neighborhoods – assuming density is held constant. But…

One high-value home on an acre would likely appraise less than an apartment building, also on an acre. In Kingwood, I compared the valuations of an expensive single-family home with a large apartment complex one block away. The appraised cost per acre (including structures) of the apartment complex is 4X higher.

Now consider that apartments accommodate almost half of Harris County’s population.

According to the latest census data, 54.9% of Harris County residents live in owner-occupied homes. The rest, 45.1 percent, live in apartments.

Most Americans aspire to and encourage home ownership, in part, because of the stability it fosters in communities. But this formula – because of its emphasis on population density – favors apartment areas over areas with owner-occupied homes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. You just need to understand what the formula does.

Difference Between Vertical and Horizontal Density

The Benefit Index favors all areas with dense population. Proponents argue that helping more people is better. I don’t argue with that. However, the generalization masks the financial pain inflicted by a flood on owners vs. renters, and on the people who live at ground level compared to those who live above it. 

Ground floor renters may lose contents in a flood, but they won’t be responsible for making structural repairs. The owner will. 

And many living above the ground floor may find themselves more inconvenienced by flooding than financially devastated. So, is it fair to count all people on all floors when determining who suffers the most pain? 

Five-story apartment buildings crowding Brays Bayou with ground-level parking underneath. HCFCD has no way of knowing how many people live in apartments like this, yet HCFCD will be responsible for compiling the data.

In the proposed formula, higher population will lower the benefit index, making it look as though all renters (almost half the county’s population) suffered more than owners of single-family homes. 

The premise underlying such “equity” arguments is that poor people can least afford floods. But most people in apartments like those shown above won’t make structural repairs as a homeowner would.

No Perfect Formula

No perfect formula exists that’s equally fair to all in all circumstances. That’s why FEMA, HUD and the Army Corps allow consideration of multiple factors when determining which projects to fund. 

The Flood Mitigation Benefit Index focuses totally on population, risk, and past investment. It ignores actual flood damage. 

If we use ANY formula to HELP allocate future flood-mitigation funds, we should all strive to:

  • Understand its built-in biases
  • Maintain high standards for data integrity.

If we want to test a hypothesis of historical discrimination in flood-mitigation funding, there’s a much simpler way. It’s called direct measurement. Simply locate damage centers from past storms and compare funding in the following decade designed to mitigate those areas.

For More Information

For more background on issues with the formula, see my earlier posts:

Or consult Mr. Bloom’s rebuttals.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/14/22

1780 Days since Hurricane Harvey

HCFCD Asks for Army Corps Help with Tunnels, Halls Bayou, Addicks/Barker

In June 2022, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) pitched the Army Corps (actually the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, referred to as ASA(CW)) for help with three large projects. They included Flood Tunnels; Halls Bayou; and the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. This leave-behind summarizes the presentation.

Setting the Stage

The presentation begins with a history of the relationship between the Army Corps and HCFCD dating back to 1937. It references past joint projects such as work on the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs; and Brays, White Oak, Little Vince, Cypress, Greens and Sims Bayous.

It also references projects not yet completed such as work on White Oak and Hunting Bayous, and Clear Creek. Finally, it looks forward to future collaboration on Buffalo Bayou, Halls Bayou and a County Wide-Study that “lifts up and empowers our diverse communities to thrive.”

The intro contains graphics that summarize:

  • Damage during Hurricane Harvey
  • Atlas-14 rainfall vs previous estimates
  • Current and Active Army Corps projects
  • A county-wide map of “Recently flooded” (from Harvey) structures overlaid on a social-vulnerability map

The leave-behind then makes three “asks” corresponding with each of the three major projects.

Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Resiliency Study

The first ask is for help “finding the right solution for Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.” It talks about managing residual risk and liability. Specifically, it asks for support through the completion of the Corps’ Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Resiliency Study.

It alludes to policies and processes impeding needed progress. Then it says, we must blaze a trail for a new equitable flood risk management paradigm.

An engineer familiar with Buffalo Bayou told me that the study had been cancelled at one time because of a poor Benefit/Cost Ratio. It wasn’t because, as you often hear, that home values were low. It was because land acquisition costs were so high. Possible workarounds: several proposed “innovations” including:

  • Flood tunnels
  • A comprehensive benefits framework that includes more than a strict benefit/cost ratio.
  • “Emphasis on community resiliency, environmental justice, and climate change adaptation.”

The last update of this study on the Corps’ website is from late 2020. The final report has not yet been released. This post from 2020 summarizes the findings of the interim report.

County-Wide Section 203 Study

Section 203 of the Water Resources Development Act was amended to let non-Federal sponsors conduct feasibility studies that serve as the basis for authorization of new water resources projects, such as flood tunnels. But acceptance of the results is at the discretion of the ASA (CW). One objective of the presentation: to get the ASA(CW) to partner Harris County on a County-wide flood risk study.

The county pitched the partnership as:

  • A potential “pilot study for Justice40”
  • Climate change preparedness
  • Empowering vulnerable communities to withstand and recover from flood events.

Justice40 is a Biden initiative, announced within his first few weeks in office. It uses every lever at his disposal “to advance environmental justice and spur economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities. The “40” refers to Biden’s promise to deliver at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from Federal investments in climate and clean energy to disadvantaged communities. One of the priorities: mitigation initiatives that reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flooding.

Halls Bayou Section 118 Study

According to the presentation, the Federal government had a project to study flood-risk management on Halls Bayou from 1990 to 2016 when it was “de-authorized.” The county wants to restart it. Section 118 refers to “Pilot programs on the formulation of Corps of Engineers’ projects in … economically disadvantaged communities.”

Harris County wants the Corps to include Halls on its list of ten nationwide pilot studies for such communities. HCFCD points out that Halls has the highest percentage of Low-to-Moderate Income residents of any watershed in the county (71%). Halls has a poverty rate of 28% and a social vulnerability index of 0.85 out of 1.00. Halls also has frequent, severe, repetitive flooding.

At one time, HCFCD cancelled Halls’ Bayou studies because they all came back with Benefit/Cost Ratios below 1.0. That means costs exceeded benefits. HCFCD hopes to restart those in 2022. Section 118 gives the ASA (CW) a way to apply other criteria that compensate for a low BCR in disadvantaged areas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/7/22

1773 Days since Hurricane Harvey

CWA Exploring Alternate Plan for Adding Lake Houston Dam Gates

Coastal Water Authority (CWA) recently posted minutes from its May 11th board meeting that reveal a possible new direction for adding more flood gates to the Lake Houston Dam. After months of discussing various crest gate alternatives to increase the release capacity of the dam, engineers will now focus on examining two tainter gate alternatives. One would add six tainter gates, the other twelve.

Neither alternative would modify the concrete portion of the spillway, as crest gates would. Black & Veatch, the engineering firm in charge of the project, will explore adding the tainter gates in the earthen embankment to the east of the existing spillway. See below, upper right.

Looking ENE at Lake Houston Dam. Black and Veatch is now exploring adding tainter gates to the earthen portion of the dam in the upper right.

The eastern embankment is a solid earthen area 2800 feet long east of the spillway and existing gates (see upper right of photo above). Water cannot get over it in a storm because it is so much higher than the spillway. By adding various structures in this area, engineers could widen the current spillway capacity, allowing release of more stormwater.

Tainter gates rotate up from a central pivot point. Crest gates rotate down from a bottom hinge, like a piano lid.

Minutes from May CWA Board Meeting

Item IV(B) on Page 3 of the May 11, 2022, minutes states, “…CWA, City of Houston (COH), and Black and Veatch (B&V) met on April 14, 2022. During that meeting the COH requested that an alternate gate location to the east of the existing gate structure be further [emphasis added] evaluated.”

Following the meeting, B&V developed a scope of work to update the gate concepts and construction costs for this area. The COH provided comments and B&V modified its proposal. B&V reportedly began work on the new direction by June 1.

Additional Funding Needed

Each of the new alternatives would require additional funding; neither fit within the existing budget, according to the CWA staff. COH Public Works will pay for the new evaluation.

Wayne Klotz, P.E. and President of the CWA Board, reminded everyone present that COH owns the dam and is the FEMA grantee for this project, while CWA works for and takes direction from COH.

Minutes from the June CWA meeting have not yet been posted. The last post about gates on the COH District E website was almost a year ago on July 8, 2021.

7/4/22 Screen Capture from District E Website.

However, City Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin did take questions on the project at an April 2022 community meeting. At the time, Martin expected to have a final answer on gates in a “September-ish” time frame.

Based on costs of the Addicks and Barker dam modifications by the Army Corps, some remain skeptical of any alternative for adding gates to the dam. The reason: budget and the Benefit/Cost Ratio.

Currently, the release capacity of tainter gates on the Lake Conroe Dam is 15X greater than those on the Lake Houston Dam (150,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) vs. 10,000 CFS.)

Concept Studied and Rejected Once Already

Adding gates to the eastern embankment was one of the original concepts evaluated. (See Column 5, Offsite Alternative #2, Column 5, Page 4.) But engineers focused on adding crest gates instead, largely because the total estimated costs for adding tainter gates at that time exceeded $90 million for a $50 million budget. However, the Army Corps also had environmental concerns about adding gates to the eastern embankment.

FEMA initially gave the City three years to complete the project (18 months for engineering and 18 for construction). Engineering began in April 2020.

No other details about May’s change in direction have been released to my knowledge.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/4/2022 based on minutes from the May CWA Board meeting

1770 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Upstream Addicks-Barker Trial Concludes, But No Ruling Yet on Damages

The damages phase of the Upstream Addicks-Barker class-action lawsuit over Hurricane Harvey flooding concluded Friday, 6/11/2022. Earlier, Judge Charles F. Lettow ruled that the Army Corps was liable for damages. The question being decided now is “How much will they get?” We don’t yet have that answer, but should before the end of the year.

Flooded homes inside Addicks Reservoir during Harvey but still outside even today’s 100-year floodplain.

Basis for Claims

After Hurricane Harvey, people and businesses both upstream and downstream of the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs on Houston’s west side sued the Army Corps. Plaintiffs in both cases alleged that the Army Corps’ operation of the dams flooded their homes and constituted a taking of their property without compensation. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits that.

“No person shall be … deprived of … property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

From Fifth Amendment of U.S. Constitution

Difference Between Upstream, Downstream Cases

However, the Upstream and Downstream cases also have important differences. Upstream, the Corps did not own all the land inside the U-shaped reservoirs. Worse, the Corps permitted developers to build homes and businesses inside the reservoirs on land that remained in private hands. The Corps did not anticipate it all flooding based on storms they had studied going back to the 1890s. Yet the Corps still built the walls taller and longer than it needed to hold anticipated floods.

When Harvey came along, the water in the reservoir backed up onto that private property and flooded hundreds of homes.

Lawyers for the flooded property owners asserted that the federal government cannot use private property to store federal floodwaters without providing compensation. The judge agreed.

Second of Two Phases Nearing Completion

In the first phase of the upstream case, the court found the Corps liable. In the second phase, the court considered damages, i.e., how much compensation property owners should receive.

Although the trial portion of the damage phase just concluded, the case is not yet over. McGhee, Chang, Landgraf & Feiler, one of the law firms representing plaintiffs in the class-action suit, said they must still submit post-trial legal briefings. Then they will make final closing arguments in Washington D.C. in a few months. “We expect a decision to be rendered by the Court thereafter – probably sometime in late fall/winter,” said a press release by the firm.

Exponential Growth, Larger Storms, But No Mitigation

After reading the 46-page decision, I gained a better grasp of the history of the dams and the nature of the claims.

The Corps built the dams much higher than they needed to hold a 100-year flood based on what they knew at the time.

But the Corps did not purchase all land inside the reservoirs. They left private property outside the area expected to flood. At the time the dams were constructed, that land was used for ranching and rice farming.

If the land flooded, reasoned the Corps, not much damage would result. But then came Houston’s exponential growth in the 1950s. Those ranchers and rice farmers sold their land to developers. And developers started to build inside the reservoir.

Then the Corps realized that the storms on which it based the reservoirs’ designs (including a storm from the 1890s) were smaller than storms hitting the Houston area in the modern era. But by then, it was too late.

When the Corps realized future floods would likely invade homes, it launched an awareness program and held some public meetings. But the judge felt that information didn’t filter down to most homebuyers.

Also, the Corps took no concrete steps to reduce flood risk when it realized the severity of the problem. Worse, the Corps continued to issue permits and authorizations for more developments.

To sum up 46 pages in a sentence, “The Corps knew it had a problem and did nothing to fix it.” (That’s my takeaway, not the judge’s language.) The Corps remained focused on its primary objective – preventing downstream flooding.

Downstream Focus Looms Large in Upstream Decision

Said Judge Lettow, “Equipped with the knowledge that storms of the design-storm magnitude were probable, the Corps did not stray from its primary objective to prevent downstream flooding (indeed, it probably could not), even when it knew that could well mean impounding water on private property.”

Lettow cites a 2012 Water Control Manual which the Corps followed during Harvey. It instructs the Corps to operate the dams in a manner consistent with their original purpose: to protect downstream property by impounding water in upstream reservoirs. It states “…operate the reservoirs in a manner that will utilize to the maximum extent possible [Emphasis added] the available storage to prevent the occurrence of damaging stages on Buffalo Bayou.”

Knew Larger Floods Probable

According to the judge, the Corps continued to follow that policy even though it understood that rainfall events – larger than ones they designed the dams around – were “probable, rather than merely possible.”

Lettow also found it “undisputed that plaintiffs did not know their properties were located within the reservoirs and subject to attendant government-induced flooding.”

Government Planned for Years to Impound Floodwater on Private Property

Said one hydrologist who reviewed a detailed history of the Corps’ decision making, “The Corps of Engineers did NOT buy the entire area they knew would be inundated if Addicks and Barker reservoirs were at peak storage capacity.”

Judge Lettow said, “The government had made a calculated decision to allow for flooding these lands years before Harvey, when it designed, modified, and maintained the dams in such a way that would flood private properties during severe storms. Defendant cannot now claim that this harm was unavoidable when it planned for years to impound floodwaters onto plaintiffs’ properties.”

The Corps made the best decisions it could with the information AVAILABLE at the time.  But as we all know, things change! And that’s what worries me most about this case.

Right now, developers are building projects all around the region based on flood maps that will soon be replaced.

To read the original complaint by one of the law firms (Irvine $ Conner), click here.

For the complete text of the liability ruling, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/11/2022

1747 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.