Below are my personal picks for the top flood-mitigation stories of 2021.
The Fight for Funding
In 2019, Commissioners Court established “equity” guidelines that prioritized projects in Low-to-Moderate Income watersheds. Then this year:
- Harris County won no US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Grants in the first round of Harvey competition.
- To compensate for the potential shortfall, Commissioners established a flood-resilience trust with money from other Harris County departments and changed equity guidelines in June.
- Adrian Garcia tried to defund $191 million of flood-mitigation projects in Cedar Bayou and transfer the money to the new Precinct 2.
- The County Administrator recommended changing equity guidelines again in December.
- Commissioners began talking about another flood bond.
Still no word from HUD on a possible direct allocation of $750 million. We may hear in January.
To help you follow this story, I make quarterly FOIA requests for Harris County Flood Control District spending and post the analyses on a dedicated funding page.
Sand-Mining Best Management Practices
Activists led by the Lake Houston Area Flood Prevention Initiative and the Bayou Land Conservancy petitioned the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to establish best management practices for sand mines in the San Jacinto watershed. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we got a vast improvement over what we had. And the new BMPs may help reduce erosion that contributes to future floods in this area.
Fueled by low interest rates and flight from city crowds during Covid, suburban and rural development surged in 2021. Flood-mitigation felt like an afterthought in many developments. We saw that with Colony Ridge in Liberty County. Colony Ridge clearcut wetlands, paved over floodplains and ignored county regs designed to reduce erosion.
In the Kingwood Area, the Laurel Springs RV resort took advantage of a grandfathering clause in permitting to build a detention pond one-half the size of current requirements. These represent just two examples of many.
After Harvey, we saw how such practices made flooding worse. How soon we forget!
Houston Housing and Community Development Meltdown
Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department, which was responsible for distributing more than a billion dollars in Harvey disaster relief funds, came unglued again this year. Last year, it sued the Texas General Land Office to keep money it couldn’t give away. This year, the Department’s Director publicly denounced the Mayor of Houston for trying to steer multi-family housing subsidies to the Mayor’s former law partner. The Mayor claimed ignorance of the partner’s involvement and announced a City Attorney investigation which never materialized.
Meanwhile, flood victims were victimized a second time. Bureaucratic bungling denied aid to people who deserved it.
World War II And Lake Houston Gates
May 9, 2021, was 1349 days after Hurricane Harvey ravaged Texas and the Gulf Coast. That’s the number of days it took the US and its allies to win World War II. But during that time we’ve had few victories in the fight against future flooding in the Lake Houston Area with the exception of dredging, So far, we’ve mainly completed studies. And many of those are still in the works.
For instance, the City of Houston has been studying ways to increase the release capacity of the Lake Houston Dam. Right now, the release capacity is one-fifteenth that of the gates on Lake Conroe. That makes it difficult to shed water quickly before and during floods. FEMA gave the City money to study the problem, but is still finalizing recommendations. The City hopes to make an announcement in January.
The Lake Conroe Association had its lawsuit against the SJRA thrown out of court…with prejudice. The LCA hoped to prohibit the SJRA’s policy of seasonal lake lowering, which was designed to help protect the Lake Houston Area until other flood mitigation efforts could be put in place.
The Texas Attorney General is still suing the Triple PG Sand Mine in Porter on behalf of the TCEQ. There has been little movement on the case in the last 18 months. The mine’s owner changed legal counsel in July 2020. A TCEQ representative says the AG has not given up. The two sides are still in discovery.
Approximately 1700 homeowners in the Lake Houston Area sued sand mines for contributing to flooding during Harvey. The cases were consolidated in the 281st Harris County District Court under Judge Sylvia Matthews. She recently set deadlines in the first half of next year for motions, depositions, joinder, expert witness testimony and more. The case is known as “Harvey Sand Litigation.”
Various lawsuits against the SJRA for flooding during Harvey are still working their way through the legal system.
Kingwood residents reached a settlement with Perry Homes, its subsidiaries and contractors this year over two floods that damaged hundreds of homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest during 2019. The incidents had to do with development of Woodridge Village, just across the Harris/Montgomery County line.
Harris County Flood Control District purchased Woodridge Village from Perry Homes in February this year and hired a contractor to begin doubling the current floodwater-detention capacity on the site. When complete, the additional capacity will help protect homes in Elm Grove, North Kingwood Forest and downstream along Taylor Gully.
Expansion of Dredging
After three and a half years of dredging in the San Jacinto West Fork, dredging has now moved to the East Fork. State Representative Dan Huberty secured $50 million earlier this year to extend the dredging program to other inlets around Lake Houston in the future.
Bens Branch and Taylor Gully Cleanouts
In Kingwood, HCFCD finished excavating both Bens Branch and Taylor Gully to help restore their conveyance. Through gradual sediment built up, both had been gradually reduced to a 2-year level of service in places. That means they would come out of their banks after a 2-year rain.
Years of fighting over subsidence between the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District and Groundwater Management Area 14 came to a head earlier this year. LSGCD fought any mention of subsidence in Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) for Montgomery County. GMA-14 wanted to include it, but finally recommended allowing each groundwater conservation district to make a subsidence measure optional. Unlimited groundwater pumping in southern Montgomery County could tilt Lake Houston toward homes at the northern end of the lake. That’s because subsidence would be greater there than at the Lake Houston Dam by TWO FEET.
GMA-14 will take a final vote on January 5 on the final DFCs. You still have time to protest.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/31/2021
1585 Days since Hurricane Harvey