May 26, 2022, marked the official completion of a 40-year, $480-million flood-mitigation project in the Brays Bayou Watershed. Project Brays was the largest project in Harris County Flood Control District’s history. It included:
- 21 miles of channel modifications
- Construction of four stormwater detention basins that cover more than 800 acres
- Reconstruction of 32 bridges
- Miles of hike and bike trails
Benefits of Project Brays
The Texas Medical Center, one of the major economic engines of the City lies within the Brays watershed. No one at the ceremony promised Brays would never flood again. But they did emphasize how Project Brays reduced flood risk. They also emphasized how that could benefit entire communities, not just individual structures.
According to County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the combination of improvements will reduce flood depth by an average of 2 feet.
The project reduced flood risk for more than 15,000 structures in the Brays Bayou Watershed where 775,000 people live. According to HCFCD statistics, 58% of those residents have low-to-moderate incomes (less than half the average for the region).
Rare Moment of Bipartisan Appreciation
The theme for the ribbon-cutting ceremony was “partnership” between Federal, State, County and City authorities. More than half a dozen different speakers spread the kudos around. The project could not have happened without the cooperation of all of them and their predecessors.
New Flood Control District Executive Director Dr. Tina Petersen introduced the partners present.
Colonel Timothy Vail of the U.S. Army Corps called the partnerships in this project the “most sophisticated” he has ever seen during a career that has taken him around the world.
Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle emphasized how funding brought to the table by various sources enabled the acceleration of projects.
Houston City Council Member Carolyn Evans-Shabazz said, “We need to stop being divisive and start being decisive.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner discussed how projects like this can only happen if multiple partners cooperate.
Past Contributors Acknowledged
And Judge Lina Hidalgo gave a nod to the past as well as the present. She thanked past Flood Control District executives, such as Russ Poppe, Matt Zeve and Mike Talbott. They helped start this project and advance it for decades. She also thanked Poppe and Zeve for architecting the flood bond, which reversed “decades of investment that simply was not aggressive enough.”
Hidalgo also stated that regulations were not aggressive enough before the flood bond. For instance, she cited buyouts that took place as part of Project Brays and said that those homes would never have been safe no matter what the partners did to mitigate flooding.
It’s interesting to see “what happened when” on this project, recognizing that the pace depended on funding – or lack thereof – as Hidalgo acknowledged.
U.S,. Army Corps of Engineers began the study of Brays Bayou.
Design and engineering began on the Brays Bayou Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project.
Construction of the first stormwater detention basin at Arthur Story Park began.
Excavation of Brays Bayou main channel began.
Freshwater Marsh at Mason Park was completed.
Arthur Storey Park and Old Westheimer Stormwater Detention Basin completed.
Eldridge Stormwater Detention Basin completed.
Control Structures at Eldridge, Old Westheimer, and Arthur Storey completed.
Willow Waterhole Stormwater Detention Basin completed.
Channel modifications from Houston Ship Channel to Fondren Road completed.
Final bridge construction projects and overall Project Brays completed.
(Note: since originally posting this story, I learned that minor work remains on three bridges even though the bridges are open to traffic. HCFCD decided to hold the ceremony when it did to avoid hurricane season and because of the impending transfer of Colonel Vail who played a key role in this project.)
A Helicopter Flight Up Brays Bayou Before Completion of Construction
In June of 2021, I flew a helicopter from one end of Brays Bayou to the other, when many of the improvements were still under construction. See the photos below.
Stormwater Detention Basins
Projects like Brays don’t happen spontaneously. This took decades of planning and collaboration. So, we should all remember that progress in flood mitigation can sometimes take decades. And that public safety requires reaching across party lines and generations.
For more information, visit www.projectbrays.org.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/26/22
1731 Days since Hurricane Harvey