Tag Archive for: CFRTF

Formula for Allocating Future Flood-Mitigation Funding Deceives

How do you fairly allocate flood-mitigation funds? Voters have argued about that since the day Harris County Commissioners Court redefined the conventional meaning of “equitable” with the first equity formula in 2019. Since then the formula has changed several times to ensure low-to-moderate income (LMI) areas continue to receive the lion’s share of mitigation funding, even as some commissioners claim LMI areas get none.

On 6/28/22, the Harris County Community Resilience Flood Task Force proposed yet another formula for allocating potentially billions of dollars in future flood-mitigation funding. It purports to objectively calculate the benefits received by different areas. But it doesn’t in any conventional sense. And therefore, the results can be deceptively counter-intuitive.

Problems With Formula

The formula shows increased benefit when:

  • Risk remains unchanged.
  • Costs increase.
  • Population decreases.

The formula is…

Benefit = Total Cost/(Population X Risk)

On July 2, 2022, I posted about a variety of issues that affect the validity of this formula. Admittedly, the post got complex. So let me give you two simple examples that dramatize these problems.

In each example below, I’ll hold two of the three variables constant. That makes it easy to see whether “benefit” varies in a predictable direction. And whether that matches what people expect when they hear the word “benefit.”

Cost Example

The value of “10” applied to Risk in each case represents a 10% annual chance of flooding.

If you hold risk and population constant, while increasing cost

  1. Population = 5000, Risk = 10 and Cost = $100,000, then Benefit = 2
  2. Population = 5000, Risk = 10, and Cost = $1,000,000, then Benefit = 20

…benefit increases by spending more without reducing risk! A taxpayer nightmare!

Population Example

If you hold cost and risk constant, while increasing population

  1. Population = 2000, Risk = 10, and Cost = $1 million, then Benefit = 50
  2. Population = 5000, Risk = 10, and Cost = $1 million, then Benefit = 20

…benefit decreases by helping more people with the same dollars! Again, counter-intuitive.

Both takeaways are confusing. What is this formula measuring?!

I would argue that, in a flood context, most people strongly associate the word “benefit” with “risk reduction.”

But this formula doesn’t measure risk reduction. And it doesn’t measure efficiency either. It measures per capita investment associated with a certain level of flood risk and calls that “Benefit.”

So, the more people you help with any given sum, the more the benefit goes down. Voila! That makes it look as though the highly populated watersheds (that have received the overwhelming majority of prior investments) have received little benefit. And that may be the point of this formula. It will send even more money to those same areas.

In logic, they call this the fallacy of incomplete evidence – more commonly known as cherry-picking. You cherry pick data that favors your argument and ignore the rest. For instance, consider the image below.

Brays Bayou at Calhoun, photographed May 2021. Note abundance of multi-story apartments.

The total population in some areas includes many people in tall apartment buildings or high-rises. For many of them, flooding may be more inconvenient than financially devastating. Yet the formula assumes all people suffer equally.

The formula provides the appearance of objectivity and fairness. But it masks important information by lumping everything into a single number.

But the proponents of this formula don’t even want to discuss numbers. They want to render the results as heat maps, layered with Social Vulnerability Index, LMI and other data guaranteed to mask and perpetuate the lopsided distribution of flood-mitigation funds.

Omitting Benefits to Structures

By defining Benefit as the cost per person to achieve a certain level of flood risk, the formula omits any benefit to structures. That’s the traditional way to define the benefit of a flood-mitigation project. You measure “the value of damages avoided.” Whether one person lives in a house or two people live there, the cost to protect those people and that home remains the same.

For instance, widening a channel can reduce flood risk for a house. But with the proposed formula, that home and its value no longer count – only the number of people living within it. So, doubling the number of people in a representative home cuts the Benefit of a flood mitigation project in half.


The formula is a vast oversimplification. It omits valuable information such as avoided damages.

It’s also confusing and semantically deceptive in that results vary in counter-intuitive directions.

Finally, as I previously posted, the formula is not valid. It masks several apples-to-oranges comparisons.

Yet the majority of the Community Resilience Flood Task Force proposes using it to help guide (potentially) billions in future flood-mitigation investments. That could hurt taxpayers, flood victims, future bonds and the credibility of local government.

The formula can deceive people into making bad flood-mitigation investments. But in this case, there’s no Securities & Exchange Commission to protect investors. Only the ballot box.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/6/22

1772 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Commissioners Approve Final Members and Coordinator for Community Flood Resilience Task Force

At the 3/9/2021 meeting, Harris County Commissioners Court approved the final members and a coordinator for the Community Flood Resilience Task Force. Commissioners established the Task Force last October to ensure “equity” in flood bond spending after months of debate. At the time, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the four commissioners each appointed one member. Those five members then advertised the twelve remaining positions on the task force. More than 120 applications poured in during November and December. During January, the five core members reviewed applications and extended invitations to new members.

Resilience and ingenuity in the face of flooding. Photo courtesy of Denise Faulkner.

The pool of candidates was exceptionally strong and diverse, making selection difficult. The five core members debated candidates for weeks. They moved candidates in and out of the final group based on credentials, geography, and whom they represented. Ensuring gender, racial, and professional diversity was also a top priority.

Inaugural Task Force Members

Below is a list of the 17 inaugural Task Force representatives approved today in commissioner’s court. Commissioners unanimously approved them. In alphabetical order, including the original five:

Marissa Aho

As the City of Houston representative on the CFRTF, Marissa Aho is the Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) for the City of Houston. She leads the city’s partnership with 100 Resilient Cities, as well as city-wide resilience-building efforts to help Houston prepare for, withstand, and bounce back from the “shocks” –catastrophic events like hurricanes, floods, and cyberattacks – and “stresses” – slow-moving disasters like aging infrastructure, homelessness, and economic inequality, which are increasingly part of 21st century life.

Michael Bloom

Michael F. Bloom, P.E., ENV SP, CFM, directs the sustainability practice of R. G. Miller Engineers, Inc. and is Vice President – Technical of the Houston Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He is a nationally recognized expert in resilient and sustainable infrastructure planning and design with 29 years of professional experience.

Bill Callegari

Bill Callegari is a long-time citizen of Harris County, including 40 years residence on the Katy Prairie. He is a Licensed Professional Engineer, and also served as the Texas State Representative representing Katy and Cypress for fourteen years, from 2001 to 2015.

Dr. Joseph Colaco

Dr. Joseph Colaco holds a Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and is President of Colaco Engineers and Professor of Architecture at the University of Houston. Dr. Colaco brings over 50 years of engineering experience related to flood resilience and mitigation and was a founding member of the Hurricane Research Center at Texas A&M. Most recently he served as an expert panelist for the webinar on Hurricanes and Tornadoes through Florida International University.

Yasmeen Dávila

Yasmeen Dávila is a multi-diciplinary non-binary queer artist and organizer in Houston, Texas. Having lived through various hurricanes that passed through Houston, they have set their pursuits to advocate for the neglected neighborhoods that experience floods and chemical exposures before, during, and after hurricane season.

Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez is the founding Coalition Director for The Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience (CEER), an advocacy collaborative working on environmental justice policy solutions in the greater Houston region. She has over 10 years experience in program development, program management, coalition building, grant-making, fundraising, and community engagement.

Lisa Gonzalez

Lisa Gonzalez is President of the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), a nonprofit sustainability research organization. Lisa is a longtime resident of East Harris County and as a coastal scientist, focuses on climate resilience and intersections between natural ecosystems and the built environment.

Billy Guevara

Billy Guevara is a member of the Northeast Action Collective, a community organizer, and twice-over flood survivor. He is totally blind and represents the interests of the neighborhoods in Northeast Houston.

Denae King

Dr. Denae King is a native Houstonian and an environmental justice researcher at Texas Southern University. She earned a Ph.D. in environmental science/toxicology from the University of Texas Health Science Center – Houston, School of Public Health and works on environmental health projects in Houston’s underserved communities plagued with cumulative environmental exposures and recurring flooding.

Elaine Morales-Díaz

Elaine Morales-Díaz is a Community Development Officer at LISC Houston, where she manages the GO Neighborhoods and Capacity Building Programs. With a background in Architecture and Community Design, Elaine has worked on equity building initiatives that address affordable housing, disaster recovery and community development issues through participatory design and planning.

Jimmy Morales

Jimmy Morale has long lived in North Harris County. He has worked in the insurance industry for over 10 years, handling a variety of insurance policies which includes flood insurance. He has earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a concentration in Insurance and Risk Management from the University of Houston-Downtown.

Earthea Nance

Dr. Earthea Nance is a published author, scholar, registered civil engineer, and certified floodplain manager with over 30 years of experience. She earned her PhD from Stanford University, and after Hurricane Harvey she served on the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium.

Mary Anne Piacentini

Mary Anne Piacentini, President and CEO, Katy Prairie Conservancy, coordinates its land protection programs and conservation assistance to landowners, establishes community partnerships and relationships with diverse stakeholders, and oversees the operations and programs of the agency. She has a master’s degree in planning from Harvard University and is currently a board member of the Partnership for Gulf Coast Land Conservation, a member of the steering committee of the Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience,a member of the Land Trust Alliance’s Leadership Council, the chairperson of the Stream Corridor Restoration Committee of the Bayou Preservation Association, and previously served on the steering committee for Harris County Flood Control District’s Cypress Creek Overflow Management Plan.

Bob Rehak

Bob Rehak has more than 50 years of experience in communications. After seeing thousands in his area flooded during Harvey, he launched ReduceFlooding.com, a website dedicated to helping people understand the causes of flooding as well as mitigation possibilities.

Tracy Stephens

Tracy Stephens is the President of Sunnyside Civic Club, Gulfgate TIRZ Board Vice Chairman, Infrastructure Rehab and Development Chairman for South Park Community, ACTS Board Research Coordinator, and worked for the City of Houston Public Works and Engineering Specialized Maintenance District Supervisor for Streets, Drainage Construction and Rehab.

Adriana Tamez

Adriana Tamez is a Houston Community College Trustee, and President and CEO for the Tejano Center for Community Concerns (TCCC) providing overall management of the non-profit organization and its nine service programs. Essential to this work has been nurturing and creating partnerships at all levels to meet the needs of our most vulnerable populations in our county.

Kenneth Williams

Ken Williams is a founding director of the Northeast Houston Redevelopment Council, Vice-President of Super Neighborhood 48 Trinity-Houston Gardens, and a community servant/activist/resident.

Congratulations to all. Now the hard work begins.

Task Force Coordinator Also Approved

Commissioner’s Court also unanimously approved the appointment of Holloway Environmental and Communications Services as the task force facilitator. Holloway is a frequent contractor with Harris County Flood Control and helped develop the massive San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Study. The facilitator’s responsibilities will include coordination of the task force and public outreach.

Guiding Values

Work of the task force should now begin in earnest.

The Guiding Values developed by the first five members of the Task Force include:

  • Diverse Collaboration
  • Holistic Solutions
  • Paradigm Shifting
  • Inclusive Community Engagement
  • Ethical Foundation
  • Commitment and Accountability
  • Social Understanding
  • Nature and Environment 
  • Emphasis on Action and Momentum

Posted by Bob Rehak on March 10, 2021

1289 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Flood Task Force Looking for 11 More Members, How to Apply

The Harris County Commissioners Court established the Community Flood Resilience Task Force (CFRTF) as a multidisciplinary, community-driven body. Its purpose: to ensure Harris County implements equitable flood resilience projects that respect community priorities. The group needs 11 more members who represent the geographic, gender, age, racial, and ethnic diversity of Harris County. These are all are unpaid, pro-bono positions. Learn more about the task force, its goals, responsibilities and composition here.

Learn more about the Task Force and apply online

Qualifications Needed

Commissioners Court appointed the first five members in Fall 2020. Those five will chose the additional members from applications submitted online. Applicants must:

  • Reside in Harris County
  • Represent the geographic, gender, age, racial, and ethnic diversity of Harris County
  • Demonstrate interest in and have a commitment to serving the community
  • Contribute meaningful time and effort to achieving the purpose and objectives of the CFRTF. “Meaningful time and effort” includes, but is not limited to, reviewing provided materials, contributing ideas and thoughts to flood resilience discussions, and meeting at least once every other month for a total of at least six (6) times per year.

If possible, members must also meet one or more of the following qualifications: 

  • Represent one or more communities adversely impacted by flooding in Harris County. 
  • Have knowledge of or interest in:
    • Innovative and environmentally sustainable approaches to flood risk mitigation
    • Equitable approaches to flood resilience.

Among the skillsets that the task force needs:

  1. Public Housing
  2. Public Health
  3. Engineering/Construction
  4. Urban Design/Planning
  5. Flood-Risk Mitigation
  6. Environmental Sustainability
  7. Grassroots Community Organization
  8. Equity and Social Justice

CFRTF Bylaws

Task force bylaws balance the diverse range of interests in Harris County. To learn more about the purpose and responsibilities of the task force, please review the following.

Application Deadline: December 11, 2020

If you are interested in serving on the CFRTF, please complete the application by December 11, 2020.

If you need the application translated, please email the CFRTF.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/21/2020

1180 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 429 since Imelda

Friday Flood Digest

Here’s a digest of recent flood-related happenings. Follow the links for more detailed information.

Texas’ First-Ever Regional Flood Planning Process Gets Underway

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is helping recently formed regional-flood planning groups deliver 15 regional flood plans by January of 2023. These regional flood plans will form Texas’ first-ever state flood plan, due to the legislature by September of 2024.

The Board designated flood-planning group members on October 1st. The regional flood planning group meetings are publicly posted under the Texas Open Meetings Act. The first meetings were posted on the TWDB website and the Secretary of State website. Groups have two objectives:

  • Reduce current flood risk
  • Prevent creation of new flood risk 

Flood Projects Move Closer to Funding

Flood projects eligible for funding through the State’s Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) moved one step closer to becoming a reality this week. Select applicants are currently submitting complete (as opposed to abridged) project applications to the TWDB. These applications will help Texas communities finance drainage and flood mitigation and control projects.

Eligible entities submitted 280 abridged applications for more than $2.3 billion in financial assistance.

TWDB culled that list to fit the available $770 million in funding for structural and nonstructural flood projects. Of that $770 million, TWDB will allocate $231 million (30 percent) to grants and $539 million (70 percent) to loans with no interest.

TWDB Chairman Peter Lake characterized this program as one of the biggest steps the State has ever taken toward flood mitigation.

As of November 5, 2020, the TWDB had received 125 applications from cities, counties, water districts, and other political subdivisions. The deadline for full applications is November 23.

Four of five SJRA abridged applications made the cut:

  • Upper San Jacinto Sedimentation Study
  • Spring Creek Flood Control Dams Conceptual Engineering Study
  • Lake Conroe/Lake Houston Joint Operations Study
  • Flood Early Warning System for San Jacinto County

Chuck Gilman, SJRA’s Director of Water Resources and Flood Management, said, “We hope to receive final notice on our four full applications in late December or early January.”

“The causes and effects of flooding vary from region to region, so there is no single ‘silver bullet’ solution to mitigate floods,” said Lake. “It is critical that we support Texas communities as they plan for and mitigate future risks based on their unique needs and circumstances.”

The Board will consider approving financial assistance commitments at public meetings in the coming months.“Financial assistance will help communities with both flood planning and project implementation. While we can’t avoid natural disasters, we can mitigate the damage they do,” said Lake.

Fire and Flooding

Fire and flooding may seem like a strange combination. But yes, fire can contribute to flooding. I first noticed this phenomenon on an island called Guanaja in the Bay of Honduras where I used to scuba dive. One year, poachers set fires at the bottom of a hill to drive exotic tropical birds toward nets at the top of the hill. The next year, half the hill slid into the Caribbean during heavy rains.

So what does that have to do with Houston? As drought approaches, developers continue to set fires to clear land. That kills all the grasses that retain soil. When rain does return, that soil will wash downstream and likely contribute to the mouth bar growing on the San Jacinto East Fork. Reduction of the river’s “conveyance” can back water up and contribute to flooding.

Drought Vs. Flooding

Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist says, “The focus for the last several years has been on flooding and heavy rainfall. We’ve had floods in some portion of Texas for each of the last 5 years. However, the onset of moderate to strong La Niña conditions in the Pacific appear to be swinging the state back toward a dry period.”

“What was predicted to be an active period next week is slowly decreasing both “cold” and “moisture” wise in recent model runs, as is typical in La Nina winters,” says Lindner.

Climate Prediction Center outlooks for the next two weeks indicate below average rainfall and above average temperatures. Similar outlooks continue for three months. Vegetation health will continue to decline, but likely at a slower rate than during the hot summer months when heat is maximized.  

Three month outlook from NOAA predicts below average rainfall across southern US.

So be careful of outdoor burning (see story above). Many counties have already imposed outdoor burn bans.

Note outdoor burn ban in Liberty County.

The only positive side of drought is that it can make ideal construction weather for flood-mitigation projects (see two stories above).

Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force Has First Meeting

The Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force held its first meeting earlier this month. The first order of business: expand the group’s membership from five to 17. The group is creating a web site which will accept online applications; it should be up shortly.

The application deadline: December 11. Stay alert for more information if you are interested in representing your area. Preference will be given to those:

  • Who have flooded
  • Represent flood-prone communities
  • Have knowledge in certain areas, such as housing, public health, engineering/construction, urban design/planning, flood-risk mitigation, environment, etc.

Water Baron of Montgomery County Takes On World; Lawyers Drool

Simon Sequeira, CEO of Quadvest and the Water Baron of Montgomery County, continues his War with the World. At the last GMA14 meeting, lawyers are reportedly lining up to get a piece of the action and licking their lips.

Sequeira also supplies water to Colony Ridge in Liberty County. Several years ago, he led a fight to get the board of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District elected rather than appointed. Then he backed candidates who favored unlimited groundwater pumping and promised to Restore Affordable Water.

Broken Promises

While groundwater is cheaper than surface water, water bills reportedly failed to come down. However, he has stopped paying the SJRA. Sequeira says he is setting aside that money in a special fund in case he loses his legal battle with the SJRA. But his legal battles go far beyond the SJRA. He’s also taking on the rest of GMA14.

GMA14 includes the 15 colored counties above, each represented by a different conservation district. Montgomery County (dark blue) has the Lonestar Groundwater Conservation District.
Purpose of Groundwater Management Areas

GMA stands for groundwater management area. GMAs were set up years ago, in part, to make sure that one county doesn’t hog groundwater, depriving surrounding areas and creating subsidence. So the other counties in GMA14 get to approve (or not) the groundwater withdrawal rates in Montgomery County.

They do that by defining “desired future conditions.” How much drawdown in an aquifer is acceptable? How much subsidence can people and infrastructure tolerate?

GMA14 wants Sequeira to leave 70% of the water in aquifers intact and to produce no more than 1 foot of subsidence.

Hired-Gun Experts Defy Scientific Consensus

Ever since, Sequeira took on this fight, his hired-gun experts have been trying to prove subsidence doesn’t pose a threat in Montgomery County. Unfortunately, data and models don’t agree with him. His pumping has already created subsidence in MoCo and now threatens northern Harris County, too.

Strangely enough, while science has shown – and the rest of the world believes – that unlimited groundwater pumping causes subsidence, Sequeira does not. His profit margin depends on cheap groundwater, unfettered by fees designed to encourage people to convert to surface water.

Five Alternative Plans Considered

Sequeira and company originally proposed three alternative plans to GMA14 that involved pumping:

  • 900 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer
  • 700 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer
  • 250 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer (Similar to Run D scenario, modeled below.)

Of those three, GMA14 only considered the last (even though Lone Star and GMA14 use different criteria to describe the volume pumped).

GMA14 countered by adding two more alternatives that involved even less pumping:

  • 115,000 acre-feet per year (Similar to Lone Star’s Run D scenario. See below).
  • 97,000 acre-feet per year
  • 61,000 acre-feet per year

The two sides are still arguing about how much can be pumped safely. And that’s why the lawyers are drooling.

Models Show Unacceptable Subsidence from Sequeira’s Least Damaging Plan

Subsidence can alter the landscape in ways that cause water to collect in areas that otherwise might not flood. The maps below model projected subsidence in south Montgomery and northern Harris Counties. And we know that this model under-predicts subsidence. That’s because it doesn’t model ANY subsidence from the Jasper aquifer.

Sequeira’s least damaging plan would cause up to 3.25 feet of subsidence in southern Montgomery County and up to 3 feet in northern Harris County, according to GMA14. See below.

Pumping 115,000 feet per year would cause up to 3.25 feet of subsidence in southern MoCo.
The same amount of pumping would cause up 3 feet of subsidence in parts of Kingwood and Huffman, and a foot or more in much of the rest of Harris County.
Effect on Humble, Kingwood, Atascocita, Huffman Areas

If you live in the Lake Houston Area and you stare at that last subsidence map long enough, eventually you will come to a jaw-dropping realization. The Lake Houston spillway is only subsiding by a foot. But the headwaters of the lake are subsiding up to 3 feet. Imagine filling your bathtub with water and then tilting it two feet.

Homes and businesses in the headwaters of Lake Houston will be lowered 2 feet relative to the spillway.

That’s a huge amount. Those who built homes a foot above the hundred year flood-plain would find themselves a foot below it. Those who had a couple inches of water in their homes would have more than two feet after subsidence.

Battle Lines Drawn

So the battle lines are drawn. Sequeira wants to allow up to 900 feet of decline in the Jasper aquifer. And GMA14 wants no more than 1 foot of subsidence with 70% of the aquifer intact. That would mean pumping less than 100,000 acre feet per year.

The presence of so many lawyers in the last GMA14 meeting reportedly has the smaller groundwater management districts nervous. One observer used the word “intimidated.” Some don’t have financial resources to fight Sequeira.

Lawyers I talk to believe Sequeira has little chance of winning a lawsuit. But who needs a favorable judgment when you have an army of lawyers that can intimidate the other side into backing down.

However, if Sequeira is successful, he could open up himself and the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District to billions of dollars in “takings” claims. The lawyers make out coming and going.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/20/2020

1179 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 Could Shift Billions of Flood-Bond Dollars Tuesday without Public Vote

Tuesday, Harris County Commissioners Court could vote on a proposal to create a Community Flood Resilience Task Force (CFRTF). The Task Force has the potential to shift billions of flood-bond dollars from Republican-controlled Precincts 3 and 4 to Democratic-controlled Precincts 1 and 2. It should be noted that resilience appears nowhere in the flood bond language that voters approved, so this may not even be legal.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Commissioner Adrian Garcia are using the committee and unusual definitions of “equity,” “equitably,” and “resilience” to justify the shift. Their efforts could kill much-needed flood-mitigation projects in areas such as Elm Grove and the wider Lake Houston Area. Mr. Ellis especially has been openly hostile toward helping Elm Grove.

Secrecy Surrounds Creation of Task Force

The CFRTF proposal has been placed on the Emergency/Supplemental portion of the agenda with no public explanation of what commissioners would actually vote on. See Item #8. It reads only: “Request by the County Judge for discussion and possible action on reconstituting the Harris County Flood Control Task Force as the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force and amending the bylaws accordingly.”

The current version of the Task Force by-laws is not posted online, but I have obtained a copy via a FOIA request. The wording of the bylaws has changed from the version posted on July 24. A distinctive bias runs through the wording that’s contrary to the wording approved by Harris County voters in 2018.

2018 Flood-Bond Election Called for Equity

Because not one joint USACE/HCFCD project had ever been conducted in the area, Lake Houston Area leaders actually argued to include this language in the flood bond. It is now being turned against the area.

Harris County voters approved the flood bond in 2018 with the understanding that flood-bond dollars would be distributed “equitably.” The approved language specifically required that. Since then, however, Commissioner Rodney Ellis has led a concerted effort to redefine the word equitably so that flood-bond dollars can be shifted disproportionately to low-income “communities of color.”

Recognized Definitions of Equitable and Equitably

Most people likely define equitably as fairly or impartially.

  • Webster’s Third International Dictionary defines it as equality – “without prejudice or favoritism.”
  • The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “unbiased, impartial.”
  • Roget’s Thesaurus lists two pages of synonyms, most centered around the idea of “a level playing field.”
  • Black’s Law Dictionary has pages of definitions, most centered around the idea of “fairness.”

Ellis’ Definition of Equity

Mr. Ellis defines equity as righting the wrongs of the past, especially in regard to racial injustice. His definition relates to fairness only if you define equity, not in terms of the present, but of the past. He talks a lot about reparations for slavery. However, he ignores:

I doubt this is what voters had in mind two years ago when 88% voted for the flood bond.

They more likely felt they would see their fair share of flood-bond projects going to their neighborhoods, not making up for social injustices.

Making up for for social injustices is NOT how the bond was sold. HCFCD identified projects in every watershed based on 22 community input meetings.

Task Force To Ensure “Equitable Resilience”

Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Ellis and Commissioner Garcia intend to use this supposedly impartial task force to advise them on flood-control decisions. However, the flood-control experts and engineers don’t get to vote. They will only advise 17 political appointees. The appointees must have, according to the proposed bylaws, “a demonstrated knowledge of or interest in equitable approaches to flood resilience and the socioeconomic, demographic, and environmental factors that affect the relative resilience of communities in response to flooding.”

Of the 17 members:

  • At least two must represent low-income communities.
  • At least two must represent communities of color.
  • At least three must have expertise in flood resilience.
  • At least one will be a City of Houston representative with responsibilities related to resilience.

The task force will also include at least one person from each of eight competency areas, six of which are based on the idea of equity (See appendix A, page 12):

  1. Housing equity
  2. Health equity
  3. Equitable infrastructure
  4. Equitable urban planning and transportation
  5. Environmental equity
  6. Equity and social justice

The other two competencies are:

  1. Flood risk mitigation
  2. Authentic connections to local communities with “lived experience” (whatever that means).

A minimum 14 out of the 17 positions on the task force will ensure Hidalgo’s, Garcia’s and Ellis’ definitions of equity and resilience based on “social justice” are implemented.

Note that resilience, like equity, has become political code for programs that benefit primarily the socially vulnerable. (See the resilience study produced by the City of Houston.)

Double-Speak Definitions Enshrined in Bylaws

Article II (Definitions) Paragraph 3 even spells out what’s meant by the term “equitable resilience.” It “takes into account issues of social vulnerability,” say the bylaws.

The bylaws then go on to say equitable resilience “…starts from people’s own perception of their position within their human-environmental system and accounts for their realities and their need for a change of circumstance to avoid imbalances of power into the future.”

Talk about political double speak! What does that even mean?

I think they’re saying that decisions will be made on subjective, not objective, criteria.

Also note Definition #6 – Flood Resilience Projects. The word mitigation (as in flood mitigation) appears nowhere in the definition.

In fact, the phrase “flood mitigation” appears nowhere in the entire 12-page document. Neither does the word “equal.” However, resilience appears 63 times. But “resilience” never appears once in the bond language that voters approved.

Resilience, like equity, does not apply to the entire county. Most people probably see resilience as a positive word that helps everyone. It doesn’t. The Ellis/Hidalgo/Garcia definition helps only a subset of people.

More Double Speak

A footnote on page 3 says “It is not within the scope of the CFRTF to alter or re-prioritize 2018 flood bond projects, except that the CFRTF should evaluate and provide feedback on whether those projects are being implemented in accordance with the [Harris County Commissioners] court-approved equitable prioritization framework and schedule.”

In other words, the task force can only make sure the equity priorities that Ellis, Hidalgo and Garcia approved are being implemented. These aren’t advisors; they’re enforcers.

Troubling Questions

  • Why are technical experts on flood mitigation being replaced by “equity” experts?
  • Why is the judgment of experts on flood mitigation being replaced by political appointees who don’t represent the spectrum of views in Harris County?
  • Why are changes that could fundamentally alter the nature of government and the allocation of tax dollars being considered on an “emergency” agenda?
  • Why has the voter-approved definition of “equitable” been replaced by one that’s inequitable?
  • Why are hundreds of millions of tax dollars moving to Precincts One and Two, denying other precincts their fair share?
  • If the Community Flood Resilience Task Force is so important, why is it not being put on the ballot for November?

Of all these questions, perhaps the last is the most critical. Voters deserve a say in how their $2.5 billion is spent. Not just a subset of voters. All voters.

Please email the county judge (CRTF@cjo.hctx.net) before Tuesday’s meeting and demand that creation of the resilience task force be put on the ballot for November. We need to clear up any confusion about what we approved in the flood-bond referendum of 2018 and how voters want bond dollars allocated.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/9/2020

1076 Days after Hurricane Harvey