First Quarter 2022 Flood-Mitigation Spending Update, New Equity Formula
In the first quarter of 2022, Harris County Flood Control District spent a total of $84 million. That brought the total of flood mitigation spending since 2000 up to almost $3.8 billion.
For the first time since ReduceFlooding.com started tracking these numbers via Freedom of Information Act requests, spending in the Hunting Bayou watershed led all other watersheds. Brays Bayou, the previous front runner, dropped into second place. Cypress Creek, White Oak Bayou, Clear Creek, and Halls and Greens Bayous virtually tied for third place in spending. The San Jacinto Watershed came in 17th despite the fact that it is the largest in the county.
The Galveston Bay and Vince Bayou Watersheds had no invoices reported during the quarter. Totals for Jackson and Addicks were restated to account for a change in accounting, resulting in negative numbers. Previously HCFCD reported dollars spent by project management status. The District now reports totals by invoice date. The new method is more precise.
First Quarter 2022 Watershed Rankings
Cumulative Spending Since 2000
Totals Since Harvey
Between Harvey and the end of 2021, HCFCD spent $1.45 billion on all watersheds. The $85 million spent in the first quarter of 2022 brings the total since Harvey up to $1.535 billion.
San Jacinto Watershed
Of the almost half million dollars spent in the San Jacinto Watershed during the first quarter of 2022, virtually all of it was spent on preliminary engineering and design. The Harris County Flood Control District shows only one active capital improvement construction project in the San Jacinto Watershed valued at $1,000. That’s the Excavation and Removal Contract on the Woodridge Village Property to develop additional floodwater detention capacity. Compare that to the $15.6 million spent on construction in Hunting Bayou.
Equity Formula Being Changed Again
The disparity in totals between watersheds largely has to do with Federal partner funding and the equity funding formula passed by three Democrats at Harris County Commissioners Court. The original formula has been revised again and again to send more and more funding to watersheds with high percentages of low-to-moderate income residents. Commissioners started debating another set of changes to the formula today that would apply to money in the Flood Resilience Trust, but did not vote on it.
The changes recommended include:
- Prioritizing people over structures
- Eliminating partnership funding from consideration
- Recommending proxies for FEMA data since 1977
People Over Structures
This change would favor spending in densely populated neighborhoods inside Beltway 8 as opposed to neighborhoods with more single-family homes outside Beltway 8. For example, 100 people could live in an apartment building on a single acre. So could 3 people in a single family home. The only problem: Flood control has no way of determining how many people live in an apartment building. So the District will have to use an average for the watershed, according to Dr. Tina Petersen, the new head of flood control.
Democrats don’t want to wait for partner funding. They want to start projects right away, using bond money and other funds diverted from the toll road. Using out of pocket money could speed up flood-mitigation projects in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, but it could also reduce the size of the total pot, jeopardizing badly needed projects somewhere.
Using 1977 data would disadvantage areas outside the Beltway, which was under construction at that time. Places like Kingwood were just beginning to be built. So using the older data from the Seventies would stack the deck in favor of inner-city neighborhoods. However, there was no universal agreement on a suitable substitute for the FEMA damage claims.
“Who Goes First?” No Longer the Issue
These constant changes to an equity formula which was originally conceived as a “Who goes first?” tool, seem to make less and less sense now that all flood bond projects have started. So commissioners are considering these changes in regard to the Flood Resilience Trust. That money will theoretically allow development of more projects when the flood bond expires. But no one has yet determined the list of projects for that money. So Commissioners still have many details to work out.
One huge related detail is developing a plan for how to spend $750 million in HUD partner funds. The county administrator seems to have turfed the assignment to the Community Services Department. Said another way, they took it out of Flood Control and put it in a department that has had four leadership changes in four years.
Out of 154,000 homes in the county damaged by Harvey, Community Services managed to distribute only $21.4 million in repair funds.
No offense. I’m sure this is a difficult job. And I’m sure the county has talented people. But justifying flood-mitigation grants seems to be more of a job for engineers than people who handle claims. The adventure continues. More details in coming weeks.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/26/2022
1701 Days since Hurricane Harvey