Tag Archive for: damage

Where Flood-Mitigation Dollars Have Really Gone

An analysis of Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) and partner spending since 2000 reveals striking contrasts between watersheds in terms of where flood-mitigation dollars have gone.

Watersheds vary as much as 130 to 1 since 2000 and almost as much since Harvey. Most watersheds remained relatively constant in the rankings during the different time periods. However, a few have shifted up or down a few positions as land was acquired for projects or construction kicked off.

Data below includes spending by HCFCD and its partners from 1/1/2000 to 6/30/2023.

Main Takeaways from the Data

The big stories:

  • Since 2000, the top four watersheds received more flood-mitigation dollars than all 19 others put together. The top four include: Brays, Greens, and White Oak Bayous, and Cypress Creek.
  • Since Harvey the top four received 48%.
  • The distribution of funds continues to show the impact of Harris County’s Equity Prioritization framework.

Harris County’s Equity Prioritization gives weight to race and low-income areas, but not flood damage, the severity of flooding, or protection of infrastructure.

San Jacinto Gets Above Average Damage, Below Average Funding

The San Jacinto ranks below the averages (before 2000 and since Harvey) for flood-mitigation dollars – despite ranking 8th in damaged structures among all 23 watersheds. Damage totals include five major storms (Allison, Memorial Day, Tax Day, Harvey and Imelda).

Compiled from HCFCD Federal Reports

Watersheds Ranked by Funding Since 2000

Here’s how the funding looks in graphs and tables. All data was obtained from HCFCD via FOIA requests.

Data obtained from HCFCD via FOIA requests. Includes Harris County and partner spending.

Here’s the actual data if you want to see exactly how much your watershed received.

From 1/1/2000 through 6/30/23

Watersheds Ranked by Funding Since Harvey

Now let’s look at the how spending shifted after Harvey. Not much, at least relatively speaking.

Includes Harris County and partner spending. San Jacinto climbed two spots, but it is still barely above the median and far below the average.

Here are the actual totals for each watershed shown in the graph above.

Spending from 17Q3 to 23Q2 inclusive.

Feet above Flood Stage

Now let’s look at the severity of flooding. The chart below measures feet above flood stage at different Harris County gages.

Flood Stage is the level at which a river, stream or channel comes out of its banks.

I compiled this chart from data in the Harris County Flood Warning System website.

That 20+ feet above flood stage at the San Jacinto West Fork and US59 was the highest I found in the county.

Damage to Infrastructure

That 20+ feet destroyed Kingwood College, Kingwood High School, all of the businesses in Kingwood Town Center and Kings Harbor, the southbound lanes of US59, the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge, Memorial Hermann’s new Convenient Care Center, sewage treatment plants, and a senior housing complex.

Lone Star College
Harvey flooded 6 of 9 buildings at Lone Star College/Kingwood. Repairs cost a total of $60 million.
I-69 damage and repairs
I-69 Bridge replacement after Harvey. Repairs took 11 months creating massive delays and detours.
UP Bridge
Union Pacific Railroad Bridge that parallels US59 was destroyed and required complete replacement.
Alspaugh’s Hardware during Harvey
New HEB shopping center 1.5 miles from the San Jacinto West Fork was under more than 7 feet of water during Harvey.

Six years after Harvey, many of the commercial areas in Kingwood still haven’t fully recovered. Anchor stores remain empty in three of five shopping centers on Kingwood Drive between Town Center and US59.

Achieving True Equity

While I’m sympathetic to the plight of poorer neighborhoods, I cringe at the self-serving definition of equity used by a Democratic-dominated Commissioners Court to deny funding to the hardest hit area in the county.

We need a system that’s fair to all, not just some. Anything less will perpetuate racial distrust. This is a public safety issue and public safety should not be politicized.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/30/23

2223 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.

HCFCD Spending Shows Slight Rebound

After a sharp decline in the first quarter of 2023, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) spending rebounded slightly in the second quarter. Second quarter spending did not recover to recent peaks, but at least exceeded pre-2018 Flood Bond levels.

Data obtained via FOIA Request from HCFCD on 8/14/23

One Third of Bond Money Spent in Half the Projected Time

However, HCFCD is still behind schedule with mitigation related to the 2018 flood bond. HCFCD has not issued a flood-bond update since last December. But you can calculate progress yourself by looking at the charts in this post.

Six years after Harvey and five years after the flood bond, HCFCD and its partners have spent approximately $1.6 billion to improve Harris County drainage.

Taxpayers approved $2.5 billion in the 2018 flood bond. Approximately a third of that was designated for matching funds to attract another $2.5 billion from Federal, State and local sources.

That means five years after the bond (and six years after Harvey) we are are roughly one third of the way through the bond, which was intended to be a ten-year program. And that one third is likely overstated due to inflation.

Spending Inequities

The County has not spent the money to benefit all people equally, thanks to the so-called Equity Plan approved by Commissioners Ellis, Garcia, and Judge Hidalgo. They argue that people with low incomes should enjoy a higher level of flood protection because they are less able to fix their homes after disasters.

Harris County tracks spending by watershed. Eight watersheds have a populations where Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) residents comprise a majority of the population. Those same watersheds also tend to have high social vulnerability indexes based on the CDC’s ranking criteria.

The eight LMI watersheds include:

  • Halls (72.5% LMI)
  • Hunting (67.8%)
  • Vince (64.9%)
  • Sims (60.8%)
  • Greens (59.8%)
  • Goose Creek (56.9%)
  • White Oak (51.9%)
  • Brays (51%).

HCFCD updated those LMI percentages at the end of 2022 to reflect the latest census data.

Actual Flood Damage No Longer Considered

Harris County no longer weighs damage in ranking flood-mitigation priorities.

Here’s how LMI-majority watersheds line up versus the county’s 15 other watersheds in terms of the money received since Hurricane Harvey.

Data obtained via FOIA Request from HCFCD on 8/14/23

Here’s how all watersheds ranked last quarter.

Data obtained via FOIA Request from HCFCD on 8/14/23

The San Jacinto declined a place in spending among the watersheds last quarter compared to “Since Harvey” (14th vs 13th). For the exact amounts each watershed received last quarter, see the table below.

Data obtained via FOIA Request from HCFCD on 8/14/23

Some readers might notice slight changes in the totals from past time periods. That has to do with ongoing transition of project and invoice coding in the county’s accounting systems. But they affect only about $2 million out of $1.6 billion. And most of those have to do with first quarter invoices received after my first quarter FOIA Request.

For those unfamiliar with the locations of various watersheds, see the map below.

watershed map of Harris County
From HCFCD 2019 Federal Briefing

Now compare spending to the actual flood damage during the last 44 years.

This map from MAAPnext, totals damage since 1979. Dark areas represent more damage. Compare the spending priorities above with actual damage in your watershed.

Flood control money used to flow to damage. But that’s no longer always the case.

Come back soon for more analysis of the latest data.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/15/23

2177 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Latest Flood-Mitigation Funding Trends

New data obtained from Harris County Flood Control District via a FOIA Request breaks down flood-mitigation funding by watershed through the end of 2021. It shows where your flood-bond money is going. It also debunks some popular myths. Those include the oft repeated:

  • Rich watersheds get all the funding; poor watersheds get none.
  • Partner funding favors rich watersheds because home values are higher.
  • HCFCD has historically discriminated against low-to-moderate income (LMI) watersheds.

Eight out of 23 watersheds in Harris County have a majority of residents that fall into the LMI category. That means a majority make less than the average annual income for the region. As the data below shows, those eight LMI watersheds get the vast majority of county, partner, and total funding. In fact, four have received 54% of total flood-mitigation funding since 2000.

Funding now correlates more highly with LMI population than damage!

Data also calls into question why some feel compelled to tweak the equity prioritization framework endlessly.

Improved Basis for Reporting

Before I dive into the data, though, let me point out that between the 3Q21 and the end of last year, the county changed the way it compiles historical data. Instead of using the start/stop dates in project management software and reporting only completed projects, the county is now using invoice dates. This produces much higher accuracy. Dollars do not spill over from one period into another. The new data also reflects spending on projects that are ongoing, but still open.

In response to my FOIA Request, the county provided spending using both the old and new methods. They differ by roughly $615 million. Of that, approximately $215 million reflects actual fourth-quarter spending and $400 million reflects the change in when expenses are recognized.

Spending by Watershed

The rank order of spending by watershed has not changed much since last year. Several watersheds moved up or down by a place or two.

The top four are still the top four in the same order. But some of the amounts changed radically, mostly due to the change accounting. For instance, White Oak increased from $387 million to $521 million. But out of the $134 million difference, $102 million comes from when expenses are recognized.

Because this gets so confusing, and because the rank order did not change much, I will use only the new totals compiled by invoice date from now on. I will not compare old and new totals based on the different accounting methods.

Spending by watershed between 1/1/2000 and 12/31/2121 broken down by county and partner contributions, and LMI/Other watersheds.

Graphs of Spending

Here’s a graph of total funding by watershed since 2000, arranged from highest to lowest.

Watersheds rank ordered by amount of flood-mitigation funding received between 1/1/2000 and 12/31/2121.

Funding correlates with population. But you can see notable exceptions below. Some watersheds get far more funding than their proportion of the population, i.e., White Oak, Sims and Greens. Others get far less.

Spending is not allocated proportionately to population in all cases. Six out of eight LMI watersheds received more funding than their population alone would justify.

But population alone does not tell the whole story. Some watersheds are huge and some small. So I also looked at population density per square mile. The curves correlated even less.

Graphing population density vs. total spending shows more variance. Of the eight LMI watersheds, four (Brays, White Oak, Sims, and Greens) get far more than their population density alone would dictate.

As we saw last year, funding flows primarily to damage. The chart below plots funding versus the total number of structures in each watershed damaged in five major storms (Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey, and Imelda). The slope of the curves closely match. But several major exceptions exist.

Historical Discrimination?

Many community groups from LMI neighborhoods have alleged historical discrimination in the distribution of flood-mitigation funding. I just don’t see it. All of the pie charts below take into account all funding between 1/1/2000 and 12/31/2021 based on invoice dates.

The county itself sent almost 60% of its flood-mitigation funding to one third of the watersheds with majority LMI populations.
An even larger percentage came from partner funding.
Whether you look only at county funding, partner-funding, or the total, the picture is still roughly the same. One third of the watersheds get almost two thirds of the funding.
Top 4 include Brays, White Oak, Sims and Greens. All have an LMI percentage higher than 50%.

LMI Population Now Correlates Higher with Funding than Damage

A coefficient of correlation of 1.0 is considered perfect. A good example: between gallons of gas in your car and the distance they will take you.

As a result of the constant tweaking of the equity funding formula, “Population” and “LMI Population” now correlate more highly with “Funding” than “Damage.” The correlation between “Funding since 2000” and:

  • Population Density = .54
  • Damage = .85
  • Population = .87
  • LMI Population = .89

Statisticians consider all of the last three very high.

With all the rhetoric flying around these days, it’s more important than ever to have facts to base your decisions on. To see all the original data from my FOIA Request, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/26/2022

1642 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Mitigation Spending Correlates Even More Strongly with LMI Population than Damage

Data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act Request shows that four Harris County watersheds – those with the highest low-to-moderate income (LMI) populations – have received more flood mitigation spending than all other 19 watersheds combined since 2000.

Recent Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) figures show that the size of an LMI population in a watershed correlates more highly with mitigation spending than even damaged structures. Previously, I coined the phrase “funding flows to damage.” That’s still true, but the number of LMI residents in a watershed now correlates even more strongly.

The latest spending data through the third quarter of 2021 also debunks the myth that flood mitigation projects always go to neighborhoods with the highest home values.

How Correlation Works

Correlation is not causation. A coefficient of correlation indicates the strength of a relationship between two variables. In a perfect correlation (1.0), every unit of change in one variable produces a proportional amount of change in a second variable. Variables move together by the same percentage and direction 100% of the time. But in real life, one rarely finds perfect correlations. However, these come close. Statisticians consider them very strong.

Funding Correlates Strongly with Both LMI Population and Damage

Dollars spent on mitigation have the following coefficients of correlation:

  • .93 for LMI population by watershed
  • .84 for structures damaged in five major storms

The storms included Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey and Imelda. Spending included HCFCD and partner dollars from 1/1/2000 through 9/30/2021.

You would expect mitigation spending to correlate highly with damage. After all, no one spends money to fix areas that didn’t flood. And the most attention would be focused on areas that flooded the worst. So they vary closely in the same direction.

But why does flood mitigation spending correlate so strongly with LMI population? That’s less expected.

Hypothesis to Explain High LMI Correlation

Observation suggests that LMI households tend to be in older neighborhoods often built to lower standards. For instance, homes tend to be closer to street level.

Moreover, in Houston, these neighborhoods tend to have roadside ditches rather than storm sewers. And those drainage ditches tend to fill in with silt over time, trapping water in neighborhoods.

Population density is also literally twice as high in LMI watersheds compared to affluent ones (3,947.11 people per square mile for watersheds above 50% LMI vs. 1,831.52 for watersheds below 50% LMI). So homes tend to be closer together, have a higher percentage of impervious cover, and crowd floodplains. Said another way, more people live in harm’s way.

Brays Bayou is a good example. It has the largest LMI population, the highest density and the most damage. It has received the most flood mitigation money since 2000 – $544 million or $158 million more than any other watershed.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Luce Bayou has the smallest population and suffered the least damage. It received the least flood mitigation spending – only about 1% of Brays’ total.

LMI neighborhoods also tend to be in areas (inside the Beltway) surrounded by more upstream development. When developers built those older neighborhoods, they probably weren’t expecting the Houston Metro Area to explode from 700,000 people in 1950 to almost 7 million today.

We also didn’t know as much about flood mitigation in 1950. We didn’t force upstream developers to build detention ponds and didn’t reserve rights of way for future channel expansion. (Or at least not as much as we needed.)

Buying that additional right of way typically costs almost as much as construction – even more in densely populated areas. White Oak Bayou, for instance, has the third highest population and the fourth highest population density. Out of the $386 million it has received since 2000, a whopping 61% has gone toward right-of-way acquisition and 20% toward construction.

As a result of all these complex historical factors and dependencies, LMI population, damage and flood-mitigation spending tend to co-vary. That’s the best explanation I can offer.

In Harris County, Mitigation Spending Favors Low-, Not High-Income Areas

The narrative often heard in commissioners court is that higher home values increase the benefit cost ratio (BCR) for flood mitigation projects and that FEMA favors the highest BCRs. Those, in turn, theoretically favor mitigation projects in affluent communities. But that argument ignores:

For proof positive, see the charts below.

Brays, White Oak, Sims and Greens all have the highest LMI populations. And all have received the most flood-mitigation dollars since 2000. In fact, those four LMI watersheds alone received more money than all other 19 watersheds combined.

Watersheds with large low-income populations tend to cluster on the left; those with high-income on the right with a few exceptions.
Spending since 2000 for each Harris County Watershed shown with watershed’s LMI Population

To me, this debunks the myth that having less-expensive housing disadvantages some areas. In Harris County, density, public policy and other factors more than compensate for any influence home values exert on BCRs and the allocation of flood-mitigation dollars.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/11/2021

1565 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.

Six Low-Income Watersheds Receive More Funding than 15 Higher Income Watersheds Combined

Third of an eight-part series on flood-mitigation funding in Harris County

Some people and their representatives in low-to-moderate-income (LMI) watersheds have complained that they get “no” flood-mitigation funding and that the money is all going to richer watersheds. Allegedly, that’s because home values are higher there and thus favor higher benefit/cost ratios (a sort of systemic racial discrimination). But is that true? Do higher home values in a neighborhood really translate into “projects funded”? No. The allegation ignores many other factors that enter into funding, such as damage and population density. Density is two to three times higher in low-income neighborhoods and that influences damage totals. When you look at funding outcomes as opposed to a sliver of the mitigation process, low-income neighborhoods get far more money. Here’s how it breaks down.

Where Money is Really Going

Recently, I obtained flood-mitigation funding data for every watershed in Harris County via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It sheds new light on this subject.

In addition to the quartile comparisons I did in earlier posts, I also compared the top quartile (six watersheds) to the rest with one exception in each group noted in previous posts and the footnote below.* The data showed that six watersheds with the highest percentages of LMI residents (meaning low income) have received 56.8% of HCFCD spending out of the 21 remaining watersheds since 2000.

Harris County Flood Control District data obtained via FOIA request.

A second pattern also clearly emerged from the data. Long before “equity” guidelines were put in place, HCFCD spending closely tracked flood damage. It still does. And the most damage occurred in lower-income watersheds.

In this post, I will examine both trends by looking at six watersheds with the highest percentages of LMI residents. They include Brays, Greens, Sims, Halls, Hunting and White Oak Bayous. 

As a group, they:

  • Comprise 30.9% of the square miles in the county
  • Received 56.8% of total spending – $1.52 billion of the $2.6 billion spent by HCFCD since 2000.

That’s more than 15 higher income watersheds combined.

Dollars Flow to Damage

But if you stopped there, you could conclude that these six watersheds were getting more than 2-3X their fair share of funding. However, also consider that they had 144,754 out of the 222,739 structures damaged in Harris County during Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day and Harvey floods.

One thing is certain: these six watersheds have not been at the “back of the bus.” They received more than $1.5 billion out of $2.6 billion invested by HCFCD since 2000. 

The data DISPROVES discrimination on an income or racial basis. Money is not going disproportionately to rich neighborhoods. Far from it. It’s going disproportionately to poor and minority neighborhoods. However, that is also where the most flood damage occurred. Let’s take a closer look at each of the six low-income watersheds.

Brays Bayou:
  • Received 19% of total spending since 2000, but represents just 6% of the county’s area.
  • Received more than half a billion dollars since 2000, the most of any watershed, and about one-fifth of all flood-mitigation spending in 23 watersheds in 21 years.
  • Received the second most funding since Harvey ($130,685,844.43).
  • Got 4 times the average and 7 times the median of flood-mitigation funding for all watersheds.

It certainly seems like an outsized injection of flood-mitigation funds. But the improvements also protect some major infrastructure and employment centers including the Texas Medical Center. See this photo essay taken from the air.

Also consider that Brays had the most damage in four major storms (Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey) – 32,194 structures flooded. 

Brays has the fifth highest percentage of low-to-moderate income residents (58%).

HCFCD construction is on-going in this watershed.

Greens Bayou:

Commissioners Ellis and Garcia often cite Greens Bayou as a “back-of-the-bus” watershed. They also say, that if the County doesn’t fix it, “we’ll have blood on our hands.” 

Greens received the 3rd most dollars since 2000 and the 2nd most since Harvey. That’s 11% and 14% of all HCFCD spending respectively during those two time periods. Only in Harris County politics can you call second place out of 23 “back of the bus.” 

But Greens also had the second most damage in four major storms (28,815 structures). 

Greens Bayou has the sixth highest percentage of LMI residents in the county (57%).

HCFCD construction is also on-going in this watershed.

Halls Bayou:

Mr. Ellis and Mr. Garcia also consider Halls Bayou funding to be “back of the bus.” It comprises only about 2.4% of the county but received almost 5% of total spending since 2000. It also received:

  • The fourth most funding per capita ($841.77)
  • The third most funding per square mile ($3,031,912)
  • The eighth most funding since 2000 ($128 million).

Residents still believe they received “nothing,” but I photographed eight large detention ponds recently completed or under construction. Four are right next to US 59.

Halls has the highest percentage of LMI residents (71%) in Harris County.

HCFCD construction is on-going in this watershed.

Sims Bayou:

Sims Bayou runs through the southern part of the county. It:

  • Ranks as the 8th largest watershed.
  • Received the 6th most funding since 2000 ($165,013,368)
  • Has the 7th largest population (310,537)
  • Has the 5th highest population density (3755 per sq. mi.)
  • Had the 6th most damage (18,122 structures)

Sounds proportional and it is. 

However, these calculations do not include $254 million, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent on Sims between 1990 and 2015 (by itself) for a major flood-reduction project. The Corps’ contribution to Sims Bayou alone was almost 10% of all HCFCD spending since 2000 ($2.68 billion).

If you add the Federal contribution to HCFCD’s funding, Sims would have ranked second on the list of flood-mitigation dollars received since 2000. Only Brays received more.

Sims has the third highest percentage of LMI residents (65%).

Hunting Bayou

Hunting Bayou is one of the county’s smaller watersheds. It comprises 31 square miles or 1.7% of the county’s land mass. That ranks it as the 19th largest bayou out of 23. And it has the 14th largest population (78,213). Yet, since 2000, it has:

  • Had the seventh most damage (15,728 structures)
  • Received the third most dollars per capita since 2000 ($952.18)
  • Received the fourth most dollars per square mile ($2,402,908)

Hunting Bayou has the second highest percentage of LMI residents (69%).

HCFCD construction is on-going in this watershed.

White Oak

White Oak Bayou is the sixth largest watershed in Harris County. Yet it received 13% of the flood-mitigation funding since 2000 – $349 million, the second highest total of any watershed. It also ranked second in dollars received per square mile – $3.14 million.

But also consider that it had the third highest number of damaged structures – 24,989 in Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day and Harvey floods combined.

51% of the residents in White Oak qualify as low-to-moderate income. 

HCFCD construction is on-going in this watershed.

Damage-to-Dollar Rankings

“Damaged structures” and funding received had the highest correlation of any relationship I tested. For math majors, the coefficient was .86. That’s high. A perfect correlation would be 1.0. For the less technically inclined, see the table below.

Contrary to the “rich-watersheds-get-all-the-money” narrative, flood-mitigation funding, data shows that HCFCD is putting the most money in the hardest hit watersheds.Dollars flow to damage.

Many projects in these lower income watersheds are still under construction or preparing for it. And major storms have not yet tested many recently constructed improvements. Regardless, their residents are safer than they otherwise would be. And they can take some comfort in knowing that the system is working for them, not against them. 

For more information, see: 

Posted by Bob Rehak, based on information compiled from a FOIA request and Federal Briefings

1394 days since Harvey 

*Omits Vince Bayou in low-income group because it is entirely within the City of Pasadena, which has responsibility for it. Includes White Oak Bayou instead. Also omits Little Cypress, which has a very small population and is an experiment by HCFCD in preventing future flooding.

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.

MoCo Commissioners to Consider Resolution Opposing Lowering of Lake Conroe; Interferes with Recreation

Tuesday, January 14, Montgomery County Commissioners will consider a resolution to OPPOSE the continued seasonal lowering of Lake Conroe. The lowering provides a buffer against flooding for people on Lake Conroe, Lake Houston and communities between them during the rainiest period in the spring and the peak of hurricane season. It was designed primarily to help flood victims downstream of Lake Conroe until flood mitigation measures could be put in place.

But the lowering also represents an inconvenience for boaters on Lake Conroe. Further, they claim it potentially harms their home values. See the text of Precinct One Commissioner Mike Meador’s resolution below.

“Interferes with the Recreational Use of the Lake”

Text of Resolution to be considered by MoCo Commissioners on Tuesday, January 14.

What Interference is Really Like

Lake Conroe homeowners who claim their property values have been damaged by lowering the lake a foot or two should see what flood damage is really like.

A little fixer upper on the West Fork in Forest Cove. What an extra 80,000 cubic feet per second going through your living room will do.
Kingwood Village Estates, a senior complex, had to be evacuated. Twelve people later died – six from injuries sustained during the evacuation and six from the stress of losing their homes and everything they own. Residents ranged in age from 65-95.
This home was more than two miles from the West Fork and had to be gutted to the ceiling.
Six of nine buildings at Kingwood College were destroyed. Thousands of students had to be relocated for more than a year while the buildings were disinfected from sewage contamination.
Sand Creek home more than 2 miles from the San Jacinto West Fork during Harvey after Lake Conroe Release.
Evac photo along Hamblen Road the morning after the Lake Conroe release.
Union Pacific Railroad Bridge over West Fork knocked out for months.
US59 southbound lanes were undercut by scouring, partially the result of the Lake Conroe release. TxDoT spent $20 million and 11 months repairing them. During that entire time, the average commute increased an hour each day for people trying to cross the river in rush hour.
To play video, click here. 110 homes out of 250 in Kings Forest flooded. This video shows the trash piles days after Harvey. All of these homes were more than two miles from the West Fork. Thousands of other homes between these and the river had their recreational value destroyed.
River Grove Park was covered with more than 4 feet of sand. Most it closed for almost a year. Parts of it are still unusable including the boat dock, which is the only public ramp in Kingwood.

And then, consider Kingwood High School which flooded to the second floor. Four thousand students had to be bused to another high school an hour away for seven months. Students from the two schools shared the same building but in different shifts.

Kingwood High School after the Lake Conroe release.

How You Can Help

Send me your best Harvey pics. Use the Submissions page of this web site. Understand that you give ReduceFlooding.com the right to publish your images. Let’s show Commissioner Meador how the Lake Conroe release interfered with recreation in our community.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/10/2020, with grateful thanks for the contributions from dozens of residents too numerous to mention

864 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Sand-Mine Fines vs. Lake-Houston-Area Damage During Harvey

Numerous posts on this blog have documented how sand mines made flooding worse during Harvey. Yet the total amount of fines levied against mines in the second half of last year state-wide was less than the average repair cost for one home flooded during Harvey.

Let me state some caveats upfront in this post.

However, NO sediment should have come from any mine. It could have been easily avoided. Most mines choose to operate in the floodway…downstream from a major dam…in a flood prone region. They have other choices.

But they continue to mine in floodways. Partially as a result, millions of cubic yards of sand now clog the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto, creating higher floods on smaller rains. Meanwhile, the public, businesses, FEMA, and insurance companies are stuck with the cleanup bill and increased flood risk.

Having said that, let’s look at the scorecard.

Fines Levied Statewide by TCEQ on Sand Mines in Last 5 Years

TCEQ fines levied since passage of HB571 through end of 2017. Image scanned from TCEQ report to Texas legislature.

That’s about $800 per fine or a half-million dollars total during five years. If you look just at the last half of 2017 (after Harvey), the TCEQ levied about $140,000 in fines STATEWIDE – far less than it cost to repair ONE average home in Kingwood as a result of Harvey.

Damage to Lake Houston Area During Harvey Related to Excessive Sedimentation

  • $60 million in repairs to Kingwood High School
  • $60 million in repairs to Lone Star College/Kingwood
  • $1.4 billion for 7000+ homes flooded at estimated repair cost of $200,000 each
  • $1.5 billion in lost productivity ([100,000 people x 200 hours each] + [10,000 people times x 1000 hours each] = 30 million hours x Ave. $50 each)
  • $70 million for Phase 1 dredging of 2.1 miles out of 13 miles
  • $50 million for Phase 2 dredging allocated in County Flood Bond
  • “Billions” lost in home values and tax revenue according to City of Houston
  • 44% of Lake Houston area businesses flooded and closed for months, many closed permanently
  • Total: Estimated $5+ billion

So Much for Fiscal Conservatism

Even if you think the mines contributed only 10% of the sand in the river and are responsible for only 10% of the damage, they still came out ahead by a pretty lopsided margin, especially considering that we’re comparing statewide to local statistics and extended periods to one event. AND they are not being asked to contribute one penny to clean-up costs beyond their normal taxes. If you or I backed up into a light pole, we would probably get a bill for damaging City property. But not these lucky guys.

You would think the City, County, State, businesses and residents must be flush with cash to absorb these kinds of losses without raising a peep. So much for fiscal conservatism! Since when did Texas  replace “You Break It; You Buy It” with corporate welfare and subsidies?

But hey, we need cheap concrete to attract new residents who will make up for these losses. Right?

It’s Time to Change the Conversation

Call me unrealistic, but maybe it’s time to:

  • Prioritize taxpayers over newcomers.
  • Compare the tax revenue from mining to losses from other sources.
  • Balance public safety and private profit.
  • Put some teeth in TCEQ regulations.

Make all miners move out of the floodway and you could level the playing field for them while protecting them from liability. You could also avoid a lot of that damage, protect lives and property from unnecessary risk, avoid unnecessary losses, make the banking and insurance industries happy, reduce mitigation costs, increase savings and investment, hold down taxes, and attract newcomers. But wait. Win-win? That’s too radical a notion to succeed in politics these days.

As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Posted by Bob Rehak on August 31, 2018

367 Days since Hurricane Harvey