Tag Archive for: FEMA

Biden Orders Simplification of Disaster Relief

On December 13 – 1567 days after Hurricane Harvey – President Biden issued an executive order to improve disaster relief by the federal government. The order covers a range of other government services, too. It aims to improve service service to citizens with the ultimate goals of improving customer satisfaction and restoring trust in government.

The White House says 25 million individuals, families, and small businesses live through a Federally recognized natural disaster each year. This should be great news for all of them. In the last four years, I have posted about the disaster called disaster relief more than once.

FEMA Mandate: Streamline Applications and Rules Re: Documentation

Specifically, the order states that theDepartment of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shall “design and deliver a streamlined, online disaster assistance application. It also requires FEMA to “work with States to proactively update existing rules and policies on supporting documentation needed for disaster assistance processes to reduce burden and increase accessibility.”

Forest Cove Townhome destroyed by Harvey. What happens when 240,000 cubic feet per second roar through your home. When residents evacuated, survival was uppermost on their minds, not finding documents they might need for disaster-relief applications. FEMA chose this location to film a video about the destructiveness of Harvey.

HUD Required to Inventory Ways to Improve Customer Service

Unfortunately, the Order only mentions Housing and Urban Development (HUD) once and doesn’t offer many specifics. It requires HUD to submit a report to the Office of Management and Budget that assesses improvements needed in the department’s customer experience management and service design capabilities to comply with the order. The report must also prioritize improvements within available and budgeted resources.

Types of improvements mentioned throughout the order include:

  • Streamlining and improving accessibility
  • Improving digital experiences
  • Eliminating unnecessary administrative burdens on customers
  • Ensuring accessibility for those with disabilities
  • Ensuring access for those with limited English proficiency
  • Coordinating between agencies to reduce the need for customers to interact separately with multiple agencies.
  • Callback systems for those on hold
  • Enrollment assistance for benefits, etc.
  • Improving compliance with the Plain Writing Act.

Goal: Help People Focus on Recovery

This fact sheet prepared by the White House staff elaborates on disasters.

“After a disaster,” it says, “more survivors will be able to focus on helping their families, businesses, and communities because of streamlined assistance processes, rather than having to navigate a complex Government bureaucracy to get the help they need.”

“Disaster survivors will no longer need to navigate multiple assistance forms across multiple agencies to get the help they need, saving time and energy to allow them to focus on their recovery and well-being.”

“Survivors will have access to more flexible mechanisms to provide supporting documentation, such as virtual inspections and submitting photos of disaster damage from a mobile phone.”

The press release concludes: “The Government’s primary mission is to serve. By placing people at the center of everything we do, the Government will be able to deliver timely, modern, and secure services to you – the people. We will rebuild trust in our Government, ensure no one is left behind, and inspire others to join us in serving future generations of Americans.”

President Clinton had similar ambitions in the early days of the digital revolution. His plan helped transform government, but there’s still a long way to go. This sounds like a good deal if it works. But it will be a massive undertaking that takes place in stages over years, not overnight.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/16/2021

1570 Days since Hurricane Harvey

FEMA Study Shows Better Building Codes Provide 11-to-1 Return

A recent study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) demonstrated the value of adopting hazard-resistant building codes. They can provide an 11-to-1 return by reducing losses and helping communities get back on their feet faster after disasters. Not to mention saving lives. This 12-page brochure summarizes the 189-page study.

What FEMA Found

FEMA found that only about a third of counties and municipalities across the U.S. have adopted modern building codes; 65% have not. People living in those places, says FEMA, are bearing a dangerous, costly, and unnecessarily high level of risk in the face of natural disasters.

Weighing Costs Vs. Benefits Makes Compelling Case

The additional cost of building features such as roof tie-downs, window protection, strengthened walls, is on average less that 2% of total construction costs. Yet FEMA’s study found that areas with modern building codes will avoid at least $32 billion in losses from natural disasters when compared to jurisdictions without modern building codes.

That likely underrepresents savings, because the study focused only on buildings constructed since 2000, which represent only about 20% of buildings in the country. It also did not include “indirect losses” such as business interruption, time off the job to rebuild, and tax revenues lost.

Forty to sixty percent of small businesses do not reopen after a flood or hurricane which affects the overall viability of the entire community.

The next part of the brochure talks about the escalating threat of natural disasters and breaking the chain of destruction.

FEMA found that every $1 spent on mitigation in new building code construction saves $11 in disaster repair and recovery costs.

For instance, spending $4,500 to elevate a new home, and install roof-tie downs and storm shutters could save $48,000 during the life of a 30-year mortgage.

A 1% cost premium will provide the roof tie-downs, window covers and other features that help a house survive high winds during a hurricane. In addition, 1.2%–1.7% cost increase over standard construction costs will raise the ground floor, generating the “freeboard” needed to withstand most floods.

How to Help Your Community Get Better

The final part of the brochure provides a roadmap for getting cities and counties to adopt better building codes.

For its part, FEMA is starting to provide grants to cities that have adopted contemporary building codes through its BRIC program (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities). Here’s this year’s Notice of Funding Availability.

It appears that Texas could qualify for a billion dollars in BRIC grants if the State adopted current building codes.

Many people just assume that local officials have their backs and are doing the right thing when it comes to adopting the latest building codes. But obviously, if two thirds aren’t current, that’s a bad assumption. Building codes may not be the highest priority of officials. So how can you know which standards your community goes by?

The Department of Homeland Security has developed a new website called InspectToProtect.org. Putting your address, city or zip code in the search bar. The site will then search its database and tell you where you stand.

Inspect to Protect’s rating for Humble.

Use this information to start a dialog with your local representatives. You can also point them to this 90-minute video of a webinar produced by FEMA. It’s called “Where and How We Build: Using Land-Use and Building Codes to Increase Resilience.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/22/21

1546 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Montgomery County Holding Three Meetings for Flood Victims Interested in Buyouts

Morgan Lumbley, Montgomery County’s Disaster Recovery Manager, will hold community outreach meetings in Spring, Conroe and Splendora in the next 10 days to explain buyout options for flood victims. “It is my hope that through positive engagement we can provide the ability for homeowners to relocate out of harm’s way,” said Lumbley. 

See specifics about times, dates and places in the poster below.

Anybody in Montgomery County may attend any meeting. Choose the most convenient.

The primary purpose of the meetings will be to explain FEMA’s 2021 Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) program, but Lumbley will also explain HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) buyout program.

If you’re a Montgomery County resident and you’ve ever wondered whether you qualified for a buyout, whether you could get fair compensation for your home, or how you could apply, these meetings are for you.

The meetings will cover:

  • Who qualifies (eligibility requirements)
  • For which type of assistance (FEMA vs. HUD)
  • How long it takes
  • The application process
  • How homes are valued
  • How to get help filling out the forms if you need it

Importance of Meetings and Timing

Lumbley described the meetings as community outreach. She needs to identify properties owners interested in buyouts and determine their eligibility. Once she does that, she will apply to FEMA for an FMA grant (Flood Mitigation Assistance) equal to the total value of all homes that quality.

The application process happens once a year. If interested, learn how to apply now.

“If we get awarded a grant,” said Lumbley, “those are the properties that we look to purchase first. Others may be considered only if someone drops out of the process.”

FEMA Requirements Explained at Meeting

The FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant basically has two requirements.

  • It has to be a severe repetitive loss or a just a repetitive loss property, as indicated by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
  • You must currently have a NFIP policy backed by FEMA. Private insurance is not eligible.

Lumbley cautions that getting a buyout can take years. “It’s not a tomorrow-type thing,” she said. “We may not have anything final for another year and a half to two years. So we’ll talk about that first. Then realizing that some may not qualify for FEMA’s program, we will also talk about HUD buyouts.”

FEMA Applications Due Back November 15th

Once Lumbley determines the number of homes that meet requirements, she will build a budget around those eligible homes. “We are basically saying to FEMA, ‘If you give us this money, these are the homes that we’re going to buy out. That’s how we establish the budget.”

“It all comes down to how many eligible individuals want to participate,” said Lumbley. “We will submit the county’s application to FEMA with five or a 100 homes.”

Definitions of Repetitive Loss and Severe Repetitive Loss

“Very specific definitions exist for repetitive loss and severe repetitive loss properties,” she said. “A repetitive loss property has had flood related damage on two occasions in which the cost of repairs averaged together equal or exceed 25 percent of the market value of the structure – at the time of the floods. Severe repetitive loss properties have had four or more separate floods, with each claim being $5000 or more. And at least two of those claims have to be within a 10 year period.”

“Another way to qualify as a severe repetitive loss is to have at least two separate NFIP claims that that total more than the market value of the structure,” she added.


“We will write the county’s 2021 FEMA grant application to reflect current market value of homes. If FEMA approves that, applicants would get whatever the competitive open market value is on the day that the appraiser goes out to appraise it.”

HUD grants are based on pre-disaster valuation. “So it goes back to the disaster on which funding is based,” said Lumbley. “We’re currently working off the 2015/2016 floods and Hurricane Harvey. So what value did the home have before the storm hit, minus any funding that the owner might have received that did not go back into the home as it was intended?”

Eligible Years Vary by Type of Grant

Community Development Block Grants from HUD are disaster specific. So to be eligible for a HUD grant, you must have been damaged during one of those ‘funded storms,’ such as 2015, 2016 or Harvey.

But FEMA FMA grants are not disaster based. So as long as you have a current NFIP backed flood insurance policy and you meet the definitions of repetitive loss or a severe repetitive loss, you could to be eligible. For instance, maybe you flooded four times in 1978, 1982, 1994 and 2001.”

it gets complicated. If you’re interested in a buyout, the time to explore it is now – at one of these meetings – and the person to ask is Lumbley.

For more information, visit the Recovery MXTX page on Facebook.

If you know someone interested in a buyout, make sure he/she attends one of these meetings. Please share this post with others in Montgomery County.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/3/2021 based on information from Morgan Lumbley

1527 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Government Moves to Make Climate Information, Decision Tools More Accessible

Last week, the White House announced a government-wide initiative to make climate information more accessible and actionable. The effort targets individuals and communities hit by flooding, drought, wildfires, extreme heat, coastal erosion, and more.

Not everyone agrees on climate change. But we have all observed what happens when people fail to sufficiently heed climate risk. This effort to make climate information and science more accessible to the public is long overdue and welcome.

A better understanding of climate risks will empower communities to better prepare for them.

From Climate.gov’s Data Snapshot Page

For instance, did you know that La Niña—the cool phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern—has returned to the tropical Pacific this month. NOAA gives it an 87 percent chance to last through Northern Hemisphere winter. Here’s what that could mean for us.

List of New Websites, Reports, Initiatives

Below are 15 websites, reports and initiatives that may help those making important decisions about starting a business, buying a home, or protecting their communities.

  • Extreme heat hot spots 
  • Areas impacted by wildfire smoke
  • NOAA’s redesigned Climate.gov. Upgrades to this website will better connect Americans to climate explainers, data dashboards, and classroom-ready teaching resources. It now better provides the public with clear, timely, and science-based information about climate. Climate.gov’s Global Climate Dashboard gives a data-driven readout on the state of the climate system with public-friendly explainers and answers to frequently asked questions. Climate.gov also provides access to commonly requested climate data and tools hosted by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
    • Using an artificial intelligence platform to improve the search tool, allowing queries based on location so that users can find city and state-specific maps and data;
    • Cross-linking content to highlight all available resources sitewide that are relevant to each visitor’s unique interests;
    • Improving the mobile experience on tablets and smartphones; and
    • Redesigning pages with user experience and accessibility in mind.
  • These efforts build on FEMA’s announcement earlier this year of nearly $5 billion in funding available for community projects to prepare for extreme weather.
  • An Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP), NOAA, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report on expanding and improving climate information and services for the public.
  • A Federal Geographic Data Committee report focusing on opportunities to enhance climate planning.
  • A FEMA initiative will assess National Flood Insurance Program standards to help communities update minimum floodplain management standards—which makes them eligible for federal flood insurance. The standards have not been substantially updated since 1976. But through a Request for Information, FEMA will gather stakeholder input to make communities more resilient while saving lives, homes, and money.
  • A report titled “Opportunities for Expanding and Improving Climate Information and Services for the Public,” charts a course for expanding accessibility and use of the federal government’s climate information to support all communities, including those who have been historically underserved, on climate planning and resilience activities. The report lays out opportunities to: 
    • Focus climate services on the challenges that pose the greatest risks and opportunities
    • Foster interagency coordination and public-private partnerships
    • Enhance the usability of climate services for all Americans
    • Strengthen core science capabilities
  • Another report builds off of the federal government’s existing information, tools, and services, such as the interagency U.S. Climate Resilience ToolkitFEMA’s National Risk Index for Natural Hazards; and the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map.
  • A third report titled “Advancing the Nation’s Geospatial Capabilities to Promote Federal, State, Local, and Tribal Climate Planning and Resilience” addresses Federal Mapping Services for Climate Planning
  • The National Science Foundation will leverage its Societal Experts Action Network (SEAN) to support the work of National Climate Task Force’s Interagency Working Groups on Drought, Flood, Coastal, Extreme Heat, and Wildfire Resilience.

This information is a dream come true for weather wonks, science teachers and flood victims.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/17/2021 based on information provided by the White House, and thanks to FEMA’s Diane Innes Cooper for the heads up.

1510 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TWDB To Vote on Accepting $63.6 million in FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants

In its October 7, 2021, board meeting, Texas Water Development Board members will vote on whether to accept $63.6 million in FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants. The federal funding comes with some strings attached: a $10.23 million local match.

For this round of funding, the TWDB selected 19 sub-applications from local government entities. After screening, FEMA eliminated 6 and identified 13 “for further review.”

Here’s a summary from the TWDB of what they will vote on.

From TWDB Agenda for October 7, 2021

What are Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants?

FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program provides competitive grants to local governments for projects that reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA chooses recipients in part based on cost-effectiveness (benefit/cost ratio).

Often, local governments, such as cities or counties, bundle individual applications as MoCo did to buy out Tammy and Ronnie Gunnel’s home and dozens of others as we saw in yesterday’s post. That home flooded 13 times in 11 years and cost NFIP at least three quarters of a million dollars.

In a sense, most of these grants are designed to cut FEMA’s losses.

Summary of Each Local Application

Attachment B to the agenda gives a rundown on each of the projects under consideration. See below.

Harris County Drainage Project in Bear Creek Village

Bear Creek Village is located on the west side of the Addicks reservoir near Highway 6. This is an $11.3 million project of which the federal government would pay $8.5 million.

The Harris County project would mitigate 1,421 structures. The current storm sewer system is designed for a 3-year event and is inadequate to collect and drain extreme event runoff. The proposed drainage improvements are intended to provide an additional flow path, so that excess storm water is contained within street right-of-way to an outfall. The project will incorporate a combination of channel construction, street regrading, and enhancement of outfalls. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.09.

Harris County Flood Control District Single-Family Home Acquisitions

Total cost = $16.7 million with federal government paying $14.7 million.

Harris County Flood District seeks to mitigate 61 structures: 23 Severe Repetitive Loss structures, 17 Repetitive Loss structures, and 21 at risk of continual future flooding. HCFCD would acquire and demolish structures, then convert the land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.09.

Harris County Flood Control District Commercial Acquisition

This is a $3.7 million buyout with the federal government picking up the whole tab.

Harris County Flood Control District wants to buy out a hotel on the east freeway with a severe repetitive loss history. HCFCD would demolish the property and convert the land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.84. The grant application notes that since 1979, FEMA has paid out $8 million in NFIP claims on this property.

City of Houston Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $1.5 million (all paid by federal government) to elevate 5 severe-repetitive-loss homes ($300,000 each). All would be elevated at least 2 feet above the 500-year floodplain. That would hopefully reduce or eliminate future NFIP claims. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.1.

Jersey Village Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $4.9 million with federal government covering $400,000.

Jersey Village seeks elevate 16 structures: 10 are Severe Repetitive Loss, five Repetitive Loss and one at risk of continual future flooding. Elevation will raise structures one-foot above Base Flood Elevation per the City’s freeboard requirements. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.32.

Montgomery County Single-Family-Home Acquisition and Demolition

Total Cost = $12.6 million with federal share of $12.4 million.

Montgomery County seeks to mitigate 40 flood prone structures (31 Severe Repetitive Loss and 9 Repetitive Loss structures) by acquisition, demolition, and the conversion of land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.36.

Tammy Gunnels’ Home in Porter is an example of a Severe Repetitive Loss Home. It flooded like this 13 times in 11 years and was bought out yesterday as part of another Montgomery County grant. Before the buyout, it cost FEMA more than 3 times its fair market value and would have continued flooding had nothing been done.
Pearland Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $500,000, all covered by federal government.

The City of Pearland seeks to mitigate two Severe Repetitive Loss structures by elevation one-foot above the Base Flood Elevation per the City’s freeboard requirements. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.08.

Taylor Lake Village Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $2.77 million with federal government covering $2.75 million.

Taylor Lake Village wants to elevate eight Severe Repetitive Loss structures and one Repetitive Loss structure one foot above the 100-year flood level. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 3.1.

In each of the projects above, the owners have all voluntarily committed to the elevation or demolition of the structures.

Recommendation of TWDB Staff

The Executive Administrator of the TWDB recommends that his board approve all these grants. This program meets the agency’s objectives of providing financial assistance to communities to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk of flood damage and to become more flood resilient.

Meeting Details

The Board meeting will be held on Thursday, October 7, at 9:30 a.m. via GoToWebinar  If you wish to address the Board, please fill out the visitor registration form and send it to Cheryl.Arredondo@twdb.texas.gov no later than 8:00 a.m. on October 7. For more information, please visit the TWDB’s website.

Posted By Bob Rehak on October 7, 2021

1495 Days since Hurricane Harvey

New Interactive Maps Show Flood Insurance Premium Changes With Risk Rating 2.0

Starting Oct. 1, FEMA’s new Risk Rating 2.0 will fundamentally change the way FEMA rates a property’s flood risk and prices insurance premiums. But to what extent will that affect premium changes in your area?

To help answer that question, the American Society of Flood Plain Managers (ASFPM) and The Pew Charitable Trusts recently unveiled new interactive maps. They show exactly where flood insurance premiums will decrease, increase, or remain the same — and by how much.

Risk Rating 2.0 incorporates more flood risk data to more accurately reflect a property’s individual flood risk. Types of data include:

  • Frequency and types of flooding (river overflow, storm surge, coastal erosion, heavy rainfall)
  • Distance to a water source
  • Property characteristics ( elevation, cost to rebuild).

Visual Tools Make Data More Accessible

ASFPM developed the interactive maps to help local leaders better communicate what’s occurring in their communities, but it’s also easy enough for an average person to grasp. 

“There is a fair amount of information available on Risk Rating 2.0. But getting that data out of spreadsheets is challenging. This new tool should help,” said Chad Berginnis, ASFPM’s executive director.

“Floods are this nation’s most frequent and costly natural disasters. And the trends are worsening. It’s important that people know their risk and buy flood insurance to help protect their homes and businesses. It’s equally important that communities take steps to minimize flood risk,” said Berginnis.

ASFPM used datasets from FEMA’s NFIP policyholder information to create the easy-to-use data visualization tool. The data are broken down across four categories. They range from a decrease in premiums to an increase of $20/month or more. A color-coded scale indicates the percentage of policyholders in each category.

Interactive Maps Show Premium Changes By State, Zip

The first interactive map at no.floods.org/rr2changes breaks down projected premium changes for each state and territory.

There are also two interactive maps by zip code:

The data compares a snapshot of policyholder premiums from May 31, 2020 with Risk Rating 2.0 premiums, applying statutory increase limits.

The comparison does not attempt to estimate premium increases that might have occurred without the new Risk Rating 2.0 pricing methodology.

This data won’t tell you what will happen to your premiums. But it will give you a rough idea of the percentages of people in your zip code who can expect increases within certain pricing brackets. The brackets include:

  • Decreases
  • Increases in the $0 to $10/month range
  • Increases in the $10 to $20/month range
  • Increases in the $20+/month range

Zip Codes in Lake Houston Area

The maps for local zip codes showed that the vast majority of all local policies in the Lake Houston area will increase between $0 and $10 per month.

The vast majority of policies in the upper Lake Houston area will see monthly increases of less than $10. This includes homes and businesses.

Clicking on the other tabs at the bottom of the map will show you the percentage of policies that fall into other ranges.

Very few people in these zip codes will see decreases. Almost everyone else will see increases greater than $10 or $20/month.

Looking only at increases for Single-Family-Home policies, about 90% of policies should see a monthly increase in the $0-10 range.

The maps contain far more detail than shown above. When you click on a zip code, areas surrounding the map and within the black pop-up box, display the data in tabular and graphic formats. Make sure you scroll through the data in the black pop-up box. It breaks the highest and lowest categories down into far more brackets. For instance, the $20+ category actually includes brackets up to $90-$100/per month.

Individual policyholders should contact their insurance agent for a personalized quote.

Use this data for comparison purposes to make sure you’re not overpaying. But remember, variations such as your proximity to water, first floor elevation, and the replacement value of your home could skew results from the average in your zip code.

The largest increases in the Houston area will be in Pasadena’s 77507 zip code. More that 50% of the policy holders there will see a $20+/month increase.

First Pricing Update in 40 Years

This is the program’s first pricing update in more than 40 years. 

“Under Risk Rating 2.0, FEMA is fixing longstanding inequities in the NFIP’s flood insurance pricing and establishing a system that is better equipped for the reality of frequent flooding caused by climate change,” said David Maurstad, senior executive of the National Flood Insurance Program. “Risk Rating 2.0 is not just a minor improvement, but a transformational leap forward that enables FEMA to set rates that are fairer and ensures rate increases and decreases are both equitable.”

According to FEMA, only 4% of policyholders nationwide are expected to see substantive increases. In a national rate analysis of current policyholders, FEMA has said:

  • 23% will see premium decreases
  • 66% will see, on average, premium increases of $0-$10/month (which is around what the average is now)
  • 7% will see, on average, premium increases of $10-$20/month
  • 4% will see, on average, premium increases of $20 or more per month. 

Background on Risk Rating 2.0 

Risk Rating 2.0 will deliver rates that are actuarially sound, equitable, easier to understand, and better reflect an individual property’s unique flood risk.

By communicating flood risk more clearly, the new methodology should help policyholders make more informed decisions on the purchase of adequate insurance and on mitigation actions to protect against flooding. FEMA is implementing the program in two phases:  

  • Phase I – New policies beginning Oct. 1, 2021 are subject to the new pricing methodology. Also beginning October 1, existing policyholders are able to take advantage of immediate decreases in their premiums when the policy renews. 
  • Phase II – Renewals of the remaining existing flood insurance policies will be written to the new plan starting April 1, 2022, allowing policyholders an additional six months to prepare for any adjustments.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/26/21 based on a press release from ASFPM provided by Diane Cooper

1489 Days since Hurricane Harvey

FEMA Awards Nearly $250 Million to HCFCD for Sediment Removal

This morning, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) announced an award of nearly $250 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to remove accumulated sediment from eight watersheds. They include:

  • Willow Creek
  • White Oak Bayou
  • Spring Creek
  • Little Cypress Creek
  • Greens Bayou
  • Cypress Creek
  • Barker Reservoir
  • Addicks Reservoir
Cypress Creek erosion near TC Jester. Photographed on 7/24/2021.

Removing More than 2 Million Cubic Yards Deposited by Harvey

Extreme flooding from Hurricane Harvey deposited the sediment when banks eroded and in some cases collapsed.

“This award allows us to continue the huge task of removing sediment from Flood Control District channels. It is estimated that more than 2.13 million cubic yards of sediment accumulated in multiple watersheds during the storm – enough to fill 213,000 dump trucks,” said Alan Black, Harris County Flood Control District Interim Executive Director. 

$6.25 Million Leverages Almost a Quarter Billion

“It will take several years to complete construction, but this award will allow us to make repairs to the drainage system and to restore the facility back to pre-disaster design, capacity and function. The federal cost share for this project is 90 percent, which allows our local taxpayer dollars to go further. We are extremely thankful to FEMA and TDEM (Texas Division of Emergency Management),” he continued.

The Flood Control District will be responsible for the remaining 10 percent of the project cost.  However, thanks to legislation passed by the Texas State Legislature in 2019, which established the Texas Infrastructure Resiliency Fund – Hurricane Harvey Account, the State of Texas is expected to reimburse up to 75 percent of that local share, bringing the total cost to the Flood Control District down to approximately $6.25 million.  

Construction to Start in Late 2022

According to Black, the cutting edge methods used by the Flood Control District team have rarely, if ever, been used on such a scale and took several years of close collaboration with TDEM and FEMA to receive approval.

As we have seen with other projects since Harvey, this is a complex process involving multiple steps. The money first has to work its way down from Washington. Then HCFCD must get it from TDEM. After that come preliminary engineering, final engineering, permitting, bidding, and approvals.

HCFCD expects first construction to start sometime in late 2022.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/9/2021

1441 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Progress Report on New Flood Maps and Flood-Insurance-Risk Ratings

On June 29, 2021, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) gave Commissioners an update on the progress of new flood maps and flood-insurance-risk ratings. The flood-map changes could become effective as early as late 2023. FEMA’s new Risk Rating 2.0 system for flood-insurance pricing will be phased in during the next few years. See details below.

MAAPnext About Half Complete

MAAPnext is Harris County’s Modeling, Assessment and Awareness Project. The purpose: to develop the next generation of flood maps and tools. It will provide a better assessment of flood risks for individual properties, and make the nature of those risks easier for property owners to understand.

One of the significant changes: the new maps will capture different types of flooding, such as street flooding. This is currently the biggest missing piece of the flood-risk rating picture, according to the MAAPnext project team.

The new maps will also come with individual property reports that estimate flood depth, water-surface elevations, annual-chance of flooding grids, and 30-year chance of flooding grids. That last will estimate your chance of flooding at least once during a 30-year mortgage. The flood map grids will also be more detailed. They will provide estimates down to the 3 ft X 3 ft level.

FEMA and Harris County expect to have:

  • Draft flood-risk maps and associated data available for public review by the end of this year.
  • Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) for release by next summer.
  • Public meetings to review and explain the FIRMs to officials and residents during the second half of next year.

The earliest likely date that the new rate maps could become effective: late 2023.

Changes to flood-insurance premiums as a result of map changes could only happen after the new maps become effective.

Understanding FEMA’s Risk Rating 2.0

Risk Rating 2.0 is a massive FEMA effort to put the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) on a sound actuarial footing.

FEMA is updating the National Flood Insurance Program‘s (NFIP) risk rating methodology through the implementation of a new pricing methodology called Risk Rating 2.0. The methodology leverages industry best practices and cutting-edge technology to enable FEMA to deliver rates that are actuarily sound, equitable, easier to understand and better reflect a property’s flood risk.

More Risk Factors Considered

Elevations, flood-hazard zones, and rating tables will no longer be the only metrics used in calculating the flood-insurance premium for a property. For example, premiums will be distributed across all policyholders based on home values and a property’s unique flood risk. FEMA will also consider flood frequency, multiple flood types—river overflow, storm surge, coastal erosion and heavy rainfall—and distance to a water source along with property characteristics such as elevation and the cost to rebuild.

More Equitable Rates

Currently, many policyholders with lower-value homes are paying more than they should and policyholders with higher-value homes are paying less than they should.

That said, FEMA expects 87% of single-family homes to see a flood-insurance-premium increase of about $120 per year. Another 4% could see an increase of about $121 to $360 per year. Finally, 9% could see a decrease of up to $1,200 per year.

Source: FEMA Fact Sheet – County-Level Premium Change Analysis reproduced in HCFCD document

Phased Implementation

Beginning October 1 this year:

  • New policy holders will be subject to the new rates.
  • Current policy holders eligible for renewal can take advantage of premium decreases.

Starting in April 2022:

  • Existing policy holders who expect an increase with the new method could renew under Risk Rating 2.0, but will have an option to keep their current policies if cheaper for up to two years.
  • All remaining policies renewing on or after April 1, 2022, will be subject to the new rating methodology.  

Contact your flood insurance agent to clarify all timing, rate and discount questions.

How Does MAAPnext Factor into Risk Rating 2.0?

Harris County Flood Control District in partnership with FEMA lead the MAAPnext effort to revise flood insurance rate maps. FEMA alone leads the Risk Rating 2.0 effort to calculate new flood insurance rates. The maps will help calculate new premiums.

For more information, visit the MAAPnext website or the Risk Rating 2.0 section of FEMA’s.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 4, 2021 based on information from HCFCD and FEMA

1405 Days since Hurricane Harvey

May 2021 Gate Project Update for Lake Houston Dam

In its March 10th board meeting, the Coastal Water Authority (CWA) accepted the recommendation of a preliminary engineering report to add one thousand feet of crest gates to the uncontrolled spillway portion the Lake Houston Dam. The additional release capacity would let operators shed water faster before, during or after major storms to reduce the risk of flooding.

At the March meeting, directors also approved $4.4 million to begin Phase II of the project. Phase II calls for Black & Veatch to proceed to final engineering of the gates and a coffer dam to protect the work area during construction.

Read the minutes of the March board meeting here. The discussion of the gates starts on page 4 under Item B.

This morning, at its May board meeting, directors received an update on the progress of Phase II work to date and plans for the remainder of the project.

Start of Phase II Engineering Approved in March

In the March meeting, CWA approved funds to begin Phase 2 of the engineering which includes the final design of the selected alternative by Black & Veatch. The selected alternative was “crest gates” constructed on the uncontrolled spillway portion of the dam on its west side. (See below.)

Looking NE at the Spillway of the Lake Houston Dam is in foreground. One thousand feet (about a third) of this spillway will be replaced with crest gates. Gates will be placed at the end closest to the camera position in the image above.

Dam operators can raise or lower crest gates from a bottom hinge, much like the lid on a piano. When in the up position, gates hold water back. When lowered, they release water.

During Harvey, the peak flow over the spillway was five times the average flow over Niagra Falls. A wall of water 11 feet tall cascaded over the spillway above. Enough to fill NRG stadium in 3.5 minutes.

Scope of Phase II Design Work

Also in March, CWA and Black & Veatch completed negotiation of the scope and fee for the final design. The key deliverables during Phase II will include:

  • Plans to modify the spillway to support the 1,000 linear feet of crest gates (in five 200-foot long sections)
  • Design of the cofferdam system to protect the work areas during construction
  • Preparation of a new gate operations plan for CWA Lake Houston Dam operators.

Director Douglas Walker moved to authorize the Executive Director to issue a contract amendment with Black & Veatch Inc. in the amount of $4,465,727.00 for “Phase 2 – Final Design of the Lake Houston Dam Spillway Improvement Project.” Director Giti Zarinkelk seconded the motion. The Motion carried unanimously.

May Update

In the May board meeting this morning, directors received an update on Phase II work to date and plans.

In April, the design team held a number of workshops and coordination meetings.

Black & Veatch also completed three weeks of field surveying of the existing spillway; that’s why CWA temporarily lowered Lake Houston during that period.

In other news, for next steps CWA will:

  • Submit the permit application to the US Army Corps of Engineers by the end of May.
  • Support City of Houston in a public outreach meeting scheduled for June 17. The public outreach meeting will coincide with the public comment period for the permit application. CWA expects permitting to take nine months, i.e., through March of 2022.
  • Complete final design by the end of September 2022.
Screen capture from portion of CWA Board meeting today shows status of Phase II Design work on the dam.

Next Steps

Does all this mean construction is assured? No. The Army Corps could reject the permit or FEMA could find some fault with the plans. But at least it shows progress. If all plans and permits are approved, construction dollars have already been committed by FEMA. Originally, construction was supposed to have been completed within three years from April 8, 2020. That now looks unlikely unless the City can obtain a deadline extension from FEMA..

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/12/2021

1352 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Is There a Shortfall in Harris County Flood Bond Money? Yes. No. Maybe. It Depends.

The 3/9/2021 meeting of Harris County Commissioners Court started with a presentation by the Harris County Budget Management Director David Berry on the County’s Capital Improvement Plan. Mr. Berry asserted early in the meeting that the County had a shortfall of approximately $900 million to $1.35 billion needed to complete projects in the Flood Bond passed by voters in 2018. Is there really a shortfall? It depends on the exact way you phrase any number of possible questions.

Confusing, Unexplained Map Triggers Almost 2 Hours of Discussion

Near the start of the meeting, Mr. Berry put up a very confusing map (below) that frequently heated the next 100 minutes of discussion to the boiling point. The discussion made every front page in town and many of the TV news shows.

  • The map showed the projected funding shortfalls by watershed as a percentage of the total funding allocated to each in the 2018 flood bond.
  • The stories featured sensational quotes by Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis (We will have blood on our hands if this stands.) and Precinct 2 Commissioner Garcia (I feel like someone hit me across the back with a baseball bat.)

The map implied that construction had started on projects that the County did not have enough money to finish, especially the ones in yellow and red below.

Map from Page 16 of Harris County CIP Budget for Fiscal Year 2021/2022.

Was Flood Control Not Following Equity Guidelines?

To add more context to this discussion, understand that Halls and Greens Bayous rank among the poorest in the county. That they seemed so far behind more affluent watersheds in funding rankled Ellis and Garcia. The two had argued to prioritize flood bond spending by a “social equity” formula that addressed the poorest neighborhoods first. To say that the map above was like waving a red flag in front of two bulls would understate its effect.

So What’s Really Going on Here?

Did prices of flood-bond projects suddenly escalate, causing the shortfall? No.

Did Flood Control underestimate costs? No.

The reason has to do with the delayed arrival of long-awaited federal matching funds.

But Berry did not make that apparent in his setup. Commissioners Garcia and Ellis then peppered Russ Poppe, head of the Flood Control District, with angry, accusatory questions for more than 40 minutes. At one point, they asked 11 questions in a row before they gave Poppe a chance to answer one.

Poppe then explained that Flood Control relies on matching funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for low-income areas. Why? Unlike FEMA which requires a positive benefit/cost ratio, HUD does not. Flood Control is currently waiting for answers on HUD grant applications totaling almost half a billion dollars for mitigation work in the Halls and Greens Bayou watersheds.

Commissioners Court then spent another 40 minutes trying to understand the chances of getting those grants. They also crafted a motion directing the Flood Control District to develop a backup plan in case grant money didn’t arrive by June 30.

Text Of Motion

The motion reads as follows: “To direct the Flood Control District to work with Budget Management in developing a plan by June 30, 2021 to address the funding gap in flood mitigation projects under the 2018 bond while maintaining an equitable approach to the expenditure of funds, including plans to lobby federal, state, and local partners for funding, identification of alternative funding options, a description of projects that are currently stalled due to incomplete funding and how that affects timing of project completion, and a potential timeline for a future potential bond election regarding the funding of current and future flood control projects. If the County is unable to secure funding to complete all proposed projects, the plan should address how the County should prioritize the investment of existing resources to ensure equitable flood protection and comply with the prioritization framework adopted by Harris County.”

The motion eventually passed unanimously at 1 hour and 32 minutes into the meeting.

Answers to Questions About “Underfunding”

Is construction money in Halls or Greens Bayous invested so far at risk?

No. Money spent so far, according to Poppe, has only been for land acquisition and preliminary engineering studies. The County will need both regardless of how it pays for construction. So the County didn’t waste a penny of flood-bond money invested to date. Construction can start later when a path to funding becomes clear.

Did Flood Control try to hide a shortfall?

No.  The partial reliance on partner funding now characterized as a “shortfall” was shown in the Bond Program from Day One. The projected shortfall was never greater than on the day voters approved the flood bond. At that point we had secured no partnership funding for those watersheds or any others. We still haven’t for Halls and Greens.

Have we found partnership funding faster in other watersheds?

Yes. Especially in watersheds where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plays a leadership role in construction or where partners could demonstrate a positive benefit/cost ratio for FEMA. In 2018, Poppe estimated Harris County Flood Control could find $2.3 to $2.4 billion in matching funds based on $872 million allocated for seed money in the Flood Bond. But Berry estimates the budget shortfall at $900 million to $1.35 billion. Subtracting one estimate from the other indicates Flood Control has already found a billion dollars or more in matching funds for other watersheds. That’s great work. And that accounts for the differences in colors on the map.

Can Harris County count on the HUD money?

No. The Texas General Land Office (GLO) is still reviewing Flood Control’s grant applications to HUD. We could get some, all, or none of the requested grants.

When will we know how much HUD money, if any, we get?

Initial indications were that we would get answers by late April or early May. Today, I learned from an independent source who requested anonymity that the answer may not come until October.

If the money doesn’t come from HUD, where will it come from?

It depends. Commissioners floated several ideas in the meeting. They included self-funding with another Flood Bond and shifting money from existing sources within Harris County, such as the Toll Road Authority. They could have mentioned Texas Senate Bill 7 (from 2019), but didn’t. Among other things, SB7 provided partial reimbursement for local matching funds for federal grants. The motion approved by Commissioners Court today requires Flood Control and the Budget office to explore all the possibilities and lay out options for consideration.

Another flood bond? Seriously?

Yes and no. According to former Judge Ed Emmett, the $2.5 billion approved by voters in 2018 was always pitched as a “down payment.” Even with partnership funding potentially doubling the size of that, it still would not be likely to solve all of Harris County’s flood woes. So what’s the real total? During the meeting, the Judge and Commissioners tossed out figures ranging from $10-$40 billion. But no one believes another bond is politically feasible. Especially at this time. First, COVID has siphoned off valuable funds. And some of the commissioners have seen fit to redefine equity in the bond language in a way that benefits their constituents at the expense of all others. Now, they may not be able to deliver for their constituents. And they’ve managed to honk off everyone else. Everyone believes the likelihood of passing another bond is zero at this point.

Why is HUD taking so long?

It depends (on whom you talk to). Reportedly, the GLO and HUD have had concerns about the City of Houston and Harris County administering flood-disaster-relief funds to homeowners (separate from mitigation money for flood control projects). Even though Harris County Flood Control wasn’t involved in that program, HUD decided to have the Texas General Land Office (GLO) administer/oversee a giant pot of mitigation money for the entire state instead of sending a portion of it directly to Harris County. That created an extra step. And Harris County must compete with the rest of the state, a process that has inevitably delayed announcements.

Is it worth waiting for a half billion dollars?

Again, it depends. On whom you ask. If your home is flooding and you can get someone else to foot the bill, hell no. If your home is not flooding and there’s still a chance that HUD could come through, why hurry?

Partnership funding maximizes the amount of projects Flood Control can develop, but it can also delay some projects. This is a glass-half-full debate.

Shouldn’t we be captains of our own fate?

It depends on when you ask. When the flood bond passed in 2018, Flood Control was applauded for aggressively chasing all of the Federal funding it could. Yet during Tuesday’s Court meeting, some commissioners criticized Flood Control for going after any partner funds – a complete 180 from just two and a half years ago. 

Will funding shortfalls discussed above affect additional gates for the Lake Houston Dam?

No. At least not if the City can prove up its initial benefit/cost ratio. FEMA has already provisionally allocated funds for gate construction.

For More Information

See these links to:

The entire 358-page Capital Improvement Plan

Video of the Commissioners Court Meeting. Click on Departments (Part 1 of 4) and start about 7:36 in.

The final Prioritization Framework for the Flood Bond projects according to “social equity” criteria.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/10/2021

1289 Days since Hurricane Harvey