Tag Archive for: FEMA

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

Flood Decision-Support Toolbox Enhanced by State, Federal Team

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) and the federal Interagency Flood Risk Management (InFRM) team (composed of USGS, FEMA, the Army Corps, and National Weather Service) has enhanced their Flood Decision-Support Toolbox. The Toolbox is an interactive online application that provides maps and data that simulates the extent of flooding and shows historical flood extents. It can be used for analyzing potential scenarios, flood risk assessments, damage analysis, and more.

How It Works

Here’s how the Flood Decision-Support Toolbox works:

  1. Go to https://webapps.usgs.gov/infrm/fdst/?region=tx

2. Observe current conditions OR select historical peak floods.

Historical peak floods at US59 and the West Fork. Note the increase in recent years, likely due to upstream development and/or climate.

3. Explore the flood map library by selecting a flood level (river stage)

4. In the “Buildings” Layer, select ALL or INUNDATED BUILDINGS ONLY

5. Note the damage estimates in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

In the case of a simulated Harvey flood, near the gage at US59, 739 buildings would be inundated at an estimated total cost of $84,914,000.
But at 52.5 feet (the beginning of the “major” flood stage), 83 buildings would flood. Estimated total damage: $1,494,000.

The magic of this toolbox is that you can see exactly which buildings will flood at any given level.

What is your appetite for risk?

Potential Uses

The Flood Decision Support Toolbox also provides real-time data from USGS streamgages connected with flood inundation models to interactively display a range of flood conditions at streamgage locations. The result is a dynamic tool for flood risk assessment that enables planners, emergency responders, and the public to visually understand a flood’s extent and depth over the land surface.

TWDB worked closely with USGS to incorporate building footprints on Texas maps. The Toolbox can now display potential damage to structures within the range of the USGS gages. This will give users the ability to estimate the economic impacts of different flood events on their communities and property. The TWDB has also provided building footprints outside of the current gage ranges in preparation for future mapping updates.

That can help guide:

  • Rescue efforts
  • Evacuations and evacuation routes
  • Mitigation decisions
  • Property purchases and investment decisions
  • Risk estimates
  • New construction and development
  • Permitting decisions

The site displays flood scenarios that range from minor to major flood events. New updates let users save and share inundation maps with different data layers through a unique URL.

Collaborative Effort

“This collaborative effort,” said Jeff Walker, Executive Administrator of the TWDB. “provides Texas-specific data that will help communities understand their local flood risks and make cost-effective mitigation decisions.”

The InFRM team was formed in 2014 and launched the Flood Decision Support Toolbox in 2019.

The TWDB is the state agency charged with collecting and disseminating water-related data, assisting with regional water and flood planning, and preparing the state water and flood plans.

Posted by Bob Rehak based on information provided by TWDB

1235 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Flood Notes: Highlights of Current Happenings

Welcome to Flood Notes. So much has been happening lately on the flood front, it’s hard to keep up with it all. So this post will be a digest of things that affect flooding on the local, state and national fronts.

TCEQ Sand Mine Rule Making

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held a stakeholder meeting yesterday about sand mines in the San Jacinto River watershed. TCEQ intends to post video of the meeting as well as stakeholder presentations here, but they have not yet done so. In the meantime, those who wish to see a summary of the meeting can find one here. And those who wish to make public comments can do so by emailing Outreach@tceq.texas.gov.

Humble ISD North Transportation Center Construction Update

We have had ideal construction weather in the last month and contractors at HISD’s north transportation center on Ford Road in Porter had made a lot of progress. They have completed the detention pond. More than half the remaining site is covered with concrete parking lots. And it looks as if the foundation for a building has also been poured. Humble ISD anticipates shorter routes for half the district will save taxpayers $2 million per year. The District hopes to open the Center in 2021.

Humble ISD North Transportation Center 11.7 acre site. Photo taken 11/07/2020.

Colony Ridge

This massive development in Liberty County has turned into the world’s largest trailer park. The developer of Colony Ridge keeps expanding at a record clip. Perhaps he’s anticipating a sales boom when the Grand Parkway creates better access. At the moment, he appears to be cutting and burning another 3000 acres. Nearby Plum Grove residents have complained about the smoke.

Colony Ridge expansion. Photo taken 11/1/2020.
Colony Ridge expansion. Photo taken 11/1/2020.
Colony Ridge expansion. Photo taken 11/1/2020 after a long period without rain. Notice the wet areas covered up with fill. Wetlands once criss-crossed this area.

Chlorine Creek

Plum Grove residents who live next to Colony Ridge also report the strong smell of sewage and chlorine coming from a new sewage treatment facility along Maple Branch a quarter to a half mile away. TCEQ fined the company that provides these services not long ago for the illegal discharge of 48,000 gallons of raw sewage into the same creek from a lift station.

Sewage treatment plant creating strong odors for Plum Grove residents as well as those in Colony Ridge itself.
Wastewater from this plant is apparently discharged into Maple Branch just inside the tree line at the top of the frame.
The discharged water has a heavy chlorine smell to it. All life in the creek seems to have died according to residents. That includes, fish, tadpoles, minnows, etc.

Michael Shrader, a Plum Grove resident who lives adjacent to Maple Branch, has affectionately renamed it Chlorine Creek.

HUD Approves New GLO Plans for Disaster Funding

On 11/4, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved two state action plans detailing the distribution and eligible uses of more than $285 million. The Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds will assist in long-term recovery efforts following severe flooding in 2018 and 2019 in South and Southeast Texas. To view the action plans, please visit recovery.texas.gov/action-plans. To expedite the recovery process, the GLO will directly administer and oversee the funds.

TWDB Accepting FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant Requests

This one affects government officials in Cities, Counties, Special Districts, etc.. FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) grant program provides federal funding to help communities pay for cost-effective ways to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk of flood damage to flood prone structures that are insured under the National Flood Insurance Program. FMA program funds can be used for planning and projects. The deadline to apply to the Texas Water Development Board is December 1, 2020. For more information, please visit www.twdb.texas.gov/flood/grant/fma.asp

FEMA Program Helps Enforce Building Codes, Floodplain Management

FEMA announced the release of a policy to provide communities with resources to enforce building codes and floodplain management following a major disaster declaration. The “Building Code and Floodplain Management Administration and Enforcement” policy can provide funding for the first 180 days following a major declaration for:

  • Costs associated with extra hires or contracted support
  • Reviewing and processing building permits and occupancy and compliance certificates
  • Conducting building inspections and initial substantial damage field surveys
  • Reviewing disaster-related development in the floodplain
  • Providing educational services to the public on floodplain requirements.

The policy is a result of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, Section 1206. This policy applies to all major disaster declarations declared on or after August 1, 2017.

Climatologist Explains La Niña’s Impact on Texas

This interesting article in the TWDBs Texas Water Newsroom explains how La Niña can bring both droughts and hurricanes to Texas. It’s a fascinating, well written article.

Texas Coastal Study

Remember to sign up for one of the Army Corps presentations on the Texas Coastal Study virtual public meetings. Even if you live inland, the region’s economy depends on protecting the infrastructure ringing Galveston Bay.

Goodbye to Eta

CBS aired a chilling story tonight about the floods brought by Hurricane Eta. The storm dumped up to 7 inches of rain on the Carolinas. It washed out roads and bridges. In fact, a reporter was standing on one bridge when pieces of it started to fall into the raging floodwater. Very dramatic footage if you missed it.

Eta nearly tied Gordon for the longest hurricane on record. Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist, says that had the storm lasted until tomorrow, it would have taken the longevity record.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/12/2020

1171 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.

Above-Water Portion of Mouth Bar Could Be Gone by Christmas

At the current rate that crews are removing sand from the West Fork San Jacinto Mouth Bar, the remainder of the above-water portion of this once-behemoth sand bar could be gone by Christmas. See the two pictures below. The first taken after Harvey and the second taken today.

These two shots show the West Fork mouth bar two weeks after Harvey and todaymore than three years later.

Much Yet to Dredge

Of course, even when the above water portion of the Mouth Bar is removed, that will still leave a huge portion below the surface. However, all progress is welcome.

Like an iceberg, most of a sand bar exists below the waterline. Photo taken 10/26/2020. I can’t say with certainty that this is submerged sand, or water stirred up by dredging. It seems too uniform to be the latter. Compare the picture below looking toward the WLHP bridge from a slightly different position and note how irregular the stirred-up sediment looks. Also note that the picture above was taken upstream from the current dredging.

At the start of October, the above-water (sub-aerial) extent of the mouth bar was down to the width of one excavator. Two excavators are now working toward the middle from each end. See below.

Looking WNW toward the West Lake Houston Parkway Bridge and Kings Harbor. Taken 10/26/2020.
From the wet mark on this excavator’s arm, it looks as though they are excavating up to 10 feet below the waterline. The 10-foot estimate closely agrees with the profile chart below. Taken 10/26/2020.

Like an Iceberg, Most of a Sand Bar Exists Below Water

That’s significant progress given what we started with. But much sand remains below the surface.

Tim Garfield and RD Kissling, two leading geologists now retired from one of the world’s largest oil companies, mapped the depth of the river using sonar and depth poles. They found an underwater plateau exists in this region of the river. See chart below.

The blue line represents the water surface. The gold line indicates the deepest part of the channel as you move downstream from the WLHP bridge to the FM1960 bridge. Numbers on the left scale indicate water depth. Numbers on the bottom scale indicate distance in feet downstream from the WLHP bridge.

Plans for Next Phase Still Not Revealed

FEMA has approved dredging another million cubic yards. And Dan Huberty’s amendment to SB500 in the last legislature dedicated $30 million for dredging the West Fork Mouth Bar. The City is drawing up plans, but they have not been announced yet. The last time I talked to Stephen Costello about this, he said the City was leaning toward dredging a channel somewhere south of the mouth bar. But many details remained to be worked out, such as:

  • Method of dredging (hydraulic vs. mechanical)
  • Exact location
  • Channel width
  • Finding qualified contractors
  • Bidding
  • Determining a suitable placement area, etc.

More news when its available.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/26/2020

1154 Days after 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.

October 2020 Gate Update

On Friday, October 16, 2020, stakeholders in the Lake Houston Spillway Improvement Project met at the dam to review gate alternatives and progress on the project. The main item of interest: a review of options still under consideration to increase the outflow during major storms, such as Harvey.

History of Project

Shortly after Harvey, representatives from the Lake Houston Area identified “increasing outflow” as one of the main strategies to reduce flooding. Harris County Flood Control District even conducted a pilot study. Flood Control included $20 million for the project in the 2018 bond fund (CI-028). With matching funds identified, grants were then written.

FEMA approved the project. And in April of this year, the clock started ticking on the first of two phases.

Phase One Includes…

Phase One includes preliminary engineering and environmental permitting. It should take 18 months and is on schedule at this point. A key deliverable for phase one is verification of the benefit/cost ratio. But, of course, to determine that, you need to know the cost.

Alternatives Still Under Consideration

FEMA allotted 18 months for Phase 1. We’re six months into that. Work to date has focused on determining the optimal alternative. Five remain:

  1. Expanding the existing spillway by adding new tainter gates
  2. Adding a new gated spillway within the east embankment
  3. Creating a new uncontrolled spillway within the east embankment
  4. Building crest gates within the east embankment
  5. Developing crest gates within the existing spillway

Tainter gates lift up from a radial arm. The tainter gates on Lake Conroe have 15X more release capacity than the lift gates on Lake Houston.

Crest gates flop down from a bottom hinge.

Above: the current conditions at the Lake Houston Dam. Looking slightly upstream. East is on the right.

The east embankment is a solid earthen area 2800 feet long east of the spillway and existing gates. Water cannot get over it in a storm. By adding various structures in this area, engineers could widen the current spillway capacity, allowing release of more stormwater.

One main benefit: additional gates would reduce uncertainty associated with pre-releases. Operators could wait longer until they were certain an approaching storm would not veer away at the last minute. That would avoid wasting water.

Reverse angle. Note the difference in height between the east embankment (left) and the spillway (right). Looking downstream toward Galveston Bay.
Looking west toward Beltway 8. This shows the major segments of the dam.

Benefit/Cost Ratio Must Be > 1.0

The lake-level reduction benefits of these gate alternatives during major floods range up to roughly 8x. The costs also vary by roughly 4x. Those are order-of-magnitude, back-of-the-envelope estimates and far from final. Much hard work remains to develop tighter costs and tighter estimates of flood-level reductions. The latter will determine flood-prevention savings in a storm. And the benefits divided by the costs will determine the benefit/cost ratio.

In FEMA’s eyes, the benefit/cost ratio must exceed 1.0 to justify the project. Said another way, it must produce more benefits than it costs.

FEMA allotted 18 months for phase 1. We’re six months into that phase with a year left. Project partners expect results of the alternatives analysis before the end of the year.

Benefit/Cost Calculation

Given the ballpark costs of some of these gate alternatives, we will need very tight estimates of the benefits.

Potential Benefits include:
  • Upstream flood risk reduction
  • Reduced maintenance (debris management) for CWA
  • Improved Water Quality (post storm)
Potential Impacts include:
  • Increased scour and erosion potential to wetlands downstream
  • Increased water surface elevations to structures downstream
Calculating Benefits

Benefit Cost Ratio = (Net Present Value of Benefits)/(Project Costs)

Project Costs = (Capital costs) + (Net Present Value of Operations and Maintenance Costs)

Major Tasks Remaining in Phase 1

Barring surprises, the preliminary engineering report is due in February 2021 and environmental permitting should be complete by the Fall of 2021. Other tasks that must be completed by then include:

  • Hydrologic modeling of flows into and out of Lake Houston using the latest Atlas 14 data
  • Hydraulic modeling of Lake Houston, its Dam, and the San Jacinto River downstream of the dam to Galveston Bay
  • Calibration of models to historic storms
  • Examination of upstream benefits to residents/businesses removed from flood impacts
  • Examination of downstream impacts associated with additional flow release scenarios

It’s important to understand that not everyone who flooded in the Lake Houston Area did so because of the lake level. Some on the periphery of the flood flooded because water backed up in streams leading to the lake. If you got two feet of water in your living room, it doesn’t automatically mean a lake level reduction of two feet would eliminate your flooding by itself.

Congressman Dan Crenshaw (left) reviews the project with team members at the Lake Houston Dam and listens to their needs.

Phase 2 Still Not Certain

Assuming all goes well in the planning, accounting, and conceptual validation, FEMA will make a go/no go decision on construction at the end of next year or the beginning of the following year. Construction should take another 18 months.


Funding for this project comes from FEMA, Texas Division of Emergency Management, City of Houston and Harris County Flood Control. Other stakeholders include the Coastal Water Authority, Harris County, Fort Bend County, Baytown, Deer Park, and other communities adjacent to Lake Houston.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/17/2020

1145 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 394 since Imelda

West Fork Mouth Bar Now Down to Width of One Excavator For Most of Its Length

Aerial photos of the West Fork Mouth Bar show that the above-water portion on this once-massive sand bar is now down to the width of one excavator for most of its length. A mouth bar is a sand bar where the mouth of a river or stream meets a standing body of water, such as Lake Houston. As water slows when it reaches the standing water, sediment carried downstream drops out of suspension.

The Before Shot

The first photo below shows the West Fork Mouth Bar immediately after Harvey and before any remediation work took place.

Looking south toward Lake Houston and the FM1960 Bridge from Kingwood. Photo of West Fork Mouth Bar taken on 9/15/2017, about two weeks after Harvey.

At that point in time, the mouth bar extended five feet above water in places. It was 3/4 of a mile wide and a half mile from the northernmost part to the small island in the channel south of the bar. But the part you can’t see, below water, is even bigger.

This massive blockage backed water up throughout the Humble/Kingwood/Atascocita area, and contributed to the flooding of thousands of homes and businesses.


I took the shot below on Sunday night, 10/4/2020. While the camera position and lens perspective are slightly different, they are close enough to show the progress made in removing the blockage, or at least the portion above water.

Photo of West Fork Mouth Bar taken on 10/4/2020. The white dots appear to be ducks.

Close comparison of these two photos shows several smaller islands beyond the mouth bar that the Army Corps removed a year ago. At the completion of the Emergency West Fork Dredging Program (2018/19), FEMA agreed to dredge 500,000 cubic yards (CY) of sediment in a 600-acre area between the mouth bar and Atascocita Point in the upper right of the photos. After dredging the 500,000 CY, the Corps increased the average depth of that area to 5.5 feet. However, within weeks, Imelda filled much of that back in.

This year, the City of Houston started excavating the above-water portion of the mouth bar. The bar is now down to width of the excavators used for mechanical dredging. To fund this effort, the City used money left over from Hurricane Harvey cleanup.

This low-level shot facing west shows just how narrow the mouth bar now is.

Biggest Part Remains Below Water

But like icebergs, most of the sediment in sand bars lies below the surface. So even when there’s nothing left for me to photograph from the air, most of the blockage will remain. Two local geologists recently measured several cross sections of the river. The river’s profile looks like this.

Compiled by RD Kissling and Tim Garfield using sonic depth finders and measurement poles.

River depth upstream near Kings Harbor and downstream near the 1960 Bridge is more than 22 feet. Between those two points (which lie about three miles apart), the deepest part of the channel is only about 6-7 feet. Not far from the main channel, however, the river gets much shallower. It’s one to three feet in most places.

In other words, at this point in the West Fork, we still have an underwater plateau – extending three miles – that continues to restrict the conveyance of the river.

The continued presence of this plateau will slow water down and trap more sediment, undermining the effectiveness of earlier efforts.

RD Kissling’s knee. Kissling, a kayaker is standing in 1-2 feet of water about three hundred yards south of the mouth bar. The homes in the background are in Atascocita Point across the river. Photo is looking west.

More Dredging Slated

Restoring the conveyance of the river after decades of deferred maintenance will require much more dredging after the above-water mouth bar is gone.

Luckily, FEMA has agreed to dredge another million cubic yards, according to Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin. State Representative Dan Huberty also secured an additional $30 million in funding in the last legislature to continue the effort.

Stephen Costello, the City’s Flood Czar, is currently working on developing a next-phase plan, but has not yet announced it.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/5/2020

1133 Days since Hurricane Harvey