Tag Archive for: FEMA

San Jacinto River Master Drainage Plan Draft Provides First Look at Final Report Due Out in August

On 7/23/2020, consultants for the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Plan gave the SJRA Board and the public a first look at a draft of the plan. The final report is due out at the end of August. The draft shows the broad outline of the team’s efforts.

Draft Shows Broad Outline of Recommendations

It shows the types of recommendations they will make. However, this draft does not yet include specific recommendations as to prioritization of projects. Those will change before the final report. For instance, much of the draft focuses on upstream detention. But specific detention site recommendations have not yet been finalized.

Funding and Partners

Below are the key slides and a brief explanation of the main point behind each. This drainage study is 75% funded by a FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant and 25% by four local partners: the SJRA, City of Houston, Harris County Flood Control, and Montgomery County.

Scope of Study

The study area covers almost 3,000 square miles and the tributaries listed on the left.
The SJRA primarily has responsibility for the portion of the watershed in Montgomery County. However, the scope of the drainage study extends to other counties including Waller, Grimes, Walker, Liberty, and San Jacinto.

Heat Map Shows Where Most Damage Occurs

The team started by looking at where flooding has occurred historically. The tan areas above show where the most damage has occurred.

Goals and Methodology

The partners started by looking at vulnerabilities and identifying mitigation possibilities. Their main goals are in red. The final report will make specific recommendations for detention, buy-outs and improving conveyance. Recommendations will also improve flood warning and communication.
The team started by integrating and updating all existing hydraulic and hydrologic models in the watershed as reflected on the latest 2018 lidar terrain data. They now take into account new construction, growth, additions to impervious cover, and Atlas-14 rainfall probabilities (which vary by sub-watershed within the larger watershed).
To calibrate and verify its H&H models, the drainage study team examined four historical storms that, together, impacted the entire study area. They then adjusted the models using radar rainfall data, and USGS high water marks and peak flow data. The objective: to make the models reflect “ground truth.”
The team is also looking at strategies to reduce sedimentation. However, this is not a major focus of this study. Their purpose is not to evaluate the relationship between sediment and flooding. Other studies will do that.

Three Main Areas of Focus

This slide shows the three major thrusts of drainage study effort over the last 1.5 years. The primary focus has been on: a) identifying the best locations for upstream detention that can reduce the volume of water coming downstream to populated areas during floods, b) where to install additional gages to improve flood predictions and warning times, and c) improving communication during emergencies.
This shows the steps the drainage team went through to evaluate and rank-order potential sites for detention.

Areas of Highest Potential for Mitigation

Here’s where they found the highest and lowest potential for mitigation. The box explains the watersheds that see the most effective solutions within the SJMDP study area, as explained in the list to the left of the slide.
Some drainage projects recommended in previous plans are no longer possible today because of upstream development. However, areas that once held potential for a single large project still hold potential for several smaller projects that add up to significant flood reduction.

Mitigation Project Funding

The cost all the drainage projects identified adds up to about $3 billion. They only reduce flooding of structures worth about $756 million dollars. Because costs exceed benefits, FEMA will not likely fund all of these.
However, many of the projects are in areas with low to moderate income (brown and tan areas). See the large concentration in the eastern watershed. That opens up other sources of funding, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development where the benefit/cost ratio may not be as important.

Harmonizing Regulations Throughout Region

The team will also make recommendations to harmonize floodplain development regs throughout the region. Continuing to allow unmitigated upstream development in floodplains could destroy any new investment made to protect highly populated downstream areas.

Some Problems May Only Be Solved Through Buyouts

Buyouts usually have a high benefit-to-cost ratio relative to construction projects such as detention ponds. Buyout strategies can target the most vulnerable properties, such as those in the 2- and 5-year floodplains. None of the detention projects recommended by the team will likely remove those from danger.

Steps Still Not Completed

The team has finished the steps in red. They in the process of prioritizing projects and developing a phasing plan. The last bullet point is not part of this study.

More Upstream Gages Needed to Eliminate Blind Spots

The team has also identified locations for additional upstream gages and local partners who can help maintain those gages. Think of these like a “distant early warning” system. They give river forecasters visibility into “blind spots.” Forecasters will be able to add up the rainfall on various tributaries and predict the impact and timing of flooding downstream. That could give people more time to evacuate.

Ways to Improve Communication

The team is also looking at ways to communicate better during flood emergencies. They are looking at inundation mapping, evacuation routes, and improved communication protocols.

Timetable for Remainder of Project

This chart outlines the project workflow. It shows completed steps in red, and incomplete steps in yellow.
The final report with specific recommendations should be released at the end of August or in early September.

Every Little Bit Helps

I can’t wait to see this report in its final form. During the presentation, the presenter talked about reducing flooding downstream at the West Fork and I-45 by up to six feet if all upstream projects are implemented.

One thing to keep in mind: there is no single silver bullet that can solve the regions flood problems. All of these steps are additive. In my personal opinion, a foot here and a foot there can help offset future releases from Lake Conroe. People in the Lake Houston Area benefit from any and all upstream improvements.

Posted by Bob Rehak with thanks to SJRA and HCFCD

1064 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 313 since Imelda

Harris County Changing How It Will Choose Which Flood Projects to Support; Welcome to the “Equity Bias”

Imagine you pull up to a stoplight and two needy people approach you for a handout. You want to help, but have only $1 in your pocket.

Do you give the dollar to the person who has not eaten for the longest time? Or to the person from the zip code with the highest percentage of minorities and lowest average household income?

As you may have guessed, the people at the stoplight are a metaphor for flood victims.

More Needs than Dollars

Harris County doesn’t have enough dollars to build every flood mitigation project that everyone needs. Flood mitigation requires tough choices.

So the County is setting up a supposedly unbiased task force to decide whom to help. But its composition will be biased toward people who believe flood bond money should favor low income, minority neighborhoods, i.e., the constituents of the three politicians pushing the task force (Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia).

Stacking the Jury

Look at the proposed overview and bylaws for the Community Resilience Task Force. You will see that they embed the concepts of equity, social justice, and social vulnerability into every recommendation the task force will make. For flood mitigation. Housing. Health. Construction. Urban planning. And more. For the next 30 years!

Proposed bylaws for the task force explicitly state that the members MUST demonstrate:

  • An interest in “equitable” flood mitigation.
  • Interest in socioeconomic and demographic factors that affect resilience.

So they are baking “equitable” into the job descriptions.

Difference Between Equitable and Equal

“Equitable” treatment sounds like “equal” treatment. But it’s not.

Treating people equally means treating them identically. Treating people equitably means treating them differently, but fairly.

For instance, handicapped people get to park closer to the door. That’s fair…based on need.

But what happens when you start making flood mitigation decisions on the basis of race, income, and social vulnerability? Is that fair to more affluent communities destroyed by flooding?

Flood Spending Based on Race and Income?

Ms. Hidalgo, Mr. Ellis, and Mr. Garcia define “equitable” so preference goes to the “socially vulnerable.” Their argument goes like so.

Because poor people have a harder time recovering from floods, they should get more protection from flooding. They can’t afford to flood (…as if anyone can).

Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia all advocate the use of a CDC social-vulnerability index and LMI (low-to-moderate-income) data to prioritize flood projects.

They argue in meeting after meeting that FEMA bases grant decisions on a benefit/cost ratio (BCR) that favors neighborhoods with more expensive homes. That’s true, but…

Socially Vulnerable Neighborhoods Already Receive Preferential Treatment

They never mention that Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grants for mitigation (CDBG-MIT) and disaster recovery (CDBG-DR) already favor poorer (LMI) neighborhoods.

Nor do they mention that the County has already received a BILLION dollars in CDBG-DR funds. Or that the Texas General Land Office is sitting on top of approximately $4.2 billion in CDBG-MIT funds that it’s trying to distribute. The vast majority of those funds must go toward LMI/socially vulnerable neighborhoods. (The exact percentages vary by storm and type of grant. But they often range up to 70%.)

Problems With Basing Flood-Mitigation Decisions on LMI Data

There are two more problems with basing flood-mitigation decisions on racial and LMI data.

  • First, it ignores need. Shouldn’t projects that help the largest numbers of people or the worst flooding be mitigated first?
  • Second, LMI data only comes by zip code. Zip codes can mask huge disparities in wealth. So even if you feel poor people deserve more flood protection than the middle class, it’s hard to ensure that result with zip code data. Elm Grove, for instance, is an LMI neighborhood embedded within an affluent zip code.

Mr. Ellis argued that his Precinct One constituents, who are 76% African-American and Hispanic, would not get their projects because money they deserved more was being spent in affluent Kingwood.

He did not mention Army Corps of Engineers grants to HCFCD for work on four bayous in his precinct. Nor did he mention that in the entire history of Harris County Flood Control (which dates back to 1937), not one federal dollar has ever been funneled through HCFCD by the Corps for work in the Lake Houston Area.

4 Out of 5 Flood Bond Projects in SVI Neighborhoods

How much have Ellis, Hidalgo and Garcia skewed flood bond spending to date?

During the Commissioners Court meeting on June 30, 2020, Harris County Flood Control was asked to prepare a report to document the status of flood bond risk reduction projects in socially vulnerable neighborhoods. See Item 2E on Tuesday’s Commissioners Court Agenda. It shows a startling fact.

Out of the 145 active bond projects, 79% are located in high or moderately high SVI areas.

Letter from HCFCD to Commissioners Court

The distribution looks like this.

79% of Flood Bond Projects are located in the most socially vulnerable neighborhoods; only 21% in the least socially vulnerable neighborhoods. Source: Memo to Commissioners Court from HCFCD.

If you live in a “socially vulnerable” neighborhood, you’re 4X more likely to have a flood bond project near you.

And those are just the projects based on Flood Bond money. The Flood Control District is also pursuing additional CDBG grants and Army Corps funding to help fund even more projects in socially vulnerable areas. Those projects are not reflected in these percentages.

Rushing Through Public Comment Period

One measure of how much Ellis, Hidalgo and Garcia want to institutionalize their own definitions of equity is that they’re giving only six more days for public comment with little public warning.

You can bet that the commissioners court meeting on the 28th will be packed with surrogate speakers for Ellis, Hidalgo and Garcia who favor the “equity bias.” They’ve shown up in Commissioners Court for months.

Why wouldn’t they? It’s worked. They now have 4 out of every 5 flood bond projects going into their neighborhoods and they could get even more if this task force goes through in its current form.

Meanwhile, the San Jacinto watershed, says the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium, received 0% of the mitigation budget prior to Harvey, yet had 14% of the region’s damages during Harvey. 

How Do We Decide What’s Fair?

So, should projects go to neighborhoods that:

  • Had the fewest flood mitigation projects?
  • Flooded the worst?
  • Help the greatest number of people for the dollars invested?
  • Are the poorest?

Or should the money be split equally or on some other basis?

Personally, I think decisions like these should be left in the hands of engineers, not partisan politicians.

Register Your Opinion

The County Judge’s office is inviting the public to share their thoughts and ideas on the proposed draft bylaws of the Task Force. You can register your opinion from now until July 30th, 2020, via one of the following methods:

  • Email CRTF@cjo.hctx.net and submit comments digitally, beginning July 21
  • Join a virtual focus group via Zoom. After registering, participants will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
  • Offer input during the July 28th Commissioner’s Court

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 24, 2020

1060 Days since Hurricane Harvey

For more information on the “equity bias,” see this series on “Where Flood Mitigation Dollars Have Really Gone”

Or this series on “The Equity Flap”

One Year Ago Tonight, Flooded Townhomes Burned for Third Time Since Harvey

On July 4, 2019, 10 pieces of fire equipment responded to a fire at the Forest Cove Townhomes on Timberline Drive. It was the second fire that week and the third that year. Unfortunately, the townhomes that burned that night still stand.

Remnants of fire one year ago still stand today.

The once-beautiful townhomes, in the floodway of the West Fork, were designed to have first floors that flooded. But Harvey’s raging floodwaters reached well into the second floors. 240,000 cubic feet per second raging down the West Fork didn’t leave much. After Harvey, structural instability made these townhomes unsafe and uninhabitable.

Townhomes on Aqua Vista in Forest Cove that were demolished by Harvey and then HCFCD.

Then came the squatters, looters, illegal dumpers and graffiti artists. FEMA made these townhomes the centerpiece of a 2018 video. Little has changed since then, a stain on the Agency’s reputation.

Almost three years after Harvey, little has changed except for the accumulation of discarded mattresses and couches that grows larger every week.

Buyout of Townhomes Slow and Cumbersome

Today, Harris County Flood Control (HCFCD) has bought out and torn down several of the buildings within this complex. But the process is slow and cumbersome. HCFCD can tear nothing down until all units in a building have been bought.

Without pointing a finger at anyone, the entire process, which stretches from Marina Drive to Pennsylvania Avenue is a logistical nightmare. Such eyesores lower property values and drag down communities.

In some communities, burned homes can be condemned and torn down within 30 days. But the eyesore below has stood for a full year. It has attracted illegal dumping and and anti-social graffiti.

After viewing the image above, HCFCD said it would accelerate these buyouts. Resolution can’t come too soon for my taste. They serve only one purpose at this point – as a stark reminder not to build near a river.

Posted by Bob Rehak on July 4, 2020

1040 Days after Hurricane Harvey

New FloodFactor.com Estimates Some Flood Risks that FEMA Doesn’t

An article in the New York Times yesterday discussed a new flood-risk website called FloodFactor.com. The article’s headline trumpeted “New Data Reveals Hidden Flood Risk Across America.” The new website was developed by First Street Foundation, which defines itself and its mission as, “a non-profit research and technology group defining America’s Flood Risk.” Past. Present. AND FUTURE. That’s your first clue as to what this new site offers that FEMA doesn’t.

According to the Times, FloodFactor estimates that 14.6 million properties are at risk from what experts call a 100-year flood, far more than the 8.7 million properties shown on federal government flood maps. 

FloodFactor takes into account things like sea-level rise, increased rainfall, and flooding along smaller creeks not mapped federally.

New York Times

Purpose of This Post

This article will examine the advantages and limitations of both of the FEMA and FloodFactor sites. Together they can give property owners a fuller understanding of their flood risk. Individually, each can mislead.

Pros and Cons of FEMA Maps

Until now, the gold standard for mapping flood risk has always been FEMA. But the process of adopting FEMA flood maps is highly politicized.

That’s both good and bad. Good that information is debated. Bad that sometimes pushback from landowners and local governments distorts true flood risk. No one wants to be reclassified INTO a flood zone that would require paying more for flood insurance. And no one wants his or her property to become undevelopable or unsaleable after a map revision.

Another flaw in the FEMA system: many areas remain unmapped. That allows developers to say they are not in a flood zone when, in fact, they are. We saw that loophole exploited by LJA Engineering with Perry Home’s Woodridge Village. They showed the Taylor Gully floodplain magically stopping at Harris county line. The area on the other side of that county line had not been mapped, therefore they claimed, it wasn’t in a floodplain. That enabled the developer to follow more lenient development guidelines.

FEMA maps also do not estimate future flood risk due to factors such as climate change.

Sometimes it even feels as though FEMA’s trying to catch up with the past.

FEMA maps in Montgomery County are currently based on flood data developed during the 1980s. However, the county has been one of the fastest growing in the country. New unmapped upstream development has significantly altered downstream flood risk, as we saw in Elm Grove twice last year.

Finally, FEMA maps, at present, don’t define risk for individual properties (although FEMA hopes to introduce that capability next year). “This leaves millions of households and property owners unaware of their true risk. There has long been an urgent need for accurate, property-level, publicly available flood risk information in the United States,” says FloodFactor.com.

Pros and Cons of FloodFactor.com

FloodFactor.com addresses many of FEMA’s shortcomings. That’s a huge benefit.

During Harvey, HCFCD says that of the 154,170 homes flooded, 70,370 were outside of the 1% (100-yr) and .2% (500-yr) floodplains. 105,340 or 68% were outside the 1% (100-yr) floodplain. 64% of the homes flooded did not have a flood insurance policy in effect.

Perhaps with a better understanding of true flood risk, many more home and business owners would have purchased flood insurance and avoided financial pain.

Among the many things that FloodFactor looks at, their maps factor in:

  • Claims include insurance and disaster relief claims on National Flood Insurance Program policies
  • FEMA Individual Assistance flood claims for those who do not have NFIP policies
  • Disaster assistance provided by the Small Business Administration. 

However, during Harvey, of the 154,170 homes across Harris County that flooded, 68% did not have flood insurance. Many of those sought government assistance. But many also did not. Most government assistance is biased against upper income households.

Regardless, FloodFactor.com claims that it:

  • Shows flood risk to individual properties
  • Calculates street flooding risk due to heavy rainfall
  • Incorporates areas unmapped by FEMA
  • Compensates for adaptations such as levees and berms that protect people from flooding
  • Projects future changes such as precipitation increases, stronger storms, and sea level rise
  • Predicts risk 30 years into the future, theoretically at least, enabling users to gage the probability of flooding during a 30-year mortgage
  • Intends to update its models annually
  • Shows risk to individual properties on a sliding scale of 1-10, instead of a yes/no, “I’m in/out of the 100-year floodplain” as FEMA does.
  • Shows users an estimate of risk in increments (500-year, 100-year, 20-year and 5-year floods or 0.2%, 1%, 5% and 20% annual risk).
  • Explains what parts of a building are affected by floods of varying depths
  • Presents flood mitigation solutions individuals can implement
  • Provides area-wide “risk overviews” and predicts how they will change in the future

FloodFactor.com Looks at Texas and Houston

FloodFactor posted a national outlook with state-by-state discussions. The discussion on Texas says, “The First Street Foundation Flood Model calculates the number of properties facing any risk of flooding in Texas as 2,116,800 over the next 30 years. Of these properties, 218,700 were categorized as facing almost certain risk, with a 99% chance of flooding at least once over the next 30 years.”

They continued, “The city of Houston has the greatest number of properties at risk of flooding in the state with 186,500 currently at risk, or 32% of its total number of properties.” 

First Street Foundation

Interestingly, when FloodFactor.com modeled Texas flood risk, they used four historical storms that did NOT include Harvey. They did not explain why.

Shortcomings of Both FEMA and FloodFactor

As far as I can tell, neither FEMA, nor FloodFactor, account for upstream development in their flood mapping. However, FloodFactor does allude at one point to factoring in impervious cover. FloodFactor’s annual updates could help address that issue (if everything is really updated annually).

In December, the New York Times published a story about a company called Descartes Labs, which had trained computers to scan satellite images to detect changes in impervious cover. Descartes found that Texas had 9 of the top 20 counties in the US when ranked by the growth of impervious cover. Maybe that will become part of FloodFactor 2.0.

My background does not qualify me to critique FloodFactor’s methodology or documentation. But I have lived in the north Houston area for 35 years. So I do feel qualified to talk about their predictions for the Lake Houston area.

“Ground-Truthing” Accuracy Claims

I evaluated some areas that I know flooded during recent large storms to get a feeling for how well FloodFactor performed.

After all, if FloodFactor can’t predict the past, why should I believe it can predict the future any better?

I looked at four areas in Kingwood and SE Montgomery County. I was extremely familiar with homes and businesses that flooded or didn’t flood in each during major storms.

Elm Grove:

FloodFactor seemed to nail it. FEMA did not. FEMA shows no flooding north of the county line. FloodFactor even showed areas flooding on Perry Homes’ undeveloped property, plus around it.

North of the blue/green line, no flood map exists for FEMA to reference.
FloodFactor.com more accurately shows flooding potential north of the county line. This helps explain the origin of flooding potential south of the county line.

However, the background map appears to be about 10 years old, judging by the extent of development in Woodridge Forest (lower left). Much of that area has since been built up by developers.

So has Woodridge Village (center forested area). It has been cleared for about two years now. Five large detention ponds have been constructed. And the dirt excavated from those has built up the remainder of the property. So in that sense, FloodFactor is outdated from the git-go.

It’s unclear whether Floodfactor’s predictions, say for the Taylor Gully area through Elm Grove (bottom center), take those new upstream detention ponds into account.

River Club/River Ridge:

Between FM 1314 and the West Fork just south of Northpark Drive, lie two small subdivisions called River Club and River Ridge. FEMA nailed it. FloodFactor missed. Badly.

FEMA correctly showed that almost every home in the center flooded during Harvey.

FloodFactor (below) correctly showed street flooding in the higher elevations near FM1314, but missed West Fork flooding by a wide margin. They should have started with FEMA’s baseline.

FloodFactor shows most of the homes have no flood risk.
North and South Woodland Hills in Kingwood:

Mixed results. FEMA nailed areas that flooded during Harvey, but missed some street flooding during Imelda. FloodFactor makes me scratch my head. For instance, FloodFactor showed most of North and South Woodland Hills flooding, presumably from street flooding, after climate change will make rainfalls even more intense. However, they don’t specify exactly where most of the risk comes from. These are among the two highest subdivisions in Kingwood.

FloodFactor shows North and South Woodland Hills, plus the Northpark Place Commercial area flooding worse than other areas which have experienced more flooding.

Two Better than One

Given the fact that neither FEMA, nor FloodFactor, is perfect, it’s best to use them in conjunction with each other. With a knowledge of the limitations of each, one can gain a better understanding of flood risk. There’s just no substitute for talking to people in the neighborhood.

One more example in that regard.

Northpark Commercial Area Near Woodland Hills Drive

FEMA correctly shows historical flood risk. Note the location of red dot for reference below.

FEMA flood map showing risk from Ben’s Branch. Red = floodway. Aqua = 1% annual chance. Brown = 0.2% annual chance of flooding.

The red dot above shows the location of a building that was raised 3 feet before construction, but not listed with FEMA because it was far outside the 500-year floodplain.

FloodFactor predicts this whole commercial area will flood due to environmental changes and that the building by the red dot will take on 2.2 to 2.6 feet of flooding. It doesn’t recognize the building had been raised.

One big benefit of the FEMA maps is that property owners who elevate their homes can have them reclassified out of the floodplain. It’s not clear how that might work with FloodFactor.

However, with input from both websites, if I were buying a property, I would know enough to start asking questions:

  • What’s happening around this area to increase flood risk? (Upstream development in the Ben’s Branch Watershed? Environmental change?)
  • Should I check the elevation of my property against FloodFactor’s estimate? (Yes!)
  • Could floodproofing or elevation strategies help my property? (Yes!)
  • Should I look again at getting flood insurance? (Yes!)

This is like getting a second repair estimate for your car. You are always safer with at least two estimates.

Make Your Own Comparisons

Find a neighborhood or property of interest on FEMA’s National Flood Hazard Layer Viewer.

Compare the same area on FloodFactor.

You can learn more about FloodFactor’s Methodology here.  

Here’s the Documentation for FloodFactor.

And here’s more about the model that FloodFactor uses.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/30/2020

1036 Days after Hurricane Harvey

FEMA Reforming Flood Insurance Risk, Rate Structure

Since the National Flood Insurance Plan’s (NFIP) inception in 1968, additional legislation has been enacted to strengthen the program, ensure its fiscal soundness, create better maps, and tie rates closer to risk. Next year, FEMA will transform the NFIP with something called Risk Rating 2.0, a major change.

FEMA says that with Risk Rating 2.0, NFIP is leveraging industry best practices and current technology to deliver rates that are fairer, easier to understand, and better reflect a property’s unique flood risk.

That last part is code for “we lost a lot of money.”

Unsustainable NFIP Losses

NFIP continues to pay claims in excess of revenues, and borrows increasingly from the U.S. Treasury.

Last October, Michael D. Berman wrote an article titled “Flood Risk and Structural Adaptation of markets: An Outline for Action” in the Federal Reserve Board’s Community Development Innovation Review. In it, he says, “On September 22, 2017, after borrowing $5.825 billion to fund claims from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the NFIP had reached its maximum U.S. Treasury borrowing authority of $30.425 billion in program debt. On October 26, 2017, Congress cancelled $16 billion of NFIP debt—the first time in the history of the NFIP that has occurred. Then on November 9, 2017, the NFIP borrowed another $6.1 billion to fund additional 2017 losses, including additional losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.”

Rating Flood Risk at Property Level

Berman claims, “The NFIP is clearly not properly pricing flood risk, nor is it adequately influencing prudent behavior by property owners and municipalities to sufficiently reduce or otherwise mitigate this risk…This new rating system, known as Risk Rating 2.0, is expected to include repricing of premiums based on flood risk at the property level.”

What Risk Rating 2.0 Involves

FEMA says its current risk-rating methodology has not fundamentally changed since the 1970s. It is now heavily dependent on the 1-percent-annual-chance-event (100-year floodplain).

Risk Rating 2.0 will incorporate a broader range of flood frequencies, new mapping data, and new technologies, more individual rating characteristics, such as: 

• Distance to the coast or another flooding source;
• Different types of flood risk; and
• The cost to rebuild a home.

By reflecting the cost to rebuild, the new rating plan will also aim to deliver fairer rates for owners of lower-value homes.

Rates that Promote Mitigation Efforts

FEMA also plans to offer mitigation credits to help incentivize risk-reduction efforts and reduce the cost of future flood events. Risk Rating 2.0 will initially provide credits for three mitigation actions:

  • Installing flood openings; 
  • Elevating onto posts, piles, and piers; and
  • Elevating machinery and equipment above the lowest floor.

FEMA is not yet saying how many premiums will increase or decrease, or by how much. Two things ARE clear though.

6:1 Payback on Flood Mitigation Investments

First, the old system is broken and unsustainable. Flood maps were outdated and based on data decades old in many cases. They contained many unmapped areas and the mapped areas were strongly influenced by local politicians and developers. Maps also did not reflect the effects of upstream development or more intense, frequent storms.

Second, the new system has a chance to incentivize risk-reduction. The old system encouraged people and communities to rebuild things the way they were after a disaster. We need a new system that encourages more prudent behavior.

FEMA cites a recent study by the National Institute of Building Sciences. Looking back over 23 years of data, the study found that for every dollar that the federal government invests in flood hazard mitigation, taxpayers save an average of six dollars of future disaster recovery spending.

Rebuild to Fail or Rebuild to Adapt?

The current federal flood insurance program promotes rebuilding in flood prone areas. Hopefully, the new system will promote adaptation to help mitigate increased risk.

Flood insurance rates that better reflect risk may promote more prudent behavior by developers, lending institutions, property owners, buyers, and real estate agents who will all “follow the money.”

For More Information

For more information, see:

Risk Rating 2.0 FAQs

Federal Reserve Board Community Development Innovation Review

Cheaper Flood Insurance: Five Ways to Lower the Cost of Your Flood Insurance Premium

NFIP Community Rating System: A Local Official’s Guide to Saving Lives, Preventing Property Damage, and Reducing the Cost of Flood Insurance

FEMA Discussion of Property Insurance Reform

FEMA Discussion about Reducing Risks and Rates

National Institute of Building Sciences 2019 Report on Mitigation

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/2/2020

977 Days since Hurricane Harvey

FEMA Taking Applications for Youth Preparedness Council

Students in grades 8 – 11 can apply to join the national Youth Preparedness Council between until March 8, 2020.

US59 during Harvey. Photo taken from Sorters-McClellan overpass. Courtesy of Melinda Ray.

Purpose of Youth Preparedness Council

FEMA created the Youth Preparedness Council (YPC) in 2012. Its purpose: to bring together young leaders interested in supporting disaster preparedness. They make a difference by completing national and local preparedness projects. The YPC supports FEMA’s commitment to involve America’s youth in preparedness-related activities. Additionally, it lets young people share their perspectives, feedback, and opinions with FEMA .

Includes Representatives from All Ten FEMA Regions

YPC members represent all ten FEMA regions. They have a wide range of backgrounds and interests. Members have been leaders in their communities’ preparedness. They work in teams on projects relating to financial preparedness, citizen responder programs, and youth preparedness education.

Eligibility and Application Requirements

YPC applications remain open through March 8, 2020!

Students in eighth through eleventh grade are eligible to apply.

To apply, go to FEMA’s application website or download a copy of the application form.

To be considered for the national YPC, complete all sections of the application. These include:

  1. A complete application form (including narrative responses to all application questions)
  2. Letters of recommendation
  3. Academic records (including transcripts from last year and this year)
  4. A list of extracurricular activities
  5. Any supplemental materials you wish to add to showcase your capabilities

For more information about how to apply, see the application instructions and Frequently Asked Questions.

Roles and Responsibilities

FEMA emphasizes that being selected to serve is an honor, but also a significant responsibility. The YPC requires dedication and time-management skills.

YPC members serve TWO years. Each YPC year begins in July with the YPC Summit. If members have not completed the mandatory requirements during their first year, FEMA may excuse the member from participating in a second year.

Members serve on committees with assigned tasks. They primarily communicate via email but have bi-monthly conference calls and other calls as needed.

For a full list of Roles and Responsibilities, CLICK HERE.

YPC Summit Held in Washington, DC on July 21 and 22

A YPC Summit is held annually in Washington, DC. In 2020, it will take place on July 21 and 22. Attendance is mandatory for all YPC members. The YPC Summit provides an opportunity for YPC members to meet FEMA representatives and each other.

Sessions during the YPC Summit cover a range of topics. In some sessions, YPC members are given the opportunity to share their ideas and questions with FEMA and community partners. In other sessions, members prepare for the projects they will complete during their time on the YPC.

Travel Expenses Covered for Member and Guardian

Each YPC member must have a parent/guardian or parent- approved chaperone to accompany him or her to the YPC Summit. In accordance with federal travel regulations, FEMA will reimburse transportation, lodging, and meals for each YPC member and his or her parent/guardian/chaperone.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/9/2020 with thanks to Congressman Dan Crenshaw and photo courtesy of Melinda Ray

894 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 143 after Imelda

Mouth Bar Dredging: First Pictures of Next Phase

Earlier this month, the State, Harris County and City of Houston announced the next phase of West Fork mouth bar dredging. Late last week, it got underway in earnest.

West Fork mouth bar on Monday 1.20.2020 before mechanical dredging started.

How Mechanical Dredging Works

Rachel Taylor took the ground-level pictures below earlier today from her back yard in Atascocita Point. They show mechanical excavators eating away at the mouth bar and loading the spoils on barges.

Sunday afternoon, 1.26.2020, two mechanical excavators worked the western end of the mouth bar. They loaded the spoils on waiting barges (right). Photo courtesy of Rachel Lavin Taylor.
Service boats then pushed the barges upriver. Photo courtesy of Rachel Lavin Taylor.
Barge loaded with spoils passes the Deerwood Country Club. Photo courtesy of Rachel Lavin Taylor.
Barges then anchor at Berry Madden’s property on the south side of the West Fork opposite River Grove Park. That black object jutting into the photo from the lower left is the skid of the helicopter. Photo taken 1.20.2020.
From there, other trucks move the spoils inland. For orientation, that water tower in the upper left is south of Kings Lake Estates. Photo taken 1.20.2020.

Mechanical dredging is slower and more labor intensive than hydraulic dredging, but can mobilize faster. In hydraulic dredging, dredgers pump the spoils to a placement area via pipelines. That is faster, but has higher overhead. It also creates more noise.

Hydraulic Dredging Options

The hydraulic pipelines can stretch miles. In the case of the first phase of West Fork mouth bar dredging, they stretched 10 miles upstream. It took five booster pumps to get the material all that way to a sand mine on Sorters just south of Kingwood Drive.

Luckily for us, the pipe from the first phase of mouth bar dredging is still at the Army Corps dock opposite Forest Cove.

Pipe from the first phase of mouth bar dredging still sits at the former Army Corps command post and could be rewelded into longer sections if needed.
The Great Lakes Dredge also remains at the dock. Here you see the pieces below and behind the crane.

At some point in this project, dredging may switch from mechanical to hydraulic. The fact that the Great Lakes dredge remained here bodes well. It chewed through 500,000 cubic yards of debris at the West Fork mouth bar in less than three months. Officials expect mechanical dredging of 400,000 cubic yards to take 8 -12 months.

Additional Dredging Targets and Financing

Other targets reportedly include the East Fork Mouth Bar and several mouth bars that have formed at the mouths of ditches or streams leading into the lake.

State Representative Dan Huberty helped bring $30 million to this phase of dredging via an amendment to SB500 in the last legislature. That money will funnel through Harris County via the Texas Water Development Board. The County also included $10 million in the 2018 flood bond. And the City is applying $6 million left over from a FEMA/TDEM grant for debris removal from Harvey.

For more details on this next phase of dredging, see the previous post on this project.

Two Phase Project Outlined In Grant

Harris County’s proposal for the grant from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) calls for splitting the project into two phases. 

  • Phase One will focus on the West Fork Mouth Bar using the City’s $6 million and $10 million from the TWDB grant.
  • Phase Two will focus on the East Fork Mouth Bar using the remaining $20 million from the grant.
  • The $10 million from the County flood bond will fund surveys, formulation of specs, bidding, project management and more.

Progress Result of Pulling Together

All this is great news for the Lake Houston Area. The entire community worked since Harvey to make this happen through all levels of government.

As we look at other flooding problems in the area, it’s important not to get discouraged and to remember that we can make progress if we all pull together.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 1/26/2020 with photos from Rachel Lavin Taylor

880 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Last Phase-1 Dredge Gone; Phase 2 Will Be Announced Next Week

The last dredge from the Army Corps’ Emergency West Fork Emergency Dredging Program has left the river. State Representative Dan Huberty says plans for Phase 2 of dredging will be announced next week.

Great Lakes Dismantles Dredge

The last remaining dredge, operated by Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, finished dredging a 500,000 cubic yard contract extension in the area of the West Fork mouth bar around Labor Day. That brought the total amount of sand and sediment removed from the West Fork to about 2.3 million cubic yards.

The Great Lakes Dredge waited near the mouth bar for six more weeks, as the owners hoped for yet another contract extension that didn’t come. Finally, in mid-October, Great Lakes started removing its dredge, booster pumps, pipe and other support equipment. That was about the time the City applied for another FEMA grant to help with more dredging.

Now You See It

On November 4th, the dock at the Army Corps Command Post opposite Forest Cove was bustling with activity, as workers dismantled the Great Lakes Dredge. Note all the pipe in the background. Each 40 food section weighs 4,000 pounds.

Now You Don’t

Photo taken on Tuesday, 11/12/19. Dredge is gone.

With Great Lakes and Callan Marine gone, any additional dredging efforts will start from scratch. And we need a Phase 2.

Millions of cubic yards remain in the West Fork Mouth Bar alone. And Imelda deposited immense of amounts of sediment in a growing East Fork Mouth Bar. And let’s not forget upstream dredging near US59 and the County’s planned Edgewater Park, which will have a public boat launch.

Phase 2 Options Moving Forward

Long-Shot Option: On October 15 or thereabouts, City of Houston Flood Czar Stephen Costello submitted another grant request to FEMA for additional money to dredge the mouth bar. That request is still pending. But it isn’t our only hope.

Sure-Thing Option: Luckily, thanks to State Representative Dan Huberty’s Amendment to SB-500, earlier this year, the State Legislature earmarked $30 million for dredging Lake Houston. Let’s call that Phase 2.

The crucial text of the Huberty Amendment reads, “… $30 million is dedicated to the Texas Water Development Board to provide a grant to Harris County for the purchase and operation of equipment to remove accumulated siltation and sediment deposits located at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston.”

According to Huberty, the County, City and State have been examining alternative plans and evaluating their cost-effectiveness. Huberty expects to hold a press conference next week to announce next steps. Stay tuned.

Please note that the two options are not mutually exclusive. The FEMA Grant could still come though and be used to extend Phase 2 dredging.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/15/2019

808 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Lessons from A&M Community Health and Resource Management Workshop for East Montgomery County

On July 23rd, the Texas A&M Agrilife Extenstion, FEMA and Texas Community Watershed Partners held a Community Health and Resource Management workshop. Attendees included 29 officials, municipal staff, and stakeholders from Conroe, Patton Village, Montgomery County, Harris County Flood Control District, SJRA, Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District, the Bayou Land Conservance, Red Cross, United Way and more.

Community Health and Resources Management Workshop in action.

Protecting Growth from Flooding

Organizers dedicated the majority of the workshop to using a GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping platform, developed by AgriLife Extension’s Texas Community Watershed Partners. The platform allows communities to digitally draw different growth and development scenarios on a map of their community. Then they can see the implications, in real time. Which scenarios will increase or decrease disaster risk? 

The organizers challenged participants to double growth without increasing flood risk. The outcomes of the workshop have real-life implications for urban planning, building codes, flood mitigation and disaster recovery.

Here is the entire presentation of outcomes from the workshop.

Strategies Explored by Participants

The teams in the workshop explored strategies, such as:

  • Creation of more detention areas 
  • Public Education 
  • Flood Planning with community leaders 
  • Filling 
  • Public Involvement 
  • Education on flood insurance 
  • Messaging on flood risk
  • Buyouts 
  • Apply for HUD Community Development Block Grants 
  • Implementing higher standards 
  • Changes in Building Codes 
  • Collaboration with agencies, organizations 
  • Buyouts 
  • Future studies 
  • And more

This presentation provides an excellent demonstration of the linkage between planning, land use and long-term-risk.

External Links in Presentation Lead to Valuable Tools

One of the most valuable parts of the presentation: links to related resources from participants and planners.

For instance, this base-flood elevation viewer contained information that FEMA’s national flood hazard layer viewer did not. Using the former tool, I was able to look up Woodridge Village in Montgomery County. I found that much of it was in the high risk 1-percent flood plain. That explains why the developer is raising it so much.

All in all, if you have five minutes to explore this presentation, it could help you connect some dots.

Posted by Bob Rehak with thanks to Paul Crowson and Bob Bagley

733 Days since Hurricane Harvey

FEMA/Corps To Stop Dredging Mouth Bar Before Finishing Job; What You Can Do

Having barely scratched the surface of the mouth bar of the San Jacinto West Fork, FEMA and the Army Corps will pack up their gear next week and call their job done. Last-ditch pleas by the City of Houston, Harris County and the State of Texas to get the federal government to extend its dredging program have fallen on deaf ears, perhaps because of the shifting of disaster relief funds to the construction of migrant detention facilities.

Mouth bar of the West Fork shortly after start of supplemental dredging. Photo courtesy of BCAeronautics.

Regardless, the bottom line is this: the Corps and FEMA will leave millions of cubic yards of sediment in place without restoring conveyance of the West Fork to a prior good condition.

The pullout caps months of arguments over how much sediment Harvey deposited. The City estimated 1.4 million cubic yards and the Corps 500,000.

According to City Council Member Dave Martin, the Corps agreed Harvey deposited 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment in the river near the mouth bar. The Corps also agreed, said Martin, that there was nothing wrong with the Tetra Tech study that arrived at that total.

Waffling by Corps

As late as last Friday, Martin said, the Corps agreed to write a letter to FEMA, recommending dredging more than the 500,000 cubic yards. The letter would say that almost a million cubic yards of Harvey-related sediment remained in the river and should be removed. However, at a meeting in Austin this Tuesday, the Corps revealed that FEMA told it not to write the letter. The Corps now intends to demobilize equipment as soon as it finishes dredging 500,000 cubic yards from the mouth bar. That should only take until next week.

These developments confirm speculation that the Corps “backed into” the 500,000 cubic yard number for reasons unrelated to Harvey. Mystery still surrounds how they arrived at that number. The Corps refused to release many documents related to their decision. A review of their 4-page analysis obtained from the City found numerous issues, logical flaws, and questionable assumptions – uncharacteristic of the Corps.

Next Steps

With the year-long dredging program now almost complete and perhaps less than a quarter of the sediment removed that is required to restore the natural flow of the river, what will happen next? We have some hope.

  • The Corps has finally approved Berry Madden’s property as a storage site for 500,000 cubic yards. That should be enough to get the next phase of the program started while the City seeks additional storage sites.
  • The City has committed to a maintenance dredging program according to Martin.
  • The State and Harris County have earmarked $30 million and $10 million respectively to continue dredging.
  • Additional funds may become available early next year through SB7.
  • Callan Marine has agreed to remain on site and do the dredging.

Your Help Is Needed

However, to make that money stretch far enough to finish the job, we will need FEMA and the Corps to designate the remaining sediment as Category A. City Council Member Dave Martin is sending this letter to all congressional and senatorial representatives in the area. Designating the sediment as Category A will:

  • Enable reimbursement from FEMA
  • Allow the City of Houston to utilize existing resources and pre-positioned contracts.
  • Save nearly $20 million associated with mobilization.

Please Contact These Officials

Here’s how you can help. Send the letter below to:

Tell them that you support the Category A designation and see the mouth bar removal as crucial to public safety with a letter like the one below.

Sample Letter


Dear _____________: 

Thank you for helping to make dredging of the San  Jacinto West Fork a priority.  It will help reduce flooding, protect property, save lives, and improve public safety.  

However, part of the existing mouth-bar located at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston remains.  

I’m writing to enlist your support in urging the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to designate that remaining debris as Category A for reimbursement.  

Category A designation will allow the City of Houston to:  

  • Utilize existing resources and pre-positioned contracts  
  • Save nearly $20 million associated with mobilization  
  • Protect life, property and safety  

Field data collected by the City of Houston and provided to FEMA demonstrates that the remaining debris was directly associated with Hurricane Harvey. As of August 20, 2019, the City of Houston has proactively secured a third United States Army Corps of Engineers permitted disposal site needed for the additional debris.  

Your assistance is crucial to rehabilitate the San Jacinto River to its prior good condition.  Please urge FEMA to grant this Category A designation. It will let the City of Houston continue rebuilding from Harvey.  





Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/30/2019 with drone photo from BCAeronautics

731 Days since Hurricane Harvey