Tag Archive for: flood control

Paradoxes of “Flood Control”

Most of us would hate to get flooded. Repairs can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. They can also disrupt normal life for months or even years. Yet collectively, we often act in ways that worsen flooding. Why?

From Ignorance to Inadvertence and Intentional

Some individuals do it out of ignorance, like the person who re-routes his drainage onto a neighbor’s property without thinking.

Some do it out of self-interest, like the person who re-routes his drainage onto a neighbor’s property WHILE thinking that he is saving his own.

And some do it on a mass scale for profit. These include developers who falsify engineering reports, or exploit loopholes and grandfather clauses in local regulations to save money. For instance, by avoiding the construction of detention ponds, they can squeeze more saleable lots out of a piece of land. Likewise, some bring fill into floodplains. And even try to build homes in floodways.

Putting Self-Interest Ahead of Public Interest

They all have one thing in common. They put self-interest ahead of public interest. They let society deal with the consequences of inconsiderate and sometimes illegal actions. 

When you look at such actions as conflicts between the individual and the collective, they appear rational – people just trying to maximize their profits and minimize their costs.

But when you look at it from the taxpayer perspective, through the other end of the telescope, these actions appear irrational, self-contradictory and paradoxical. Some examples:

New condos being erected by a Chinese developer near the floodway of the San Jacinto West Fork (foreground). Everything behind these condos for more than a mile and a half flooded during Harvey. The developer targets Chinese investors who likely have little means to explore the flood risk.
  1. Montgomery County gives agricultural- and timber-exemption property tax breaks to sand mines in floodways. Then they let the federal government and downstream taxpayers in Harris County and the City of Houston pay for more than a hundred million dollars in dredging.
  2. We allow the destruction of wetlands, i.e., nature’s sponges. The loss of vegetation and increase in impervious cover due to development in wetlands speeds up the concentration of floodwaters, often exacerbating downstream flooding.
  3. Land in floodplains and floodways is cheap. Allowing builders to develop there maximizes their profit, but also increases damage during floods. Then residents make flood insurance claims, seek other financial assistance, or demand expensive flood mitigation projects to protect themselves.
  4. A corollary to that: we make publicly subsidized flood insurance available in the United States. That creates a false sense of security that encourages development in dangerous places. “Even if I flood, I’m covered.” Would a private insurance company make the same offer? Hell no! They would price the policy so that people had to investigate and reconsider the risk.
  5. To build in dangerous places, people yell “property rights.” They count on the fact that most Americans are such rabid individualists that they can rally political sentiment for dubious projects with that battle cry. But when the big flood comes, they jeopardize other people’s lives by forcing first responders to make high-water rescues in swift-moving currents.
  6. Most people place unfounded faith in numbers and experts. The engineer who tells them their new home is X feet above the hundred-year flood plain may be a hired gun who does not disclose limitations on the data. For instance, in one case I saw a new mall upstream changed the base flood elevation of a residence by 12 FEET! Who was that engineer working for? Was the City or County engineer really checking his work?
  7. Most people are not knowledgeable enough to interpret risk from flood maps. They think they’re in or out of the risky areas based on government flood maps. But they may not know that their local government has not updated the data on which those maps are built for decades. During that time, intensive upstream development may have occurred.
  8. Brown & Root warned of the need for maintenance dredging at certain places on the West Fork San Jacinto almost two decades before the need became APPARENT. But it was easy to defer maintenance on problems lurking underwater. And the City did. That contributed to the flooding of almost 20,000 homes and businesses in the Lake Houston area during Harvey.
  9. We acknowledge that flooding does not respect political boundaries. But flood regulations remain, in many cases, out of sync across those boundaries. The balkanization of local politics makes flood mitigation difficult. Careless development upstream can quickly offset the expenditure of hundreds of millions spent on flood mitigation projects downstream. That results in no net gain and can even make flooding worse.
  10. Failure to predict (or account for) upstream development can erode the margin of error that protects downstream residents from flooding.
  11. Most Americans dream of owning their own little plot of land. So, we continue to grow outward, not upward. This creates the need for more concrete and other impervious cover. More floodplains get filled. More wetlands get destroyed. More roads get paved. More aggregate gets extracted from floodways and floodplains. And the cycle continues relentlessly.
  12. Some counties deliberately design lax floodplain regulations or ignore them to lure developers. The East Montgomery County Improvement District used to trumpet, “Come here. We have no rules.” Then the developers build questionable developments in questionable places and target first-time home buyers who are too naïve to understand the risks.
  13. Montgomery County also hired an engineering firm to check the engineering firm’s own plans for a developer. As many as 600 homes across the county line in Kingwood flooded when the company didn’t highlight its own “errors.” For instance, they said there were no floodplains or wetlands when there were. If these guys were financial auditors, they would be disbarred by now. Talk about conflicts! But in the topsy-turvy world of engineering, that can make them more attractive to potential developer clients.
  14. One developer in Liberty County has forever altered the floodplains of the East Fork and Luce Bayou across an area that’s already 15,000 acres and growing. Liberty County commissioners refused to look at video evidence that the developer was not following county regulations. Then, in the same meeting, they complained about people making allegations without any evidence. Blindness is willful when tax dollars are at stake.
  15. Population can simply outgrow drainage infrastructure as it has in large parts of Houston. So, in 2010, Houstonians passed a drainage fee based on a property’s percentage of impervious cover. Then City officials promptly started diverting money from the fund. Voters passed another charter amendment in 2018 to create a lock box around the money. But the language did not do that. And guess what? A lack of ballot and budget transparency keeps us locked in cycles of despair and repair.
  16. Major floods happen infrequently enough that officials, engineers and developers can blame them on “acts of God.” In reality, floods result not only from what falls from the sky, but also from thousands of individual decisions leading up to the flood. Developers who built in the wrong place. People who bought in the wrong place. Based on information some experts knew was outdated. Without taking proper precautions. See above.
  17. Flood mitigation and disaster relief processes take too long. They need re-engineering to shorten the time between problem and solution. We are still accepting applications for Harvey aid. And most of the flood mitigation projects completed to date that arose from Harvey have been studies that are a preludeto construction. The lengthy time between problem and solution keeps people at risk for flooding. 

Bizarre Paradoxes

After studying and writing about flooding for more than three years, here are my nominations for the 17 most bizarre things we tolerate as a society re: flooding.

Self-Inflicted Flooding

I could go on. But you get the idea. Much flooding is self-inflicted by the human race.

I received a flood insurance mailing today from USAA. They pointed out how much even a small amount of water can set you back financially. “Just 1 inch of flood damage can cost you more than $25,000,” the company claims. “Why risk it?”

USAA also points out that:

  • Floods are the #1 natural disaster in the U.S.
  • Flood insurance isn’t part of your typical homeowner’s coverage.
  • More than 20% of flood losses each year occur in low- or medium-risk areas.

That last point really stopped me.

That means 80% of flood-insurance claims come from areas already known as high-risk. And why the National Flood Insurance Program is more than $20 billion in the hole.

We need to have a serious discussion about these paradoxes. Clearly, we’re doing many things wrong.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/29/2021

1308 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.

Quiz: In Southeast Texas, Do Floods Happen More Often in First or Second Half of Year?

Pop quiz: In the last 100 years in Harris County, Texas, were you more likely to get flooded in the first or second half of the year? And the answer is…second half. But surprisingly, it’s a close tie. Looking at the data, also revealed that a major flood happened every 2.5 years on average.

Harris County Flood History
Major flood events in the last 100 years. Compiled by Harris County Flood Control. Note: Last update happened before Harvey.

How Numbers Were Compiled

Harris County Flood Control District keeps a list of major floods. It actually goes back further than 1920. However, the pre-1920 records don’t reliably record the month of the flood, so I limited the sample to 100 years for the purpose of this quiz.

HCFCD shows 38 events through 2016. For my count, I added Hurricane Harvey (2017) and Tropical Storm Imelda (2019). Both happened since the last HCFCD chart update. And both produced major flooding in Harris County. That brought the total to 40 events.

22 of 40 Events Happened in Second Half of Year

Of the 40 major floods in 100 years, 18 happened from January through June; 22 from July through December.

That means you’re almost as likely to get flooded in the spring as you are by a tropical event in the summer or fall.

23 of 40 Events Happened During Hurricane Season

However, if you phrased the question as, “How many major floods happened during hurricane season?” you would get a slightly different answer. Seventeen of the 40 did not and 23 did.

That’s because:

  • June falls in BOTH spring and hurricane season. Note that two floods, Audrey in 1957 and Allison in 2001, both occurred in June.
  • In 1935 a major flood occurred during December, which is outside of hurricane season.

Major Flood Intervals Average 2.5 Years

The other major, mind-bending, slap-you-in-the-head statistic that comes out of this quiz concerns frequency. Forty events in 100 years represents a 40% chance of a major flood happening in any given year.

The average interval of major flood events: 2.5 years. The shortest interval: one month in 1929, 1989 and 2016. The longest interval: eight years between 1961 and 1969.

If those statistics don’t make you a believer in flood insurance, I don’t know what will. It should also make you a believer in flood control and drainage districts if you live in a southeast Texas county, such as Montgomery, that doesn’t have one.

For those whose screen is too small to read the data above, here’s a printable PDF.

If you don’t have a printer at home, here’s the breakdown:

First-Half-of-Year Floods: 1929 (April and May), 1930, 1955, 1957, 1960, 1969, 1972, 1973, 1983, 1989, 1992, 2001, 2006, 2009, 2015, 2016 (2 in April and May)

Second-Half-of-Year Floods: 1932, 1935, 1940, 1943 (July and October), 1945, 1959, 1961, 1979, 1983 (August and September), 1984, 1994, 1998 (September, October, November), 2008, 2012, 2014, 2017, 2019

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/17/2020 based on HCFCD data

962 Days since Hurricane Harvey

HCFCD Wraps Up Taylor Gully Project Between Rustling Elms and County Line

This week, Harris County Flood Control is completing work on a large section of Taylor Gully between Rustling Elms and the Harris/Montgomery County line. Said Beth Walters of the Flood Control District, “Serco (the contractor) is replacing an outfall pipe Tuesday; this work should be complete in a few days. This is the last pipe to be replaced, and then all major work from Rustling Elms upstream to the county line will be completed.” The work began about two months ago.

Taylor Gully Images from Jeff Miller

Flood Control contractors inspect the old, rusted outfall pipe near Rustling Elms last week. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller.
Reverse angle shows existing pipe before replacement. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller.
Contractors were clearing turtles and fish from the old manhole.
Last weekend, new, 6-foot replacement pipe was standing by, ready for Taylor Gully installation. Photo taken by Jeff Miller.
New pipe fully installed. Photo taken 9/11 by Jeff Miller.
Excess dirt has been removed, ditch excavated, backslope interceptor swales restored, banks smoothed, and new backslope drains installed. Ready for the severe weather test. Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller.

Small Amount of Clean Up Work Remains

Miller reported addition excavation work happening this morning near Rustling Elms on Taylor Gully.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Miller of additional cleanup work between Rustling Elms and Bassingham.

Once again, a shout-out to Barbara Hilburn who raised the alarm about clogged ditches and beat that drum for more than a year until projects like this began.

Posted by Bob Rehak with Images and Reporting from Jeff Miller

743 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Flood Control Updates Kingwood Portion of Its Website

Harris County Flood Control District has just completed an update of the Kingwood-related pages on its web site.

Just hours before the May 10 storm hit, HCFCD pulled this giant tree off a downed power line that had fallen into Ben’s Branch during the previous storm. The location was across the street from Bear Branch Elementary.

Flood Control Web Site Updates Include

Major updates include:

  • Landing page discusses HCFCD post-flood actions completed through May, 2019.
  • Latest status of dredging project
  • New pictures of channels taken during May, 2019 storms
  • New channel assessment reports

Additional Data

If you’re not familiar with the Flood Control web site, you should be. It’s a treasure chest of information. It contains Interactive project maps plus everything you could want to know about:

  • 2018 Flood Bond
  • County’s drainage network and numbering system (for identification and reporting purposes)
  • Mowing
  • County’s flood warning system
  • Floodplain Reference Marks
  • Flood insurance
  • The history of flooding in our area
  • Community services
  • And much more.

Openness and Transparency

The web site is just part of the County’s commitment to openness in its business dealings. Explore it and take advantage of it. It’s both deep and broad…loaded with information for residents as well as professionals. Few government agencies go to these lengths to maintain transparency.

Related Site Includes Info about Floodplain Management/Construction

For anyone exploring floodplain construction, the Harris County Engineer’s site is also a gold mine of information. It will help you understand the standards for developers. If you see something that doesn’t look right, this will help you understand whether the developer is playing by the rules or cutting corners.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/6/2019

646 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Cogdill Video Shows Overland Sheet Flow From Clear-Cut Area Pouring into Elm Grove; HCFCD Issues Report on Flood

Edy and Ricky Cogdill live across the street from Abel Vera on Village Springs Drive. Both the Veras and the Cogdills live at the end of the street. Their properties butts up against the new development on the other side of the Montgomery County line seen in the background of this video. Edy Cogdill shot the video on May 7, 2019. It shows what hydrologists call “overland sheet flow.”

A small part of the 262-acre development that drains toward Elm Grove. Sheet flow from this clear-cut area ran off into Elm Grove. On top of street flooding, it caused house flooding.

Edy Cogdill shot this video will standing on her front porch with an umbrella. As the floodwaters came out of the clear-cut area to their north, the water hit the Cogdill house and started moving sideways. Toward the end of this short video, Edy pans right. You can see the the flow coming out of the new development and rushing down Village Springs Drive past the dead-end barrier.

The water from the development added to street flooding in progress. As a result, homes flooded.

Video courtesy of Edy and Ricky Cogdill on Village Springs Drive in Elm Grove. Shot on May 7, 2019.

Harris County Flood Control Issues Report on Storm

Jeff Lindner of Harris County Flood Control issued a report this morning on last weeks two flash flooding events.

The report says: “130 structures were flooded in the Elm Groove Village subdivision in the northern portions of Kingwood on Tuesday evening. HCFCD staff investigated this area on Wednesday, May 8th and determined that the flooding was potentially caused by development upstream in Montgomery County that sent large volumes of sheetflow into the subdivision and Taylor Gully (G103-80-03.1). The isolated nature of the heavy rainfall on Tuesday afternoon prevented more widespread flooding impacts.”

Lindner also cautioned that the number of affected structures may change; the City of Houston is still verifying the number. Earlier media reports of 400 homes flooding may have overstated the problem.

2- to 50-Year Official Rainfall Rates

The Harris County Flood Control Report on the storm also states that on May 7: “Heavy rainfall rates developed due to slow storm motions over northeast Harris County including the Humble and Kingwood areas. A 30-min rate of 2.9 inches was recorded at US 59 and the West Fork of the San Jacinto River and a 1 hour rate of 4.0 inches. A 6-hr rainfall rate of 7.9 inches was recorded at the East Fork of the San Jacinto River and FM 1485. Rainfall rates between the 15-min and 6- hr time periods on Tuesday afternoon and evening averaged between a 2-yr and 50-yr frequency over the extreme northeast portions of Harris into southeast Montgomery Counties. This rainfall was relatively isolated in the far northeast portions of Harris County and the Kingwood area.” 

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/13/2019

622 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Clear Debris from Drains Before Next Wave of Rain Hits

Multiple news outlets are reporting that 400 homes flooded in the Kingwood area yesterday due to street and ditch flooding. Street flooding happens when the RAINFALL RATE exceeds the DRAINAGE CAPACITY of storm sewers. Water backs up into streets where it waits until the input and output balance. But when drains are blocked by downed tree limbs, yard waste, and other debris water backs up even higher into homes as it did last night.

Flooded home in Elm Grove

Please Help Clear Drains of Debris

Matt Zeve, Deputy Executive Director of Harris County Flood Control, reminds everyone that, “All citizens have a responsibility to keep their storm sewer inlets and roadside ditches clear of yard debris, trash, and other items that can cause clogging. The City of Houston and Flood Control are not able to police every single ditch and storm sewer inlet out there. We are all in this together.”

It could be your house that you save from flooding in the next rain.

How to Report Debris in Ditches

Some debris will be beyond the capability of homeowners to clear, especially in creeks and drainage ditches. For instance, see the picture below.

Tree down in Ben’s Branch. Photo taken from Tree Lane just east of Bear Branch Elementary.

Clearing such blockages will take professionals with chain saws and lifting equipment.

Call Harris County Flood Control at 713-684-4197 to report these types of issues.  Please make sure you know the closest cross streets.

You can also contact flood control via the web.

City of Houston Also Requests Your Help in Clearing Drains

Dave Martin, Houston City Council Member said, “This morning, I asked the Mayor, and he agreed, like we did in December 2017 AFTER Harvey…in those flooded/affected areas, we will send cameras down the storm drains and sewers to see if there is any blockage. If there is, we will remediate.”

Martin continued, “We are also ‘re-engineering’ our ‘Adopt a Drain’ program which calls for our Residents to adopt a drain/storm sewer in their neighborhood, and periodically check the siltation/trash/clogging/buildup in THEIR drain.

More Rain on Way

At the start of the week, the National Weather Service forecasted 7-10 inches of rain for the week. Yesterday, when a storm stalled over Kingwood, we got that much in one afternoon. And more IS on the way.

NOAA Radar as of noon on Wednesday, 5/8/19.

Today’s Forecast from Flood Control

The next upper level disturbance is already moving into central Texas. The majority of the heavy rainfall should stay to our north today, but our area could certainly see rainfall this afternoon that could result in additional flooding, especially if it falls on areas that were hard hit on Tuesday.

Additionally there is a higher severe weather risk this afternoon especially north of I-10 where large hail, damaging winds, and isolated tornadoes will be possible.

Forecast Thursday-Saturday: 

Several complexes and clusters of storms can be expected through the period each capable of dropping multiple inches of rainfall. Expect a moderate risk of flash flooding both Thursday and Friday. 

Additional Rainfall Amounts 

Widespread rainfall of 5-8 inches with isolated totals of 9-12 inches will be possible today through Saturday. While these totals are spread over a 3 day period, much of what falls will likely fall in bursts with each cluster of storms. Air mass remains very much capable of intense rainfall rates as observed yesterday. Hourly rainfall rates of 2-4 inches per hour will remain possible which will quickly result in urban flash flooding and significant street flooding.

River Report

Grounds are saturated and any additional rainfall…especially in areas that saw heavy rains on Tuesday…is going to run directly into creek, bayous, and rivers that area already highly elevated. If the rainfall forecast does indeed verify, flooding of creeks and bayous in Harris County is certainly possible along with house flooding.

While several creeks and bayous are elevated, all are receding at this time including both the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto River.  

Flash Flood Outlook For Wednesday 

Flash Flood Outlook For Wednesday 

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/8/19 at noon

617 Days since Hurricane Harvey

San Jacinto River Watershed: Underfunded, Overdamaged

When I go to various flood mitigation meetings around town, I often hear – with some jealously and resentment – that the San Jacinto River Watershed seems to be getting the lion’s share of flood mitigation funding. This is not true, but it’s a popular misperception. Those who believe they are underfunded tell me constantly how unfair they think it is.

Flood Damage and Mitigation Funding Varies Greatly by Watershed

So I’ve done some research on this subject and would like to call your attention to two reports. The first is a regional report by the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium called Strategies for Flood Mitigation. It examines equity in funding between different watersheds. It found that the San Jacinto River Watershed has 3% of the region’s population, historically has received 0% of the region’s flood mitigation funding, and yet sustained 14% of the region’s damages during Harvey. That would seem to suggest that San Jacinto River Watershed residents suffered almost five times more damage per capita than other watersheds.

I wondered if there could be a correlation between underfunding of flood mitigation projects and excessive damage. That led me to another report that lists spending by watersheds in dollars: Harris County Flood Control District’s (HCFCD) annual federal briefing. It’s Flood Control’s annual report to the Federal Government about how Federal funds are being spent here. The link above is to the 2018 version, published last March. That was just BEFORE the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started its West Fork dredging project. Note also, it was BEFORE Harris County passed its $2.5 billion flood bond in August. So what follows is a snapshot of the way things were BEFORE Harvey, not now.

SJR Flood Mitigation Projects Underfunded Until Recently

A re-reading of that Federal Briefing confirmed my suspicions and the findings of the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium. The San Jacinto River watershed is by far the biggest in Harris County. With the exception of a few buyouts and flood gages, until now, it has received NO federal dollars for flood mitigation projects (at least through the County).

Source: Harris County Flood Control 2018 Federal Briefing. Harris County has 22 watersheds. The San Jacinto appears to be the largest.

By far, the vast majority of the money spent goes to capital improvement projects such as channelization and detention. Virtually all of that money is spent in six areas according to the Active Federal Projects Summary in the HCFCD Federal Briefing. They are:

  • Sims Bayou
  • Clear Creek & Tributaries
  • Greens Bayou
  • Brays Bayou
  • Hunting Bayou
  • White Oak Bayou

Previously, projects were completed for the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, Halls Bayou, Buffalo Bayou, Vince Bayou, Little Vince Bayou, and Cypress Creek. There are no capital projects listed for the San Jacinto River Watershed, past or present.

Higher Percentages of Budget than Damage

So how did the watersheds fare that are receiving federal funding? According to pages 24 and 25 of the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium  report:

  • Sims Bayou had 19% of the budget and 2% of the damage.
  • Clear Creek had 13% of the budget and 7% of the damage.
  • Greens Bayou had 8% of the budget and 7% of the damage.
  • Brays Bayou had 23% of the budget and 18% of the damage.
  • Hunting Bayou had 8% of the budget and 1% of the damage.
  • White Oak Bayou had 14% of the budget and 3% of the damage.

With No Budget, SJR Tied for Third Highest Amount of Damage

Compared to the six creeks and bayous above, the San Jacinto River had 0% of the budget and 14% of the damage. Here’s how it looks in graph form, taken from the Flood Mitigation Consortium report.

The Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium Report dramatizes the need for equity in funding throughout the region. For a complete breakdown of all watersheds, see the table on page 25 of the report.

What can we deduce from this?

Flood mitigation spending, without a doubt, reduces damage.

The San Jacinto River watershed is by far the most underfunded compared to others.

Vigilance Needed

People in the Lake Houston Area need to fight future underfunding. We have been too quiet and therefore neglected for far too long. We must remain vigilant in coming years to ensure that the projects we have been promised (additional dredging, detention and floodgates, plus better ditch maintenance) are in fact delivered.

Harris County and the federal government together are spending $1.342 billion dollars on capital projects for Sims Bayou, Clear Creek, Greens Bayou, Brays Bayou, Hunting Bayou and White Oak Bayou. The San Jacinto currently gets only one twentieth of that due to the current Corps dredging project.

Before you call Judge Emmett and your county commissioners, I would like to point out that they have already committed to a more equitable distribution of project dollars from the $2.5 billion flood bond passed in August and that the Lake Houston area should get its fair share in the future. Phone calls at this moment are not necessary. Vigilance is. We can’t change the past, but together we can change the future.

Posted by Bob Rehak on October 24, 2018

421 Days since Hurricane Harvey


How Much Would the Flood Bond Cost You?

When considering property tax implications of the proposed $2.5 billion flood bond, start with how much you currently pay in Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) taxes. Hint: It’s very little.

Only about 1.4% of Typical Property Tax Bill Currently Goes to Flood Control

Only about 1.4% of the average annual property tax bill now goes to Flood Control. The rest funds schools, cities, hospitals, law enforcement, etc. How much you currently pay each year in flood control taxes depends on your home’s value and your exemptions. See some representative costs below.

What homes assessed at representative price points will pay in additional taxes if the Harris County Flood Control Bond passes.

Amount Will Vary Depending on Age, Assessment and Exemptions

If your home is assessed at $200,000 and you are under 65, you pay only $45 annually for flood control.  If over 65 in that same home, you pay no flood control taxes.

In a worst-case scenario, Harris County says the flood-control portionof your taxes would double. Would doubling one of the numbers above create a hardship for you? Or would it help you sleep better?

Remember, any increase applies only to the flood control portion of your tax bill, not the entire bill.

Less than Cost of Flood Insurance

Any increase would be gradual. Bonds are only sold when projects are ready to start. Harris County expects no increase at all until 2020 at the earliest.

Flood Control improvements cost much less than flood insurance. And unlike flood insurance, they might actually prevent your home from being damaged.

Protecting Home and Community Values

Once implemented, the flood mitigation measures in the bond package will help make our entire community more resistant to flooding. That’s important. It helps protect your home’s value, your schools, businesses, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. That helps keep your community growing and makes it attractive for people looking to relocate. In the long run, rising home values will pay you back many times over for your investment in flood control. So send a signal to the world that we’re willing to invest in our future.

How to Check Your Current Assessed Value

To see how much you pay right now, go to hcad.org, click on “Property Search”, then “Real Property” followed by “Search by Address.”

Posted by Bill Fowler on July 29, 2018

334 Days since Hurricane Harvey

A Personal Flood-Control Wish List For the Lake Houston Area

On August 25th, the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, Harris County residents will vote on a $2.5 billion flood bond. The County has not yet made clear what mitigation measures would be in the bond proposal. Hence, my personal wish list. Not all items on the list below are suitable for a bond, but could still help mitigate flooding. I’m including them here to have them all in one place. You may have other ideas. Let’s start a public dialog. Please contact me through this website or on Facebook with your opinions. I will collect and publish all credible ideas on behalf of the community.

Causes of Flooding in the Upper Lake Houston Area

Before we start, it’s important to note that the main type of flooding in our area is riverine. Humble, Kingwood, Atascocita and Huffman sit at the confluence of two main forks of the San Jacinto River.

Together, the East and West Forks drain more than a thousand square miles upstream through smaller tributaries. Those include Spring Creak, Cypress Creek and Lake Creek on the West Fork; and Caney Creek, Peach Creek and Luce Bayou on the East Fork.

Hurricane Harvey brought an estimated 400,000 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) down those tributaries to Lake Houston. The release from the dam at Lake Conroe at the peak of the storm was 79,141 cfs.

San Jacinto River Watershed Flow Rates

Where Water Came From During Harvey

That 79,141 cfs was approximately one third of 236,000 cfs coming down the heavily populated area between Kingwood, Humble and Atascocita where most of the damage occurred at the peak of the storm.

Both the West Fork and East Forks contain massive sand mines that were inundated by Harvey. As the photos elsewhere on this website show, those floodwaters swept up sand, carried it downstream, and deposited it at choke points that now create higher-than-expected floods on lower-than-normal rainfalls.

My Personal Flood-Remediation Wish List

1) Add upstream retention to reduce the amount of water coming downstream at peaks. Such retention would have to be built in unpopulated areas. That limits possibilities, however, it does not eliminate them. Lake Creek, Peach Creek and/or the East Fork of the San Jacinto all contain natural areas that could be considered as candidates. Ideally, the amount of extra detention would at least be sufficient to offset releases from the dam at Lake Conroe. 

2) Regularly dredge the East Fork, West Fork, and drainage ditches. The frequency should be at least every 5 years, the interval recommended in 2000 by the Brown & Root Regional Flood Protection Study (page E-9). Sand mines continue to send huge volumes of sand downstream with every flood. The sand blocks drainage ditches and restricts the cross section of the river. That creates higher-than-expected flooding on relatively small rains. Regular dredging does not necessarily have to occur at public cost. Tax incentives could encourage sand mining companies to dredge the river at their own expense. They could sell the recovered material to help recoup costs. However, this would have to be done under government supervision to discourage excessive dredging that undermines river banks.
3) Add more flood gates to Lake Houston. This would allow the City to release water earlier and faster during major storms. This could create extra capacity in the lake to absorb flood water. Lake Houston has two small floodgates, but they have one tenth the capacity of the gates at Lake Conroe. In combination with the sand deposits mentioned above, this can create a bottleneck. (Note: the Harris County bond could not help with flood gates because the gates would be City of Houston assets. The City is currently securing funding for this project through the Texas Department of Emergency Management, FEMA and the Federal Government.)
4) Improve coordination/communication between the people who control dams at Lake Conroe and Lake Houston, and the public. This could improve public safety two ways. First, when the discharge capabilities of both lakes are balanced, they could release water in advance of major storms as a flood mitigation strategy. (Currently, SJRA fears that releasing water before storms could overload the downstream watershed and cause the very flooding that a pre-release strategy is designed to prevent. This is a complex issue.) Second, during Harvey, actual release rates seemed to lag public announcements, creating a false sense of security among residents downstream. Better communication could have given residents downstream time to evacuate in an orderly fashion and save their most valuable belongings.
5) Link real-time inundation mapping (currently being developed) to expected Lake Conroe release rates. Harris County is already working on a real-time inundation mapping system. This system will model flooding down to the block level. It would enable people to see how fast flood waters were rising in their neighborhoods, help them determine when to evacuate, and identify safe escape routes. Now imagine making this system available to the engineers who control the Lake Conroe dam. ALSO imagine adding features that enable them to preview and test the impact of different release strategies. For instance, “How many homes downstream will be flooded at different release rates? Which strategy would flood the fewest homes? How much water can we safely release without flooding any homes? If we have to flood homes, who should we warn? How much time will they have to evacuate?” 
6) Add sensors and gages throughout the watershed to create a more detailed picture of what is headed inbound toward Lake Conroe and Lake Houston during severe events. Such sensors and gages would support the preview capabilities outlined in point #5 above. 

7) Improve sand mine operations to reduce the amount of sand coming downstream. I would like to see a government/industry/public panel created (with public hearings) to review sand mine operations and suggest improvements. The objective would be to identify affordable best practices that could reduce sand losses, minimize dredging costs, and help protect the public. This could also reduce turbidity which would improve fishing and recreation while reducing water treatment costs. I can think of four potential strategies off the top of my head: a) replanting areas no longer actively being mined to reduce erosion, b) building walls around stockpiles that protect them from floods, c) strengthening dikes so they don’t collapse, and d) giving the river more room to expand during floods. In regard to the latter, the dikes are currently built right at the river’s edge, leaving no room for the river to expand before it floods the mines.

Sand mines by Sorters Road in Montgomery County west of Kingwood. Note how the placement of their dikes give the West Fork no room to expand during a flood. This contributes to dike collapse, mine inundation and loss of sand.

8) Temporarily lower the level of Lake Conroe. Lower the level up to one foot during the rainiest months in spring and up to two feet during the peak of hurricane season. While two feet may sound draconian to some Lake Conroe residents, on average, it’s really only 4.8 inches below the amount usually lost though evaporation during September. This is the only buffer that the upper Lake Houston area can have against flooding until we implement other mitigation measures. The SJRA board has already approved this proposal, but the City of Houston and the Texas Council on Environmental Quality have not yet done so. The Lake Conroe Association has vowed to fight a two-foot lowering.

9) Create more public green spaces near the river. I would like to see groups such as the Bayou Land Conservancy work with cities, counties and the state to buy up undeveloped and abandoned land along the river. They could then put conservation easements on it to help protect us all from future flooding. Keeping that land natural would reduce runoff;  provide a buffer between homes and harm; preserve nature and wildlife; improve water quality; and create more recreational opportunities.

10) Improve communication during power outages. We need a way to warn people when power is knocked out during a storm, cell towers are overloaded, and people are sleeping. Simply publishing information is not enough if people cannot receive it. Perhaps we need sirens linked to back up generators, like those used to warn people of tornadoes throughout most of the midwest. 

What are Your Ideas?

Please use the contact page on this web site to send me your ideas. I will add them to this list and present it to city, county, state, and river authority officials. This area probably has more geoscientists and engineers per square foot than anywhere in the world. Please help. Sound off. Let your voice be heard. Let’s show the world we can lick this problem together. If you wish, I will protect your privacy by publishing your thoughts anonymously.

Posted April 20, 2018, by Bob Rehak

Day 264 since Hurricane Harvey


Montgomery County, Harris County Flood Control and SJRA Working on Funding Agreement for Flood Control

(April 17, 2018) Montgomery County, Harris County Flood Control District and the San Jacinto River Authority are finalizing an agreement for a $2.5 million study that will improve the region’s flood notification capabilities and identify specific flood control projects.

The Harris County Flood Control District submitted the grant application to the Texas Division of Emergency Management on April 16th.

Thanks to Gov. Greg Abbott, up to $1.875 million in federal funds could be allocated for the study if the grant is awarded through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. It requires a 25 percent match; if the full $2.5 million is received, the local match would be $625,000. Montgomery county, SJRA and Harris County Flood Control would share that matching cost.

“With this study we will gain a better knowledge of our Montgomery County streams and watersheds, a more complete flood warning system, and the ability to identify specific projects that could reduce the risk of flooding in the future,” Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal said.

San Jacinto River Watershed Flow Rates

Where Water Came From During Harvey

The goals of the study are to:

  • Prepare a plan to integrate flood warning information from HCFCD, SJRA, MCO, and COH into a shared system that can be utilized by all parties to make informed decisions; it includes expanding the flood warning system network.
  • Coordinate with flood responders including Harris County Office of Emergency Management (OEM), Montgomery County OEM, SJRA, City of Houston, and potentially others, such as the Harris County Flood Control District’s Hydrologic Operations Department, to develop a consistent communications protocol and action plan.
  • Recommend strategies to reduce flood risk and prepare a plan to implement the recommendations. Flood damage reduction options will likely include large regional detention ponds, channel improvements, vegetation and sedimentation removal, and property buy-outs.
  • Develop programs and/or materials that educate the decision makers and the public on the extent of the San Jacinto River Basin, general drainage patterns, maintenance programs for the San Jacinto River and its tributaries, potential flood reduction projects, and information relating to major flooding in the San Jacinto River watershed.

The proposed study would examine the entire San Jacinto River watershed, including Cypress Creek, Spring Creek, Peach Creek, Caney Creek, Lake Creek, the east and west forks of the San Jacinto and others. Review the scope of the project here.

If this cooperative project gets underway soon, it will mean that survey work on the East Fork of the San Jacinto can begin while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredges the West Fork between I-69 and Lake Houston. Concurrent work will speed up flood mitigation.

Posted April 20, 2018, 234 Days Since Hurricane Harvey