Tag Archive for: flood infrastructure fund

2023 Legislature Scorecard on Flood Issues: 2 Wins, 4 Losses, 1 Toss-up

The 2023 legislature scorecard, just five years after Hurricane Harvey, shows that flooding is fast becoming forgotten in Texas. Of the seven issues I tracked, the Lake Houston Area had two wins, four losses, and one that could be ruled a coin toss depending on your point of view.

In the Win Column

Let’s look at the good news first.

HB 1: More Floodgates for Lake Houston

Due to last minute heroics, HB 1 contained enough money earmarked for more gates to keep the project alive. A last minute phone-call campaign by hundreds of citizens making thousands of phone calls to key state legislators in the House and Senate succeeded in getting riders attached to the budget bill.

Few projects have inspired more hope among residents in the northeastern part of Harris County than the one to add more floodgates to the Lake Houston Dam. The Lake Houston Area Flood Task Force identified the project as one of the top priorities for the area.

The idea: to release water both earlier and faster in advance of major storms to create more storage in Lake Houston. Right now, Lake Conroe can release water 15 times faster than Lake Houston. And the release from Lake Conroe during Harvey was widely seen as one of the contributing factors to the flooding of so many homes and businesses in the Lake Houston Area.

The governor signed HB 1 on 6/18/23. It becomes effective on 9/1/23. With funding secured, Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin says final design on the gates is proceeding.

Lake Houston Gates Project
Lake Houston Gates Project
SB 1397: TCEQ Reforms

The TCEQ was under sunset review this year. No one proposed eliminating the TCEQ. But many people had ideas to improve it. They focused on two main areas: increasing transparency and improving enforcement.

The Sunset Commission recommended measures to improve public outreach, public notices, community input, and dissemination of public information, including the publication of best practices for sand mining.

The Commission also recommended updating the TCEQ’s enforcement practices to better focus on the riskiest actors and ensure staff treat potential violations consistently and based on severity. 

Breach in dike of Triple PG mine remained open for months, sending wastewater into Lake Houston. Texas Attorney General is now suing the mine.

The governor signed SB 1397 on 6/18/23. It becomes effective on 9/1/23.

In the Loss Column

SB 2431/HB 5338: Gulf Coast Resiliency District

These companion bills would have transformed the Harris County Flood Control District into the Gulf Coast Resiliency District. The new District would have been governed by a board appointed by the Governor instead of management hired by Harris County Commissioners.

The idea: to create regional solutions that benefitted all residents of Harris County, not just those that scored high on an equity formula.

The County fought the bill(s) tooth and nail. Each failed to get out of committee.

HB 1093: Financial Surety Guaranteeing Sand Mine Cleanup

The bill died in the House Natural Resources committee. It never even got a public hearing.

This bill would have required sand mining companies to post financial surety that would guarantee cleanup of mines before they were abandoned. Abandoned mines on both the San Jacinto East and West Forks are littered with the remains of once thriving operations. But when the sand played out, the miners walked away, leaving a legacy of blight for the public to clean up.

abandoned dredge
Abandoned dredge in mine on North Houston Ave. in Humble. Property is unfenced so kids can play on equipment.
HB5341: Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District

This bill also died in the House Natural Resources committee. House Bill 5341 would have created a Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District. Its purpose would be to remove sediment, debris, sand, and gravel  from Lake Houston and its tributaries to restore, maintain, and expand the Lake to mitigate storm flows. 

SB 1366: Flood Infrastructure Financing

This bill died in the Senate Finance committee. Senate Bill 1366 would have redirected surplus revenue from the economic stabilization fund to the Flood Infrastructure Fund. The State’s Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) has turned into one of the main sources of funding for Texas Water Development Board grants and one of the main ways that smaller counties and cities can fund flood projects. 

Passed but Failed
HB 1540: SJRA Reforms

HB 1540 passed. The bill implements reforms recommended by the Sunset Review Committee for the the San Jacinto River Authority. Many of those are good and needed reforms. They include provisions governing:

  • Gubernatorial designation of the presiding officer of SJRA’s board of directors;
  • Specific grounds for removal of a board member;
  • Board member training;
  • Separation of the board’s policy-making responsibilities and the staff’s managementresponsibilities;
  • Maintenance of complaint information; and
  • Public testimony at board meetings.

Approval should have been a rubber stamp. But at the last minute, Rep. Will Metcalf from Conroe offered an amendment that effectively fired Jace Houston, SJRA’s general manager and leader of the SJRA’s fight to reduce subsidence. The amended bill passed the Senate. Houston resigned effective 6/30/23. And now the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District has no one to challenge unlimited groundwater pumping in Montgomery County.

Some in the Lake Houston Area who flooded during Harvey may rejoice at Houston’s departure. But differential subsidence is tilting Lake Houston upstream. It could make the Lake Houston Dam two feet higher relative to areas upstream near the county line. That could eliminate the safety margin above the floodplain for many homes in the next big flood.

subsidence in Harris County
Modeling shows 3 feet of subsidence near Harris/Montgomery county line, but only one foot at Lake Houston Dam.

As someone who had floodwater lapping at his foundation, I personally would put this one in the loss column.

The governor signed the bill on 6/18/23. It goes into effect on 9/1/2023.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/2/23

2133 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

TWDB Approves $10.1 Million to Widen, Deepen Taylor Gully

At its first May board meeting this morning, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved a $10.1 million loan to the City of Houston to widen and deepen Taylor Gully.

Removing 400 Homes from Harm’s Way

The project should help alleviate flooding in Kingwood subdivisions such as Elm Grove, North Kingwood Forest, Mills Branch and Woodstream Forest. Residents in each village experienced disastrous flooding, not once, but twice in 2019. Widening and deepening the gully will increase its conveyance and take more than 400 homes out of harm’s way.

Connected Issues

However, the increased conveyance could also create the need for more more detention capacity to reduce the risk of flooding elsewhere.

This graph of Brays Bayou during the last century shows how runoff accelerates with development. Instead of floodwaters being stored in wetlands and forests, storm drains rush the water to the bayou. That results in higher, faster rises during storms.

Rapid upstream development has put pressure that never existed before on downstream homes. That development decreases the time of accumulation for floodwaters. Without more detention ponds to hold some water back, widening, deepening Taylor Gully could solve a problem in one place and create a problem in another. It could result in faster, higher flood peaks downstream.

Woodridge Village Could Be Part of Taylor Gully Solution

The logical place to put the extra floodwater detention would be on the Woodridge Village property that Harris County just acquired from Perry Homes. Currently, the property is about 40% short of the detention pond capacity needed to absorb a 100-year rainfall under new Atlas-14 requirements. And it has more than 170 acres available to meet that need.

Woodridge Village and headwaters of Taylor Gully (upper left) as they existed in January of 2020

The City loan which will be matched by money from the Harris County Flood Bond and, hopefully the federal government, can be used to address both conveyance and detention issues.

Delicate Dance Between Political, Project Leaders

Thanks to the TWDB, the bulk of construction money is now committed to the project through the City of Houston. That means the lead partner on this project, HCFCD, can tell its engineering contractor to accelerate planning.

Development of such projects is often like a dance between political and project leadership. Neither side can get out of step with the other for long.

At this hour, many details have yet to be worked out on the engineering and cost estimating side. But some of the political and funding clouds are parting enough to see a clear path to completion. However, one thing is perfectly clear.

As watersheds develop, it’s important to set aside room for detention pond capacity. Once a watershed is fully developed, homes and businesses must be bought out to create those ponds.

The buyouts increase the time and cost of projects exponentially.

For the minutes of today’s TWDB board meeting, click here and view Item #6.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/6/2021

1346 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 595 since Imelda

TWDB To Vote on Financial Assistance for Improving Taylor Gully Level of Service from 10 to 100 Years

In its May 6 board meeting tomorrow, the Texas Water Development Board will vote on whether to approve financial assistance from the Texas Flood Infrastructure Fund to widen and deepen Taylor Gully. That would increase the “level of service” from 10 to 100 years.

The channel would then be able to handle a 100-year rain without flooding instead of just a 10-year rain as it does now. And that would benefit more than 400 homes.

To put a ten-year rainfall into perspective, the eight inches received in two days last week by areas northwest of Lake Houston qualified as a ten-year year event. Luckily, the rain that fell over the Taylor Gully watershed only qualified as a 1- to 2-year rain.

Taylor Gully is the channel below Woodridge Village that experienced disastrous flooding twice in 2019 on May 7th and September 19th (during Imelda).

Explanation of Partnerships and Financing

The City of Houston has requested a $10.1 million loan for construction of the Taylor Gully project. The financial assistance that the TWDB will vote on would take the form of a purchase of City of Houston bonds.

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) would lead the project all the way through construction. The Flood Control District (and hopefully, federal money) will provide the balance of project funds up to $20.2 million out of Bond Project ID F-14 and a Community Project Funding request by US Congressman Dan Crenshaw.

The project will require a considerable amount of upfront work that includes engineering, design, surveying, geotechnical work, environmental permitting and more. The project won’t be ready for actual construction for at least a year. And the City cannot tap into a construction loan until construction starts.

Therefore, the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) will use County money to cover those upfront costs, according to Alan Black, Director of Operations for HCFCD. Some land acquisition may also be necessary, though that has not been fully investigated yet.

Congressman Dan Crenshaw has requested federal dollars to help supplement HCFCD funds for the Taylor Gully and Kingwood Diversion Ditch improvements identified in the Kingwood Area Drainage Analysis. Federal dollars could help stretch local dollars to help develop more projects. (See below about Cypress Creek projects.)

Crucial TWDB to Vote Tomorrow

But everything hinges on the City’s application for a loan from the Texas Flood Infrastructure fund. The City’s request will be #6 on the TWDB meeting agenda. Here is the packet for the board that explains the proposal. It includes cost breakdowns and a timetable, which will likely be accelerated according to project insiders.

The TWDB staff has recommended that the board approve the project.


The Taylor Gully watershed currently has a 10-year level of service because the area upstream has undergone significant development with limited flood mitigation or detention.

Elm Grove debris pile from Imelda flood. This is one of hundreds of homes that flooded near Taylor Gully.

The proposed project includes improvements along the Taylor Gully channel to upgrade the conveyance capacity to provide a 100-year level of service. The improvements include channel widening, deepening, and lining. The project will benefit more than 400 structures. 387 will see direct benefit during 100-year inundations. An additional 62 structures benefit indirectly.

How to Attend the TWDB Meeting

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) meeting to consider approving financial assistance for Flood Infrastructure Fund projects will be held on Thursday, May 6, at 9:30 a.m. There are two ways that the public and interested stakeholders may attend the Board meeting:  

  1. Via GoToWebinar 
  2. Via AdminMonitor.

A recording of the meeting will also be available.

If you wish to address the Board, please fill out the visitor registration form and send it to Cheryl.Arredondo@twdb.texas.gov no later than 8:00 a.m. on May 6. For more information, please visit the TWDB’s website.

This link explains how the TWDB closing process works on loans.


State Senator Brandon Creighton sponsored the bill that created the state’s Flood Infrastructure Fund in the 2019 legislature. This link tracks expenditures from the Flood Infrastructure Fund. To date, the TWDB has committed almost $200 million from the fund.

The TWDB has recognized the importance of the project. The City of Houston is putting up the lion’s share of the money for the project. HCFCD is fronting the upfront costs and half of construction dollars. And Congressman Dan Crenshaw is helping to stretch local dollars by supplementing them with federal funds.

HCFCD, Crenshaw Also Working on Cypress Creek Improvements

Crenshaw’s funding request would also help fund the Westador and TC Jester Detention Basins on Cypress Creek. Those are two large basins being planned by HCFCD. Together they would hold about 1,600 acre-feet of stormwater.

To put that in perspective, 1,600 acre feet is enough to contain a foot of rain falling over 2.4 square miles. That could provide benefits both upstream and down. More news to follow on those projects.

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 5, 2021

1345 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 594 since Imelda

Friday Flood Digest

Here’s a digest of recent flood-related happenings. Follow the links for more detailed information.

Texas’ First-Ever Regional Flood Planning Process Gets Underway

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is helping recently formed regional-flood planning groups deliver 15 regional flood plans by January of 2023. These regional flood plans will form Texas’ first-ever state flood plan, due to the legislature by September of 2024.

The Board designated flood-planning group members on October 1st. The regional flood planning group meetings are publicly posted under the Texas Open Meetings Act. The first meetings were posted on the TWDB website and the Secretary of State website. Groups have two objectives:

  • Reduce current flood risk
  • Prevent creation of new flood risk 

Flood Projects Move Closer to Funding

Flood projects eligible for funding through the State’s Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) moved one step closer to becoming a reality this week. Select applicants are currently submitting complete (as opposed to abridged) project applications to the TWDB. These applications will help Texas communities finance drainage and flood mitigation and control projects.

Eligible entities submitted 280 abridged applications for more than $2.3 billion in financial assistance.

TWDB culled that list to fit the available $770 million in funding for structural and nonstructural flood projects. Of that $770 million, TWDB will allocate $231 million (30 percent) to grants and $539 million (70 percent) to loans with no interest.

TWDB Chairman Peter Lake characterized this program as one of the biggest steps the State has ever taken toward flood mitigation.

As of November 5, 2020, the TWDB had received 125 applications from cities, counties, water districts, and other political subdivisions. The deadline for full applications is November 23.

Four of five SJRA abridged applications made the cut:

  • Upper San Jacinto Sedimentation Study
  • Spring Creek Flood Control Dams Conceptual Engineering Study
  • Lake Conroe/Lake Houston Joint Operations Study
  • Flood Early Warning System for San Jacinto County

Chuck Gilman, SJRA’s Director of Water Resources and Flood Management, said, “We hope to receive final notice on our four full applications in late December or early January.”

“The causes and effects of flooding vary from region to region, so there is no single ‘silver bullet’ solution to mitigate floods,” said Lake. “It is critical that we support Texas communities as they plan for and mitigate future risks based on their unique needs and circumstances.”

The Board will consider approving financial assistance commitments at public meetings in the coming months.“Financial assistance will help communities with both flood planning and project implementation. While we can’t avoid natural disasters, we can mitigate the damage they do,” said Lake.

Fire and Flooding

Fire and flooding may seem like a strange combination. But yes, fire can contribute to flooding. I first noticed this phenomenon on an island called Guanaja in the Bay of Honduras where I used to scuba dive. One year, poachers set fires at the bottom of a hill to drive exotic tropical birds toward nets at the top of the hill. The next year, half the hill slid into the Caribbean during heavy rains.

So what does that have to do with Houston? As drought approaches, developers continue to set fires to clear land. That kills all the grasses that retain soil. When rain does return, that soil will wash downstream and likely contribute to the mouth bar growing on the San Jacinto East Fork. Reduction of the river’s “conveyance” can back water up and contribute to flooding.

Drought Vs. Flooding

Jeff Lindner, Harris County Meteorologist says, “The focus for the last several years has been on flooding and heavy rainfall. We’ve had floods in some portion of Texas for each of the last 5 years. However, the onset of moderate to strong La Niña conditions in the Pacific appear to be swinging the state back toward a dry period.”

“What was predicted to be an active period next week is slowly decreasing both “cold” and “moisture” wise in recent model runs, as is typical in La Nina winters,” says Lindner.

Climate Prediction Center outlooks for the next two weeks indicate below average rainfall and above average temperatures. Similar outlooks continue for three months. Vegetation health will continue to decline, but likely at a slower rate than during the hot summer months when heat is maximized.  

Three month outlook from NOAA predicts below average rainfall across southern US.

So be careful of outdoor burning (see story above). Many counties have already imposed outdoor burn bans.

Note outdoor burn ban in Liberty County.

The only positive side of drought is that it can make ideal construction weather for flood-mitigation projects (see two stories above).

Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force Has First Meeting

The Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force held its first meeting earlier this month. The first order of business: expand the group’s membership from five to 17. The group is creating a web site which will accept online applications; it should be up shortly.

The application deadline: December 11. Stay alert for more information if you are interested in representing your area. Preference will be given to those:

  • Who have flooded
  • Represent flood-prone communities
  • Have knowledge in certain areas, such as housing, public health, engineering/construction, urban design/planning, flood-risk mitigation, environment, etc.

Water Baron of Montgomery County Takes On World; Lawyers Drool

Simon Sequeira, CEO of Quadvest and the Water Baron of Montgomery County, continues his War with the World. At the last GMA14 meeting, lawyers are reportedly lining up to get a piece of the action and licking their lips.

Sequeira also supplies water to Colony Ridge in Liberty County. Several years ago, he led a fight to get the board of the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District elected rather than appointed. Then he backed candidates who favored unlimited groundwater pumping and promised to Restore Affordable Water.

Broken Promises

While groundwater is cheaper than surface water, water bills reportedly failed to come down. However, he has stopped paying the SJRA. Sequeira says he is setting aside that money in a special fund in case he loses his legal battle with the SJRA. But his legal battles go far beyond the SJRA. He’s also taking on the rest of GMA14.

GMA14 includes the 15 colored counties above, each represented by a different conservation district. Montgomery County (dark blue) has the Lonestar Groundwater Conservation District.
Purpose of Groundwater Management Areas

GMA stands for groundwater management area. GMAs were set up years ago, in part, to make sure that one county doesn’t hog groundwater, depriving surrounding areas and creating subsidence. So the other counties in GMA14 get to approve (or not) the groundwater withdrawal rates in Montgomery County.

They do that by defining “desired future conditions.” How much drawdown in an aquifer is acceptable? How much subsidence can people and infrastructure tolerate?

GMA14 wants Sequeira to leave 70% of the water in aquifers intact and to produce no more than 1 foot of subsidence.

Hired-Gun Experts Defy Scientific Consensus

Ever since, Sequeira took on this fight, his hired-gun experts have been trying to prove subsidence doesn’t pose a threat in Montgomery County. Unfortunately, data and models don’t agree with him. His pumping has already created subsidence in MoCo and now threatens northern Harris County, too.

Strangely enough, while science has shown – and the rest of the world believes – that unlimited groundwater pumping causes subsidence, Sequeira does not. His profit margin depends on cheap groundwater, unfettered by fees designed to encourage people to convert to surface water.

Five Alternative Plans Considered

Sequeira and company originally proposed three alternative plans to GMA14 that involved pumping:

  • 900 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer
  • 700 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer
  • 250 feet of decline in the Jasper Aquifer (Similar to Run D scenario, modeled below.)

Of those three, GMA14 only considered the last (even though Lone Star and GMA14 use different criteria to describe the volume pumped).

GMA14 countered by adding two more alternatives that involved even less pumping:

  • 115,000 acre-feet per year (Similar to Lone Star’s Run D scenario. See below).
  • 97,000 acre-feet per year
  • 61,000 acre-feet per year

The two sides are still arguing about how much can be pumped safely. And that’s why the lawyers are drooling.

Models Show Unacceptable Subsidence from Sequeira’s Least Damaging Plan

Subsidence can alter the landscape in ways that cause water to collect in areas that otherwise might not flood. The maps below model projected subsidence in south Montgomery and northern Harris Counties. And we know that this model under-predicts subsidence. That’s because it doesn’t model ANY subsidence from the Jasper aquifer.

Sequeira’s least damaging plan would cause up to 3.25 feet of subsidence in southern Montgomery County and up to 3 feet in northern Harris County, according to GMA14. See below.

Pumping 115,000 feet per year would cause up to 3.25 feet of subsidence in southern MoCo.
The same amount of pumping would cause up 3 feet of subsidence in parts of Kingwood and Huffman, and a foot or more in much of the rest of Harris County.
Effect on Humble, Kingwood, Atascocita, Huffman Areas

If you live in the Lake Houston Area and you stare at that last subsidence map long enough, eventually you will come to a jaw-dropping realization. The Lake Houston spillway is only subsiding by a foot. But the headwaters of the lake are subsiding up to 3 feet. Imagine filling your bathtub with water and then tilting it two feet.

Homes and businesses in the headwaters of Lake Houston will be lowered 2 feet relative to the spillway.

That’s a huge amount. Those who built homes a foot above the hundred year flood-plain would find themselves a foot below it. Those who had a couple inches of water in their homes would have more than two feet after subsidence.

Battle Lines Drawn

So the battle lines are drawn. Sequeira wants to allow up to 900 feet of decline in the Jasper aquifer. And GMA14 wants no more than 1 foot of subsidence with 70% of the aquifer intact. That would mean pumping less than 100,000 acre feet per year.

The presence of so many lawyers in the last GMA14 meeting reportedly has the smaller groundwater management districts nervous. One observer used the word “intimidated.” Some don’t have financial resources to fight Sequeira.

Lawyers I talk to believe Sequeira has little chance of winning a lawsuit. But who needs a favorable judgment when you have an army of lawyers that can intimidate the other side into backing down.

However, if Sequeira is successful, he could open up himself and the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District to billions of dollars in “takings” claims. The lawyers make out coming and going.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/20/2020

1179 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Details of SJRA Grant Application for Upper River Basin Sedimentation Study

SJRA has applied for a $375,000 grant from the Texas Water Development Board’s (TWDB) Flood Infrastructure Fund to study sedimentation in a six county area:

  • Liberty
  • Waller
  • Grimes
  • San Jacinto
  • Harris
  • Montgomery

The City’s of Conroe and Houston also support the effort.

Sedimentation Known to Limit Floodway Conveyance

Sedimentation in the Upper San Jacinto River Basin says the SJRA, “…is known to impact floodway conveyance capacity.”

SJRA Grant Application

In order to create a plan for implementing potential sediment solutions, this study will develop “sediment budgets” by evaluating the input, output, and storage of sediment for the entire basin, as well as for sub-watersheds within the basin.

Identifying Largest Problem Areas

This process will identify which sub-watersheds in the basin:

  • Produce the most sediment
  • Store the most sediment.

With this information, the SJRA says it can prioritize locations for improvements, mitigate loss of floodway conveyance, and develop best management practices. In regard to the latter, changes of regulations could be considered.

Much Has Changed Since Last Study

KBR conducted the last study on this issue in 1998. Since then, we’ve seen exponential growth of sand mining and development in this watershed. Both have the capacity to change conclusions from the KBR study. So a new study is highly warranted.

Confluence of Spring Creek and West Fork. TCEQ alleges that Liberty Mines discharged 56 million gallons of white waste water into the West Fork.

What’s Included in Study?

Specific tasks anticipated to be included in the scope of work include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Upper San Jacinto River Basin watershed characterization
  • Inventory of available existing data
  • Annual sediment output determination
  • Annual sediment storage determination
  • Sediment transport modeling
  • Individual sediment source or storage locations determination
  • Individual site investigations
  • Key stakeholder and permitting agency coordination
  • Development of conceptual solutions and overall implementation strategy
  • Development of Upper San Jacinto River Basin sediment management plan

If approved, the grant would also include development of cost estimates, preliminary exhibits, and preliminary permitting requirement evaluation.

All identified projects, efforts, and practices will be ranked and included in an implementation plan. Ultimately all information will be compiled into a regional sediment management plan, which can guide mitigation efforts in the future.

Building on Other Recent Efforts

The project will take advantage of data and tools developed recently as part of the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan project (SJRWMDP) now nearing completion.

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) leads that project. It utilizes Atlas 14 rainfall. The project will also utilize data developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Harris County while dredging sediment from the mouth of Lake Houston.

SJRA feels the proposed project will increase benefits gained from state and federal dredging efforts which total approximately $125 million.

Finally, this project will also build on a sand trap development project currently being performed by SJRA in coordination with HCFCD along the West and East Forks of the San Jacinto River. SJRA already submitted a separate abridged application for the next phase of the sand trap development project.

FOUR YEARS to Complete!@#$%

SJRA anticipates that this study will take 4 years to complete! It says the work will only take 18 months or less, but budgeting uncertainties related to COVID-19 will delay the start of the project. With seven partners, the matching funds demanded from each would only about to about $50,000.

However, this delay, says the SJRA, will allow completion of the sand trap preliminary design study so that the SJRA can use that information as input for the sedimentation study.

While this grant application covers only planning and study, it will identify sedimentation solutions, and guide future sedimentation reduction projects, efforts, and practices.

Helping Preserve Water Storage Capacity in Lake Houston

Any sedimentation reduction activity in the Upper San Jacinto River Basin (Lake Houston watershed) should reduce the sediment load entering Lake Houston. That would help preserve volume for water storage. Lake Houston is the main water supply reservoir for approximately 2 million people.

Until SJRA identifies sedimentation solutions, it cannot quantify sedimentation reduction benefits. One of the main goals, however, would be to restore, maintain, or expand storm flow capacity, which could potentially remove structures from the floodplain.

Flood mitigation provided by these future projects/efforts/practices could benefit areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda as well as other major storms such as Hurricanes Ike and Rita, and storms in 1994, 1998, 2015, and 2016.

To review the full application, click here.

To review related applications submitted by SJRA to TWDB, click the Reports page and scroll to the bottom of the SJRA tab.

Four Years Is WAAAAY Too Long

The only thing I don’t like about this study is the three year delay due to COVID. It’s already been three years since Harvey.

Of five recent grants that SJRA applied for, this is the only one that mentions such a delay.

If six counties, the Cities of Conroe and Houston, and the SJRA can’t come up with $50,000 each in matching funds, something’s seriously wrong. It would take more than that to repair ONE flooded home in each of those municipalities and counties. And that makes me wonder whether hidden hands are intentionally delaying this important study.

West Fork Sand Mine cited by TCEQ for unauthorized discharge of 56 million gallons of sediment-laden waste water into West Fork San Jacinto.

If you get in a helicopter and fly around for a day, it’s pretty obvious where the problems are.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/11/2020

1047 Days after Hurricane Harvey

SJRA Applies for TWDB Grant to Study Feasibility of Flood Control Dams in Spring Creek Watershed

The San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) has applied for a $500,000 grant from the Texas Water Development Board’s Flood Infrastructure Fund to study the possibility of building two flood control dams in the upper Spring Creek Watershed.

Spring Creek enters the West Fork and Lake Houston at US59. The watershed extends west from there and covers portions of Montgomery, Harris, Grimes, and Waller Counties. Spring Creek itself acts as the county line between Harris and Montgomery Counties.

Feasibility Study Would Build on Basin-Wide Study

The proposed project builds on a Spring Creek Siting Study, currently underway as part of the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan project. The latter should be released this fall.

The Siting Study, still in draft form, has identified two potential locations. One is along Walnut Creek and the other on Birch Creek.

Both have potential to mitigate flooding in the watershed. SJRA anticipates the Master Watershed Drainage Plan will recommend them for implementation. See draft spec sheets below.

Draft Walnut Creek spec sheet supplied as part of grant application
Draft Birch Creek spec sheet supplied as part of grant application

Notice that neither of these projects comes close to competing with the Barker or Addicks Reservoirs in terms of acre-feet of storage. At roughly 20,000 acre feet combined, they are roughly one twentieth the size of Barker and Addicks combined. That said, the proposed reservoirs could each still reduce flooding by up to half a foot for 25-40 miles downstream.

Grant Covers Everything Up Through Costing

The next phase of efforts related to the reservoirs will require, at a minimum:

  • Environmental due diligence
  • Site investigations
  • Literature and mapping review
  • Permitting requirement investigations
  • Desktop surveys/assessments
  • Preliminary coordination with permitting agency
  • Conceptual design of dams to determine feasibility – geotechnical borings, alternative configurations development, H&H modeling analysis, etc.
  • Cost estimate development – dam construction costs, as well as costs related to land acquisition, utility conflicts and relocations, environmental mitigation, O&M, etc.
  • Update benefit/cost ratios (BCR) from SJRWMDP using data developed as part of this effort.

Completion of these tasks will determine feasibility and cost-effectiveness. The grant will also help determine what should proceed to preliminary engineering, final design and construction.

Upstream Benefits of Project

Spring Creek watershed flood mitigation will benefit all areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey, as well as storms in 2016 (Tax Day and Memorial Day), 1994, Tropical Storm Imelda and other recent and historical events.

The most substantial benefits would accrue to structures within the Spring Creek Watershed. SJRA estimates the Birch and Walnut Creek reservoirs could remove 918 and 1,412 structures, from the 100-year floodplain based on Atlas-14 data.

Preliminary benefit/cost ratio (BCR) estimates range from 0.55-0.83 for Birch Creek to 0.78-1.06 for Walnut. However, SJRA feels the combined BCR of the two reservoirs could increase to 2.7 if social benefits typically allowed in FEMA grants are also included.

Downstream Benefits

Project benefits also extend farther downstream. In the event of major storms, the dams could delay water migrating downstream. That would help protect thousands of homes and businesses in the Lake Houston convergence zone. Remember the Plea for DDG (Detention, Dredging and Gates)? Adding to upstream detention was one of the three main strategies advocated by Lake Houston Area leaders after Harvey to reduce flooding.

The proposed dams will likely be earthen embankments with minimal permanent storage (i.e. “dry bottom” reservoirs) with and uncontrolled discharge structures and spillways.

Therefore, they will provide no water supply benefit. However, they could collect and trap sediment, which would otherwise flow into Spring Creek, the West Fork, and ultimately Lake Houston. That would reduce the loss of water storage in Lake Houston.

Timing and Partners

SJRA says it can complete the study within 18 months, but future design and construction will take longer.

SJRA will submit a separate application for an Upper San Jacinto River Basin Regional Sedimentation Study. If funded, it could help determine how much sediment the proposed dams could remove.

SJRA has not yet identified funding for operations and maintenance. This grant will not cover land acquisition, but will ultimately be required to implement construction.

For this specific application, SJRA received input from HCFCD, Harris County Precinct 4, Harris-Montgomery Counties MUD 386, Montgomery County, and Woodlands Water Agency.

To review the complete grant application, click here.

Next Steps

This is an abridged application. TWDB reviews abridged applications to rank the most important projects and ensure they have funding for them. If the abridged app is approved, SJRA must complete a more thorough application. TWDB will pass judgement on those before the end of the year.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/10/2020

1046 Days after Hurricane Harvey

City Applies for TWDB Grants to Turn Woodridge Village Into Detention Basin and More

Correction on 7/4/2020: The article below was based on a City of Houston District E newsletter. It inferred that the City “applied for” five grants (in bullet points below). Other entities, such as the SJRA, applied for those. Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin personally supports them.

The City of Houston has submitted several applications to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for Flood Infrastructure Fund dollars. Among the projects was one for Taylor Gully Flood Damage Reduction. It consists of evaluating flood reduction alternatives plus design, permitting, and construction of a detention basin located on a 278 acre site to the north of the Elm Grove subdivision.

Looking SW at Woodridge Village as of 6/16/2020

Woodridge Project One of Six Apps

Other applications include:

  • San Jacinto River Sand Trap Development
  • Spring Creek Watershed Flood Control Dams Conceptual Engineering
  • Upper San Jacinto River Basin Regional Sedimentation Study
  • Lake Conroe-Lake Houston Joint Reservoir Operations Study
  • Harris County MUD #153 Siltation Reduction

“All of these projects submitted for funding promote regional resiliency and future sustainability in an effort to protect life and property from future flooding,” said Mayor Pro Tem and District E City Council Member Dave Martin. “The ability to submit these projects to the TWDB for funding would not be possible without State Senator Brandon Creighton’s writing of Senate Bill 7. We continue to applaud the Senator for his forward thinking and hope to receive funding for these projects. State Representative Dan Huberty has also been a vocal proponent for resiliency within our area and just beyond the City boundary. We are thankful to have him as a local engaged leader.”

Looking NW from US59 (foreground) over San Jacinto West Fork at the confluence of Spring Creek (left) and the West Fork (right). Spring Creek splits off to left. Its watershed contains several natural areas that might make candidates for flood control dams.

Neither Martin, nor his office, provided additional details on any of the grant applications.

However, from the wording of the release, it sounds as though state leaders are fully aligned and engaged to support the projects.

Woodridge Village Project Has Long History

The grants, if approved, could help reduce flooding throughout the Lake Houston Area.

The Taylor Gully/Woodridge Village project is the most urgent. Homes around the troubled development flooded twice last year. At a Kingwood Townhall meeting in February, Martin said the County should pay for 100% of that project. But then the County demanded that the City should pay for half of the purchase price of the land. And at the next Commissioners’ Court meeting, Commissioner Ellis changed the deal again. He demanded that the City pay for half of the construction costs also.

Both the City and County have been silent on any deal since then. The County refused a Freedom of Information Act request to release the text of the motion, which was approved in a public meeting. They even protested release of the information to the State Attorney General.

Putting Application in Historical Context

The following is speculation, but speculation based on the historical context. It appears that when County Commissioners voted to demand that the City come up with half the the purchase AND construction costs, the City found it hard. The grant application, if successful, is a way for the City to help the people of Elm Grove, who flooded twice last year after Perry Homes cleared 268 acres of adjacent land.

At the time of the floods, less than 25% of the planned detention pond capacity was in place. Perry has since developed additional detention ponds that provide the other 75%.

However, even that probably won’t be enough to absorb a 100-year rain. That’s because Perry Homes rushed to have the project approved before NOAA’s new Atlas-14 precipitation frequency tables went into effect. The new Atlas-14 standard would require about 40% more detention capacity. And that’s what the purchase is all about.

Rumor has it that political forces are aligned to accelerate this particular request.

Observations on Other Grant Applications

Of the other applications, two surprise me.

A joint reservoir operations study seems necessary. Currently, FEMA is funding a preliminary engineering study to add additional gates to the Lake Houston Spillway. If FEMA also approved the money for construction of the gates, they will be a game changer.

The Spring Creek Watershed flood control dams would provide additional upstream detention. Community leaders identified that as a high priority after Harvey. They would reduce the amount of water coming downstream during a flood.

Harris County MUD #153 contains Lake Houston shoreline where silt from Rogers Gully has accumulated. Earlier this year, Harris County Flood Control cleared a large part of the Gully, but the part owned by the City remains clogged with a mouth bar.

Sand bar blocking mouth of Rogers Gully has backed up water and contributed to flooding. Photo taken 6/16/2020.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/3/2020

1039 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Texas Water Development Board Now Accepting Applications for Flood Infrastructure Fund Projects

On March 16, 2020, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) finally started accepting applications for flood infrastructure projects under Senate Bill 7 signed by the Governor on June 13, 2019. We’re now at 941 days since Hurricane Harvey.

What Took So Long

What took so long?

  • Harvey happened shortly after the 2017 legislature concluded.
  • The Governor would immediately release money from the Rainy Day Fund.
  • The next legislature met in January of 2019.
  • It took until the end of May, 2019 for SB7 to work it’s way through the Senate and House.
  • The Governor signed the bill in June.
  • The bill stipulated that the fund had to be approved to voters in November 2019. It was.
  • Then the TWDB had to develop rules for what types of projects would be eligible for assistance, how they would be prioritized, etc.

We Aren’t to Goal Line Yet

What happens next?

  • Cities and counties have until May 14 to submit preliminary, abridged applications.
  • By early Summer 2020, the board will prioritize the abridged applications.
  • They will then invite applicants whose project meet criteria and fit within available funding to submit complete applications.
  • Complete applications will be due by early August 2020, about three years after Harvey.
  • Financial assistance commitments will begin in October 2020.
  • Closings begin later in the fall. Commitments have a six-month expiration period.

Construction of projects can then begin. If they were construction projects. Some grants will cover planning activities such as:

  • Preliminary engineering
  • Project design
  • Feasibility assessments
  • Coordination and development of regional projects
  • Obtaining regulatory approvals
  • Hydraulic and hydrologic studies

Different Types of Projects Eligible

The Flood Infrastructure Fund established by SB7 provides grants and 0% loans totaling $793 million. Eligible projects fall into four categories.

  • Category 1 – Flood Protection Planning for Watersheds
  • Category 2 – Planning, Acquisition, Design, Construction, Rehabilitation.
  • Category 3 – Federal Award Matching Funds
  • Category 4 – Measures Immediately Effective in Protecting Life and Property

Here’s a 36-minute video that explains the incredibly complicated rules for distribution of the funds. Warning: the video is not geared toward the public, but toward City and County employees who will apply for grants. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes. Here’s a printed version of the Flood Infrastructure Fund Intended Use Plan that also describes all the rules.

Need to Move Quickly

With construction on many projects taking a year or more, the earliest citizens may see benefits from many of these grants will be 4 years post Harvey.

I understand the need to be cautious when handing out close to a billion dollars. But I also feel the need to act quickly with yet another hurricane season boring down on us. We should not forget that just last September, the fourth wettest storm in US history, Imelda, wiped out large areas between Houston and Beaumont. Sixty-two percent of the homes flooded during Imelda were outside of the 100-year floodplain. So we have lots of room for improvement.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/27/2020

941 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 190 since Imelda