Tag Archive for: flood insurance

November Flood-News Roundup

Below is a roundup of flood news this week – seven quick stories.

Montgomery County Buyout Deadline Fast Approaching

The deadline for the current round of buyout applications in Montgomery County is November 30, 2022.

The Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management still has money left in a Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Texas General Land Office (GLO) allocated the money to buy out homes flooded during 2016 and 2017 (Harvey).

There are strict eligibility requirements; see the applications online. However, MoCo is now taking applications from homeowners who flooded repeatedly regardless of income level. Previously, the county was giving preference to low-to-middle income (LMI) families meet HUD’s LMI quotas.

While HUD does cap maximum buyout costs, Montgomery County offers several “credits” that can help people. Those include, but are not limited to special credits for seniors and veterans, and for moving expenses.

The county is hosting a series of meetings to help residents understand their options. More details to follow in a separate post on this subject.

Tammy Gunnels home in Porter flooded 13 times in 11 years before finally getting a buyout last year through the programs mentioned above.

Regional Flood Planning Group Draft Plan

The public comment period for the San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group’s draft plan closed on October 29th. Here’s an overview of their recommendations. One was developing detention on and channelizing portions of Spring Creek. The Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC), one of the Houston region’s leading conservation groups, had concerns with that.

BLC submitted this letter. It details the dangers of channelization to the 14,000 acres it preserves. In particular, BLC feels the report does not adequately consider erosion that could be caused by speeding up floodwaters. They say that detention and channelization projects could destabilize the entire natural system along Spring Creek. They urge more study on sedimentation and erosion before moving forward with construction.

The next step: the Regional Flood Planning Group will consider all comments received and modify the draft plan as needed.

$750 Million HUD Grant to Harris County

After promising to submit its $750 million Method of Distribution (MOD) to the GLO by the end of September, Harris County still has not yet submitted it. GLO first said it planned to allocate the money to Harris County in May, 2021 – 17 months ago!

The MOD is a plan that shows how Harris County would allocate the money. Who gets how much for what? MOD approval is necessary to ensure the County spends the money in accordance with HUD and GLO requirements.

The money could cover all under- and unfunded projects in the 2018 Flood Bond. But in April, Harris County’s new administrator assigned the task of developing the MOD to the Community Services Department instead of the Flood Control District – even though Community Services has had four leadership changes under Lina Hidalgo.

Community Services said that it planned to deliver the MOD to GLO by the end of September and publish the draft MOD by the end of October. Neither happened. The last response from Community Services was at the start of October.

At that time, the department head said the group had determined a “process” for developing the MOD. But they had yet to define any projects. For that, they were waiting for “direction from leadership.” As a result, $750 million that could mitigate flooding in Harris County is still sitting in Washington at HUD.

Meanwhile, GLO also notified H-GAC of a $488 million dollar allocation on the same day in May, 2021. H-GAC has already developed its MOD and gotten it approved. And H-GAC sub-recipients are reportedly already taking bids on projects.

There’s a lot of flood-mitigation money waiting in the wings that could accelerate Harris County projects. The longer Community Services waits, the more it places the money in jeopardy. Fifty percent must be spent in the next three years.

“Water Has a Memory”

New York 1 published a fascinating story about an ecologist tracing New York flooding back to its roots with old maps. The title: “A map of New York City before it was a city could provide answers to today’s flooding.”

The central figure in this detective story is Eric Sanderson. He cross-references current flooding issues with a historical chart of “the city’s buried, drained, filled-in or paved-over waterways.”

In every case, he says, the problems have the same roots. 

People built lives in places that used to be underwater. And water, he says, has a memory. 

“Maybe there was a wetland there, maybe there was a stream there, maybe there was a pond there, and people have forgotten,” Sanderson said in the interview.

We see this constantly in Houston. In one extreme case, a developer cleared property, filled in wetlands and THEN conducted an environmental survey.


All but a few of the 131 mini-homes at the Preserve at Woodridge are now framed out. The closer this site gets to completion, the more I question the accuracy of the engineer’s claim of only 66% impervious cover.

The Preserve at Woodridge will feature some homes as large as 660 square feet and four feet apart. Photo October 31, 2022.
Kids will love this area for Halloween. More candy per footstep.

Flood-Insurance Flap

The Houston Chronicle recently published an editorial about new flood Insurance rates designed to stanch financial hemorrhaging in the National Flood Insurance Plan. The title: “What happened to affordable flood insurance?”

For the first time this year, FEMA is trying to put flood insurance rates on an actuarial basis. But weening people off nationally subsidized insurance is proving difficult. The article claims some people have 500% rate increases even though increases are capped at a far lower rate.

While bemoaning the unintended consequences of well-intended reforms, the editorial proposes a solution: making flood-insurance rates “income based”!

One wonders about the unintended consequences of that. Will the availability of cheap flood insurance encourage building low-income housing only in the riskiest areas?

We shouldn’t forget that it was the availability of cheap flood insurance that encouraged building in flood-prone areas to begin with.

There may be no good solutions to this problem. Many feel government should have never have gotten involved in flood insurance from the start.

One insurance agent I talked to suggested this. “Worst case: offer buyouts to people who can’t afford flood insurance with the understanding that if declined, then there will be no more assistance for financial losses due to flooding.”

I personally favor a two-tiered public/private approach similar to Medicare. Cap the federally subsidized insurance at a level that stops the hemorrhaging. Then, let private insurers fill the gaps up to the full value of expensive homes.

This debate could take years.

New Netflix Series: High Water

Sally Geis, a former Kingwood resident, wrote me about a new Netflix show called “High Water.” It’s based on true events in 1997. It describes a massive flood that took place in Wrocław, Poland. The flood caused $3.5 billion in damages and put almost half of the city underwater.

However, it could have been smaller if one of the villages had allowed the incoming flood waters to be diverted onto their fields. Their “not-in-my-backyard” refusal and the disastrous individual and community consequences are the theme of the series. Sound familiar?

The acting and production design are first-rate, according to Geis. “It’s a story about a real disaster and real problems that can happen anywhere on the globe right now,” she says.

Click here for the trailer.


Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/4/22

1893 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.

Mythbusters: Common Misperceptions about Flooding in Harris County

Since Hurricane Harvey, I’ve continually run into several widely held misperceptions about flooding in Harris County. As we head into another hurricane season, let’s set the record straight about the most common myths. Some of the facts below have been adapted from information provided by the Harris County Flood Control District.

MYTH: The Harris County Flood Control District is responsible for addressing all types of flooding.

FACT: The Harris County Flood Control District is responsible for bayous and many of their tributaries. However, the City of Houston, other municipalities, and Precincts – in unincorporated Harris County – handle storm sewers and roadside ditches.

street flooding

The Texas Department of Transportation handles drainage of highways and their feeder roads.

The moral of this story: make sure you call the right people when you see a problem developing.

MYTH: I’ve lived in my house for more than 30 years and I’ve never flooded. Therefore, I don’t need flood insurance.

FACT: Most Harris County residents live in homes vulnerable to flooding because:

  • Our topography is flat.
  • Many of us have impermeable clay soils that increase runoff.
  • Our subtropical climate can produce large amounts of rain in short periods of time.

Storm rainfall patterns may have spared your area since you have lived there. But that could change like the weather.

Remember. People thought Tropical Storm Allison was the worst. It caused all the flood maps to be revised. Then along came Harvey. Now, HCFCD and FEMA are revising the flood maps again.

During Harvey, more than 68 percent of the homes that flooded in Harris County were outside the 100-year flood plain. So, consult your insurance agent. Most homeowner insurance policies do not cover flooding. You need a separate policy for that.

MYTH: A 1-percent (100-year) flood occurs only once every 100 years.

FACT: A 1-percent (100-year) flood can occur multiple times throughout a century. A 100-year flood has a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given location in any given year. Doesn’t sound like a lot? Think of it this way: A home in a 1-percent (100-year) floodplain has at least a 26-percent chance of flooding during a 30-year period of time – the duration of many home mortgages. And remember, Harris County experienced four hundred-year events in four years (Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey, and Imelda).

MYTH: I only need to worry about flooding during hurricane season.

FACT: Flooding can happen any time of the year. Of the four storms mentioned above, two occurred outside of hurricane season.

Short, high intensity rainfalls can cause street flooding that invades vehicles and homes built close to street level or near developments with insufficient mitigation.

Hundreds of homes flooded in Elm Grove on May 7, 2019. The causes: 5.64″ of rain in about 12 hours. And a 270-acre tract upstream that had recently been clearcut with only 9% of the promised detention ponds constructed.

high water rescue truck
High water rescue truck on flooded Elm Grove Street, May 2019

MYTH: If I didn’t flood during Allison or Harvey, chances are I won’t ever flood.

FACT: The greatest rainfall brought by Tropical Storm Allison hit the northeast part of Houston and Harris County, dropping more than 28 inches of rain in 12 hours and 35 inches of rain in five days. However, some areas received fewer than 5 inches of rain. Had the damaging rains of Allison targeted other areas, they would have experienced similar, devastating flooding.

Harvey also hit and missed certain areas. But the differences were even more dramatic. While Friendswood received 56″ of rain, Willis in Montgomery County received only 5″ between August 25 through September 1, 2017. See USGS, Table 1, Page 3.

MYTH: I don’t need flood insurance because I don’t live in a mapped floodplain.

FACT: We are all at risk for flooding regardless of our proximity to a mapped floodplain. Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs or floodplain maps) published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency are good indicators of flooding risks from bayous and creeks overflowing their banks. However, they do not show flooding risks from storm sewers and roadside ditches exceeding their capacity, risks from unstudied bayous and creeks, or risks from storms greater than a 0.2 percent (500-year) flood — such as Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 or Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

MYTH: New land development causes flooding.

FACT: New development can accelerate the time of concentration of floodwaters, contributing to faster, higher flood peaks. That’s why cities and counties regulate development. But some see lax regulation and enforcement as a tool to attract new development. And even those with strict regulations may find that they aren’t strict enough to handle storms of increasing intensity.

HCFCD graph showing effect of development in Brays Bayou watershed. Insufficiently mitigated development over 85 years accelerated runoff, building flood peaks faster and higher.

Flooding can be inherited from areas developed before our understanding of flooding improved. So it would be safer to say that “Insufficiently mitigated development causes flooding.”

Regulations dating to the early 1980s in many areas require stormwater runoff after development to be no greater than runoff before development. Developers must detain any excess stormwater on site. However:

  • Development prior to the 1980s was not as regulated.
  • Our understanding of what constitutes a 100-year rainfall continues to evolve. So pre/post estimates may be off.
  • Loopholes exist in many jurisdictions that allow developers to avoid building detention ponds.

Today, we have a hodge-podge of regulations throughout the region. Learn regulations in your area and monitor new developments to ensure compliance.

MYTH: A storm surge from a tropical storm or hurricane will inhibit our bayou system’s ability to drain.

FACT: Most of our bayous and creeks are upland and drain by gravity. Because of their natural slope toward Galveston Bay, a storm surge caused by a tropical storm or a hurricane will not impede this process. Of the roughly 2,500 miles of bayous and creeks in Harris County, only a small portion near Galveston Bay will be influenced by storm surge for a short period of time.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/20/22 with thanks to the Harris County Flood Control District

1756 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Buyouts of Forest Cove Townhomes Progressing, But Slowly

One thousand and twelve days ago, Hurricane Harvey destroyed the Forest Cove townhomes between Hamblen and the West Fork San Jacinto. Yet most still stand – mute reminders of Harvey’s fury and mankind’s folly. They illustrate: a) the need to re-engineer business processes surrounding buyouts and b) rethink multi-family housing in flood-prone areas.

The Love It/Leave It Relationship With Rivers

Jennifer Parks, who lived there for five years and had her wedding ceremony by the river. She and her neighbors loved the area for its quiet, natural beauty and the tightly knit community. People cared for each other. But her family flooded eight times in five years.

During Harvey, her 4-story townhome took on 20 feet of water, a measurement documented by FEMA.

The Parks’ townhome is the 4-story unit behind the one in the foreground.

Three other units in this same building were totally lost to the flood. They extended south (toward the right) in the photo above.

Since the flood, the units have become a magnet for arsonists, looters, squatters, drug dealers, illegal dumpers, and graffiti artists. An arsonist torched the building next to Parks’ last July. See below.

Arson damage last July to a six-unit building on Timberline Drive.
Illegal dumping near another unit
More illegal dumping.

Current Status of Buyouts and Demos

So where do buyouts stand? Harris County Flood Control provided the slightly dated map below.

  • Xs represent buildings that have already been torn down.
  • Green rectangles represent units that have already been purchased.
  • Purple rectangles represent units that are in the process of being purchased.

Four white rectangles with red arrows pointing to them are in a special category. They appear to be units that were swept away in the flood. HCFCD says, “We’re working with the State on approval for these 4 in the first alternate request we submitted in our HMGP grant. (Hazard Mitigation Grant Program).”

A Flood Control spokesperson said, “As soon as entire buildings are purchased, we’re requesting demolition. We’ve demolished six (red x’s) already.”

The two (red circles) are scheduled for demolition. The district says it is still working on five remaining buildings (numbered). However, Building Number Five appears to be torn down already. (That’s why I say the map is slightly dated. See below.) The flood swept away many of those units. At this point, they may be just land purchases.

Usually, until every unit in a building is purchased, nothing can be torn down.

It’s a complex process made more complex by the facts that owners have all moved and Harvey swept away some units.

Picture of building #5 (nearest river) taken two weeks after Harvey shows only two of seven units left standing. The rest were in pieces and mostly downstream. Residents say they were lucky to escape with their lives when the massive SJRA release arrived in the middle of the night without warning.
By March of this year, the rest of Building #5 was just a pile of rubble waiting for a dump truck.

Is It Wise To Build Multi-Family Homes in Floodway?

The length of time it has taken to negotiate these buyouts and the blight that looters have created during the process raise a question.

Should construction of multi-family housing be allowed in a floodway? Or even a floodplain?

It’s difficult enough to buy out single-family homes. The process stretches through three levels of government. From Houston to Austin to Washington D.C. One of these buildings had twelve units. Aligning all those dominos takes time. And as we have seen, during that time, criminals have turned this neighborhood into a cancer infecting surrounding areas. In fact, the twelve unit building was burned to the ground. And that was just one of three fires.

Unfortunately, developers like the cheap land in floodways. And young people with little life experience like the romantic views. It’s a marriage made in hell and a recipe for disaster. Greedy sellers meet eager, unknowledgeable buyers.

I raise this question because last year, about a mile downriver from these townhomes, Romerica applied for permits to build 5,000 condos and 50-story high-rises in an equally flood-prone area.

Nationalized, taxpayer-subsidized flood insurance which is losing billions of dollars would have created the illusion of safety for buyers of those units.

My opinion: The best, cheapest way to avoid these subsidized cycles of building, destruction, buyouts and decay is to avoid building in flood-prone areas in the first place.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/6/2020

1012 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.

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

Harvey Households Covered by FEMA Group Flood Insurance Should Buy Standard Flood Insurance by Oct. 24

Harvey households covered by FEMA group flood insurance should prepare now to buy standard flood insurance by Oct. 24. Lack of coverage may affect eligibility for future disaster assistance.

Photo of Harvey damage courtesy of Alexis Faust.

What is Group Flood Insurance?

Many families affected by Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 did not have flood insurance.

As part of its disaster assistance, FEMA provided Group Flood Insurance Policies (GFIP) to 6,704 households across counties impacted by Harvey.

Group Policies End October 24

These three-year policies end Oct. 24. So policyholders must now switch to a standard flood insurance policy to ensure continuous coverage. 

Those who received a GFIP policy as part of their FEMA disaster assistance after Harvey but don’t buy a standard flood insurance policy are at increased risk. They will likely not receive federal disaster assistance for home repairs if they experience another flood. Just 1 inch of water can cause $25,000 of damage to a home.

Purchasing a flood insurance policy is one of the best ways to protect from financial loss.

Flood Insurance Requirements for Harvey Households

Here are flood insurance requirements for Harvey households:

If you are a homeowner who received a GFIP policy: 

Flood insurance coverage must be maintained for the address of the flood-damaged property. The flood insurance requirement is transferred to any new owner of the address and continues for as long as the address exists. If you sell your home, call the NFIP direct servicing agency at 800-638-6620 to transfer your policy to the new homeowner. 

If you are a renter who received a GFIP policy: 

Flood insurance coverage must be maintained on the contents of the rental property for as long as the renter remains at the flood-damaged address. If you move from your damaged rental property, the flood insurance requirement is not transferred to the next renter.

How to Get or Renew an NFIP Policy

Contact your insurance agent to discuss the cost of a standard flood insurance policy. If you don’t have an agent, you can call 800-427-4661 for an insurance agent referral. Visit www.FloodSmart.gov or www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program for more information about flood insurance.

If You Received Disaster Assistance, You Must Maintain Flood Insurance

The National Flood Insurance Reform Act and FEMA regulations require applicants who receive federal financial assistance to buy and maintain flood insurance. This is as a condition to receive assistance for future flood damage to any insurable property for acquisition or construction purposes. If your household received disaster assistance after Harvey, and you live in a special flood hazard area, you must maintain flood insurance.To find out if you have a flood insurance requirement, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-3362 (voice, 711/VRS – Video Relay Service) (TTY: 800-462-7585). Multilingual operators are available (press 2 for Spanish).

To learn more about GFIP, visit https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/133710.

Harvey impacted 41,500 square miles of Texas. If it rains it can flood. That means all Texans should purchase or renew flood insurance policies. The 2020 hurricane season begins June 1, but a policy protects you from financial losses from other flood events all year.

For More Information

For additional information about Hurricane Harvey and Texas recovery, visit:

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/27/2020 based on information from FEMA and Congressman Dan Crenshaw’s Office

912 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Flood Insurance: Two Types

I have a friend who is fond of saying, “If rain falls on your roof, you need flood insurance.” Here are two telling statistics from the final Harvey report issued by Harris County Flood Control that dramatize that point. But there’s more than one type of flood insurance.

In Harvey, Two-Thirds of Flood Victims Had No Insurance

Of the 154,170 estimated homes flooded across Harris County from Harvey, only 36% had active flood insurance policies in place.

Of those 154,170 homes flooded, 105, 340 were outside the mapped 1% (100-yr) floodplain – 68%.

From these two statistics, you can tell that people thought being outside a mapped flood zone meant SAFETY. You can also see how tragically wrong they were.

Virtually ALL Humble Area Retired Teachers Have Flood Insurance

Monday morning I gave a talk to the Humble Area Retired Teachers Association (HARTA). There were probably 150-200 teachers in the room. I asked for a show of hands to see how many had flood insurance. Virtually every hand went up. Given the aforementioned statistics, this SHOCKED me.

There are two possibilities.

  • People learned a lesson from Harvey and Imelda.
  • The teachers in the room were smart!

I’m sure it’s a combination of both in this case. Teachers tend to be fast learners. But it was such a pleasant surprise. They set a great example for everyone!

FEMA needs to study HARTA to find out how to market flood insurance to the rest of the world.

Static Maps in a Changing World

How could the flood maps during Harvey have been so far off? It was a combination of things.

Of course, Harvey was a far larger-than-normal storm – the biggest ever to hit the continental US.

Second, flood maps are a stationary snapshot in time. They assume nothing changes.

But we also know that things DO change:

  • The river changes every time it floods.
  • There has been massive development upstream from us in Montgomery County in the last two decades.
  • Conroe has been one of the fastest growing cities in America.
  • That development increases runoff, shortens the time of accumulation for floodwaters, and causes higher flood peaks.

The one thing that hasn’t changed: Montgomery County flood maps. The County has not updated the data behind them since the 1980s. Parts of the county remain unmapped. And the County does not even employ a surveyor, according to an inside source.

Radical Example of Impact of Upstream Development

Uncontrolled upstream development can totally change the game. Here’s a personal example.

Back in 1980, I bought a home on Spring Creek in the Dallas area. It was built two feet above the hundred year flood plain. The next year, developers built the 250-acre Collin Creek Mall upstream from me in Plano. The creek behind my house started flooding on minor rains of less than a half inch. A three city commission between Garland, Richardson and Plano asked the Army Corps to investigate.

The Corps found that I was now 10 feet BELOW the 100-year flood plain instead of two feet ABOVE it. A 12-foot delta!

That’s how radically and quickly things can change from upstream development as the people in Elm Grove discovered.

Elm Grove’s Game Changer: Woodridge Village or what some now callVillage of the Damned

New Flood Maps Being Developed

NOAA’s new Atlas-14 Rainfall statistics for this area are causing flood maps to be redrawn. The statistics reflect about 40% more rain for a 100-year flood. That means flood zones will expand.

When released in the next year or two, the new maps will open a lot of eyes for people who have not yet purchased flood insurance.

Net: If you don’t have flood insurance, get it.

Another Type of Flood Insurance

That brings us to another type of flood insurance not covered by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program. It’s the kind of insurance that comes from situational awareness and community engagement.

The more aware we are of the causes of flooding…

The more engaged we are as citizens…

The more we insist that developers follow best practices…

…the safer we become.

NFIP insurance will partially reimburse you if you flood. But awareness and activism may keep you from flooding in the first place. We need both types of insurance. One without the other is a recipe for disaster.

We should not assume that some benevolent government agency in Montgomery County is watching over new development, protecting us. They are not. Period. They have other priorities and protecting downstream residents is rarely one of them. Even though Harris County is redrawing its flood maps, Montgomery County is not. That will make MoCo’s even MORE OUTDATED. That’s why we need vigilant, involved citizens.

Need Regional Flood Control

And even more, that’s why we need regional flood control, much as we have regional groundwater control. With groundwater withdrawals, one conservation district must get its plans approved by neighboring districts. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we had a similar arrangement for flood control?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/11/2020

896 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.

Hurricane Ike: Sometimes the Lesson Learned is That We Haven’t Learned the Lesson

As this hurricane season heats up, you may want to read this article in the Texas Tribune about the Ike Dike or Texas Coastal Barrier. It’s a story about a flood mitigation effort that started in 2008, shortly after Hurricane Ike. I remember this storm vividly. I photographed the damage on the Bolivar Peninsula days after the storm. Despite the massive destruction it caused, nothing has yet been done to prevent a recurrence.

Remembering Ike

For those who don’t remember, Ike was a Cat 4 storm that weakened over Cuba, emerged into the Gulf, and came onshore at the northeast end of Galveston as a Cat 2. Ike came right up the center of Galveston Bay. The eye passed over the Lake Houston area.

Ike caused massive damage everywhere, killed more than a hundred people in Texas, and leveled thousands of homes on the Bolivar.

I remember vividly that evening watching giant pine trees bent 90 degrees, looking up at the stars the next minute and seeing those same pine trees bent 90 degrees in the other direction a few minutes later – ninety miles inland! When I emerged from my storm shelter the next morning, power was out everywhere. It would remain out for 13 days because of all the trees down on power lines.

Ike Dike Proposed to Protect Industry

Almost immediately, people began talking about an Ike Dike to protect the refining and petrochemical industry lining the western shores of the Bay. Had Ike come in a little west of where it did, those plants would have borne the direct brunt of the dirty side of the storm. How bad was the destruction on the dirty side? See the sequence of pictures below. It starts with two images from Google Earth. One taken a week before Ike. One taken days after.

Before and After Images from Google Earth of the Bolivar

Bolivar Peninsula on 9/3/2008, was covered with beach homes, some of which were occupied year round.
Bolivar Peninsula immediately after Ike. Streets are superimposed over the image in Google Earth. Those things that look like roofs are really slabs. See below.

Images Taken on the Ground Days After Ike

The storm surge from Ike tore sewers and water lines right out of the ground.
From this location, not one home was left standing as far as the eye could see.
People had a hard time even finding their streets. Storm surge carried them away, too.
People spray painted addresses on slabs for insurance adjusters…if there was a slab to find.
Mardi gras beads stuck in this tree…a sad reminder of happier times.
Destruction on the Bolivar Peninsula after Hurricane Ike was complete.
Even though homes had been elevated, it wasn’t enough to survive the storm surge.

Ike Storm Surge Reached 20 Miles Inland

The storm surge swept homes off their foundations 12 miles inland along FM1985. The surge reached the southern edge of Winnie on I-10, approximately 20 miles inland. I remember looking up at utility poles on the northern edge of Anahuac National Wildlife refuge and seeing seaweed in the telephone lines.

What Same Area Looks Like Today

Eleven years later, here’s an image showing the same area in the Google Earth images above.

Ike would have been a golden opportunity to turn this area into a national seashore. Not so much today. They’re BA-AAAACK, as they say in the horror movies.

Lessons Not Learned

I guess people’s love of nature is stronger than their fear of it. The Ike Dike is still a distant dream. And taxpayers are still subsidizing vacation homes on the edge of oblivion with Federally funded flood insurance.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/3/2019

703 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 3975 days since Hurricane Ike

Simple Policy Proposal to Change Economics of Floodplain Development

Want to change the economics of floodplain development? Deny flood insurance to anyone who builds new structures within a floodway. Grandfather structures that already exist. But don’t sell flood insurance policies to anyone who wants to, for instance, buy a new condo in a high-rise in the floodway of the west fork of the San Jacinto. And don’t sell a commercial policy to the 50-story hotel next door.

Respect the Rivers

Harvey was a wake up call. It taught us to start respecting rivers by giving them the distance deserve. It’s time for taxpayers to stop encouraging risky developments with taxpayer subsidized flood insurance. When investors, mortgage lenders and buyers can’t get that insurance, they will turn their backs. It will be much harder to build such harebrained ideas.

Siding from home washed downstream during Harvey. Photo by Dan Monks.

Stop Subsidizing Risky Behavior

This isn’t such a radical notion. Most private insurers peg the price of insurance to risk. More risk, higher price. It’s simple. At a certain point, when behavior becomes too risky, you can’t get insurance at any price. Right now, people can get flood insurance anywhere because it’s subsidized by taxpayers. Artificially low rates encourage floodplain development and discourage conservation.

So we have a developer trying to build 3.2 million square feet next to an area where the county is simultaneously buying out homes that have flooded repetitively.

By weeding such high-risk developers out of the pool, the cost of flood insurance should come down for people who give rivers the respect they deserve and build a reasonable distance away.

Start Encouraging Conservation with Economic Incentives

For those who want waterfront views, and those who are willing and able to lose everything, go ahead. No one’s stopping you. Just don’t expect taxpayers to subsidize your insurance through the National Flood Insurance Plan. If developers, lenders, investors and buyers couldn’t get flood insurance on newly built floodway homes, demand for such homes would likely fall. Thus, developers would have an economic disincentive to buy that cheap floodplain land. Owners would leave it in timber or grass. And we could give them even bigger tax breaks for doing do. Take the tax rate on timber land in floodways down to zero.

Smarter Land Use Policies = Fewer Flooded Homes

More floodplain land might remain in the hands of Mother Nature. More natural green space would slow rain from getting to rivers and provide more natural retention. Less development in floodways and flood plains just might reduce flooding further from the river, too.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/23/2019

571 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Report on September Meeting of Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative

Matt Zeve, Bill Fowler and I each made presentations at the Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention initiative this evening.

Zeve Addresses Flood Bond and Flood Map Updates

Zeve, Director of Operations for Harris County Flood Control District spoke about the recently approved $2.5 billion Harris County Flood Bond and updates to flood maps. He indicated that timetables for projects should be completed within the next several weeks. He also indicated that the county has already approved drainage work in Huffman and fielded numerous questions from the audience about Taylor Gully, Ben’s Branch, upstream detention and more. Zeve expects flood maps to be updated in 2021 and stated that mitigation efforts could affect those, but that homeowners will have a chance to appeal them.

Rehak Presents Updates on Dredging, The Mouth Bar and Sand Mining

Bob Rehak updated residents on .Dredging, The Mouth Bar and Sand Mining. Dredging, he says, officially started today though not in the way that some expected. The first of two dredges launched today, a 270-ton diesel powered dredge. The launch had been delayed by a key part that had to be remanufactured and reshipped, then inclement weather. The tall construction cranes had to shut down every time lightning was heard in the area because they act like lightning rods. When the dredge finally started making it’s way downriver today, a mechanical dredge had to clear the way. The river was 18 inches deep in places but the dredge draws 3.5 feet of water. That’s how bad the sedimentation was; we needed a dredge for the dredge.

Dredging will take place to the left of the white line, but not to the right. Chimichurri’s in Kings Harbor is the dividing line. Those thousands of numbers on the image represent survey points by the Army Corps Average depth around the mouth bar is 1-3 feet. Max depth is 5 feet in some cross sections. Water will actually have to flow uphill about 40 feet to get past the mouth bar.

Dredging will start near Chimichurri’s just east of West Lake Houston Parkway. The Corps and Great Lakes will then work their way back toward River Grove Park. They expect to finish dredging by April 1, next year. Demobilization could take until early May.

Rehak also addressed the issue of the mouth bar and updated residents on political efforts by City, County, State and Federal officials to jumpstart the next phase of dredging before this one ends so that $18 million in mobilization and demobilization fees do not have to be duplicated for a second job. No plans have gelled yet, but Houston City Council Member Dave Martin may have an announcement to make at his Town Hall Meeting on October 9.

The final part of Rehak’s presentation addressed efforts to reduce sedimentation at its source to reduce the cost of dredging over the long run. Potential solutions include upstream detention, sand traps, and legislation or regulation that changes the way sand mines operate. Rehak specifically mentioned that moving sand mines out of the floodway would solve a host of problems.

Grassroots Co-Chair Clarifies Lake-Lowering Policies, Floodgate Possibilities, and Need for Flood Insurance

Bill Fowler, co-chair of the Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative, opened the meeting by updating the community on policies to coordinate the lowering of Lake Conroe and Lake Houston to provide residents with extra protection from flooding when severe weather is expected. Fowler also gave an update on additional flood gates for Lake Houston. Then he discussed flood insurance and the related issue of redrawing flood plain maps which Harvey made obsolete. Copies of Fowler’s presentations can be found here.

Zeve did not work from a presentation. His remarks were supported by material from the Harris County Flood Control District website. He did, however, specifically urge residents to review the ever expanding Kingwood section of the site.

Diverse Audience of Approximately 200

Approximately 200 residents attended the meeting. Surprisingly, about a third of those did not flood during Harvey. The large turnout by non-flooded residents may have had to do with the flood insurance theme. Fowler emphasized that everyone needs flood insurance;

45 percent of the people who flooded in Harvey were outside of the 500-year flood plain and 64% of those did not have flood insurance.

Thanks to Volunteers

Many thanks to Dianne Lansden, also a co-chair for the Lake Houston Area Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative for coordinating the meeting; Fran Barrack for refreshments and Bill McCabe for sign ins.

Posted by Bob Rehak on September 18, 2018

385 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Benefits of Flood Insurance vs. Disaster Assistance

At the 2018_FloodWarn_Training_Kingwood on May 2, Diane Cooper of FEMA pointed out several startling statistics about the Hurricane Harvey Flood and flood insurance.

Home outside the 100-year flood plain during Hurricane Harvey.

According to the City of Houston, approximately 90,000 structures OUTSIDE of the 0.2% Risk Area (500-year flood plain) were impacted. Additionally, another 30,500 structures INSIDE the 1% risk area (100-year flood plain) and 29,000 in the 0.2% risk area flooded.

However, out of approximately 150,000 total homes flooded, only 26,511 insurance claims were filed. That’s because approximately only one in six Houstonians had flood insurance.

Most people felt that if they lived outside the 1% risk area, flood insurance was an expense they could do without. Yet four in every five flooded homes were outside the 1% risk area.

Let’s examine flood insurance vs. disaster assistance as hedge against such risk.

The following information came from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) portion of the FEMA website.

Flood Insurance

Flood insurance has six primary benefits:

  • You are in control. Flood insurance claims are paid even if a disaster is not declared by the President.
  • More than 20 percent of NFIP claims from from outside of mapped Special Flood Hazard Areas.
  • There is no payback requirement.
  • Flood insurance policies are continuous, and are no non-renewable or canceled for repeat losses.
  • Flood insurance reimburses you for all covered building losses up to $250,000 for residential occupancies and upon to $500,000 for businesses. Contents coverage is also available up to $100,000 for residential occupancies and up to $500,000 for businesses.
  • The average cost of a flood insurance policy is about $600 annually. The cost of a preferred risk policy is less than $450 annually, if you live in a moderate-to-low-risk area.

Disaster Assistance

Compared to flood insurance, disaster assistance has several drawbacks.

  • Most forms of Federal disaster assistance require a Presidential declaration.
  • Federal disaster assistance declarations are not awarded in all flooding incidents.
  • The most typical form of disaster assistance is a loan that must be repaid with interest.
  • The duration of a small Business Administration (SBA) disaster home loan could extend to 30 years.
  • The average Individuals and Households Program award for Presidential disaster declarations related to flooding in 2008 was less than $4,000.
  • Repayment on a $50,000 SBA disaster home load is $240 a month or $2,880 annually at 4 percent interest.

The More You Know, the Better Flood Insurance Looks

Everyone should have flood insurance. Remember, not all flooding comes from rivers and streams. During Harvey, thousands of homes flooded from overflowing streets when storm drains and sewers backed up. Floods can happen anytime, anywhere…even in deserts.

Homeowners insurance policies typically don’t cover flood damage. Disaster assistance payouts will not come close to covering all the damage that people typically suffer from a flood. And the most common type of disaster assistance is a loan that must be repaid with interest.

You can buy flood insurance through the NFIP regardless of your flood risk; it’s easy to get through any licensed broker. You can even use your credit card. Consider it seriously as we enter another hurricane season and a tropical wave is expected to slime us this weekend.

Posted by Bob Rehak on June 12, 2018

287 Days since Hurricane Harvey