Tag Archive for: funding

HCFCD Spending Slows; More Went to Buyouts than Flood Reduction

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) released its November report on Flood-Bond progress to Commissioners Court yesterday. The report covered through October 2022. I had two major take-aways:

  • The slowdown in bond spending continues. HCFCD initiated no new construction projects during the month of October.
  • HCFCD spent more money on buyouts than flood reduction.

The major announcement: the District advertised bids for the construction of a stormwater detention basin in Inwood Forest. The project encompasses property owned by the City of Houston located both east and west of Antoine where Vogel Creek outfalls into White Oak Bayou (the old Inwood Forest Golf Course). It will eventually have a total of 12 interconnected compartments.

Funding of this project comes from the 2018 Bond, FEMA and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM). HCFCD hopes construction will begin in winter 2022-23. But let’s look at what has happened, instead of what will.


Since the last update, HCFCD:

  • Awarded NO construction projects
  • Awarded 9 non-construction agreements totaling $33 million
  • Paid $1.2 million for professional services.
  • Completed 28 home buyouts valued at approximately $5 million
  • Spent a total of $9.9 million since the last update.

Those last two bullet points mean…

HCFCD spent more on buyouts than flood reduction in the month of October.

HCFCD uses some buyouts for right-of-way (ROW) acquisition to build detention ponds or widen channels. But many buyouts simply avoid repetitive losses. The latest update does not specify which category October buyouts fell into.

Schedule performance indicators (the SPI index) for the month remained at .95 – behind schedule. HCFCD says the bond program is 23.8% completed – an increase of 0.3% from the previous month. That’s at 50 months out of a planned 120 month program or 41.6% of the way into the bond program.

Where the Money Has Gone

Only three projects out of 181 in the Bond changed stages. One went into preliminary engineering and two went from preliminary engineering into right-of-way acquisition. All are in the Cedar Bayou watershed.

The map below shows where $1.14 billion spent to date has gone.

In table form, that looks like this. I provided three months of data so you can see whether the needle is moving in your watershed. Five watersheds received no money in October.

Spending changes by watershed for the last three months.

Spending Trend Still Down

Last month I wrote about this downward trend in bond spending at a time when it should be increasing. Notice the trend in recent months:

  • July spending was $66.4 million.
  • August spending was $20.7 million.
  • September spending was only $8.1 million.
  • October’s $9.9 million was only slightly better than September.

Project Phasing Influences Spending Rates

Projects typically go through phases that comprise different percentages of the total budget. In flood control, upfront spending on studies typically comprises only 13% of the total. The big spending – 79% – happens for right-of-way acquisition and construction. Looking back at all phases of all projects since 2000…

Right-of-Way Acquisition and Construction account for almost four out of every five dollars spent by HCFCD.

Here’s how the breakdown looks:

HCFCD spending by project stage since 2000
Data compiled from FOIA Request

HCFCD typically spends six times more on Rights-of-Way and Construction, than upfront Feasibility Studies, Preliminary Engineering Reviews and Design.

More than four years into the bond, many projects should be entering the more expensive phases. So you would expect spending to increase. And July totals reflected that. But then a precipitous decline set in.

At the current spend rate, it would take 32 years to complete the bond, not 6.

Why the Slowdown?

HCFCD has not yet explained the slowdown except to say that, during the course of major programs like the Flood Bond, sometimes you hit lulls between major projects. But this slowdown has persisted for three months. No construction projects started last month. And Inwood-Forest stormwater-detention-basin construction likely won’t start for several more months.

At this point, explanations are in order. Last month, I suggested several:

Management Turnover – HCFCD recently lost its top three leaders who architected the Flood Bond: Russ PoppeMatt Zeve, and Alan Black.

Less Experienced Management – Poppe was replaced by an academic who formerly managed the Subsidence District which has a budget one-thousandth the size of the 2018 flood bond.

More Layers of Management – There’s now a whole new department – County Administration – between Flood Control and Commissioners Court.

Delays in Other Departments – Community Services has failed to submit a plan for how to spend $750 million allocated to Harris County for flood mitigation by the Texas General Land Office and HUD.

Drawdown of Flood Resilience Trust Funds – The County is already running out of money in the Flood Resilience Trust Fund – a backup to keep projects moving in case grants, such as the $750 million, were delayed.

Yesterday HCFCD recommended pursuing a grant for Greens Bayou that would consume the current balance in the Flood Resilience Trust.

Bottom line: County Judge Lina Hidalgo needs to provide an explanation for the slowdown. This affects all Harris County residents, not just those in particular watersheds.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/30/2022

1919 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.

All You Need to Know About Flooding Before You Vote

Before you vote this year, review these two graphs and a map. They should tell you everything you need to know about flooding and flood mitigation in the Lake Houston Area. They should also motivate you to vote if you are on the sidelines.

Highest Flooding

The first graph shows “feet above flood stage” during Hurricane Harvey at numerous gages on different watersheds around Harris county. It shows how high floodwater got AFTER it came “out of banks.”

The San Jacinto West Fork at US59 had THE highest flooding in Harris County during Harvey.

Lowest Funding

The second shows the amount of flood-mitigation dollars spent in each Harris County watershed on right-of-way acquisition and construction for flood-mitigation in the first half of this year. Those activities help mitigate flooding as opposed to studies which frequently never get acted upon.

The reversal is stunning.

Data obtained via FOIA Request. San Jacinto, the county’s largest watershed, received only $200,000. Only Cedar Bayou received less at $160,000.

Worst Last

The San Jacinto Watershed moves from the high side of the flooding graph to the low side of the funding graph.

But why the first six months of this year? I’ve talked ad nauseam about spending trends going back decades. This window shows us current priorities. Especially during an election year when you would think the County Judge would try to appeal to as many people as possible.

Regardless of how you feel about the equity prioritization framework, you would think that in a ten-year bond program, areas like Lake Houston would start seeing some real benefit by now. Narrowing down the range of spending helps provide better insight into the priorities of County Judge Lina Hidalgo. She’s the deciding vote on Commissioners Court.

How to Punish The Opposition

People are saying, “OK, I’ve waited patiently. When will I see some benefit from the 2018 flood bond?” That was more than four years ago already.

Unfortunately, the answer is “no time soon.” The map below shows current active Flood-Control capital-improvement construction projects and how the three Democrats on Commissioners Court have used their majority to punish Republican-leaning areas.

Maintenance projects are shown in orange. And capital-improvement projects appear purple.

Flood Control has 20 active construction projects in the capital-improvement category. Of those:

  • Republican Jack Cagle’s Precinct 4 has one.
  • Republican Tom Ramsey’s Precinct 3 has one.
  • Democrats Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia split the other 18 among themselves.
  • Not one is in Lake Houston Area.

And Judge Lina Hidalgo allows it.

From HCFCD.org

The only way for people in Precincts 3 and 4 to right this wrong is to replace Judge Hidalgo who is on the ballot running against Republican Alexandra Mealer.

If Hidalgo and Garcia are re-elected, we have four more years of political punishment to look forward to.

So, please vote on or before November 8.

To review your ballot choices, go to HarrisVotes.com and study who and what will be on the ballot in your area this year. Yesterday’s polls show the two candidates for judge essentially tied within the margin of error. Heavy turnout in the Lake Houston Area could swing this election.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/26/22

1884 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.

Chronicle, ReduceFlooding endorse Mealer over Hidalgo

The Houston Chronicle has endorsed Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer for County Judge over incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo. I won’t recap the lengthy Chronicle article here; you should read it firsthand. But I will expand on it, especially vis-a-vis flood control, which the Chronicle touched only lightly.

Let me start by saying that after watching four year’s of Hidalgo’s missteps in flood mitigation, I support Mealer, too. It comes down to concerns about Hidalgo and the promise I see in Mealer. Let’s discuss Hidalgo first.

Hidalgo Slights Area With Worst Flooding

The person in the driver’s seat has a huge influence on where flood-mitigation money goes. And more than half of all flood-bond money spent to date has gone to Brays, Greens, White Oak, Halls, and Hunting Bayous. Those five have received more than $550 million from the flood bond through May. That’s more than half of all bond money. See below.

Flood Bond Spending through May 2022. Data obtained from HCFCD via a FOIA Request.

Here’s how that looks in a graph. Keep in mind that the San Jacinto watershed is the largest in the county.

The San Jacinto also had the highest flooding in the county during Harvey – more than 20 feet above flood stage.

worst first
Chart showing feet above flood stage at 33 gages on misc. bayous in Harris County during Harvey, including the 5 LMI watersheds listed above.

And as a result, the San Jacinto was among the most heavily damaged.

Flood-loss heat map during Harvey. From MAAPnext.org.

So, you would think this would get Judge Hidalgo’s attention. Instead, she brags about her equity prioritization framework. She claims it gives preference to the “worst first.” The only thing is, she doesn’t define “worst” the way most people would. She ignores severity of flooding and damaged structures.

Hidalgo’s Definition of Worst

Hidalgo’s formula measures Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) residents, the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index, and population in an area. But many of those densely populated neighborhoods are crowded with apartments. So …

People who live above ground level and don’t flood get prioritized over people who live at ground level and do flood.

But Hidalgo can’t even tell how many residents in a watershed live with different degrees of flood risk. So, Hidalgo’s “worst first” mantra is clever but misleading. It intends to deceive.

While rewarding her core constituents with mitigation projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the entire Lake Houston Area has only $2,000 of capital-improvement flood-bond construction projects underway.

Compare that to the half billion dollars you saw above. She’s proud of that disparity. Watch the video interview embedded in the Chronicle article.

Meltdown at Universal Services

Flood-control spending is just one of the county’s “disaster areas.” Consider the County’s IT department, Universal Services, which is in meltdown. The reason you see five-month-old data above is that the county has gone through a disastrous change in its IT systems.

The department has been dogged by incompetence since Hidalgo appointed Rick Noriega to take over. He has no IT background and has pushed out people who do. The managers of every group beneath him have turned over.

Employees complain Universal Services now hires new people for their political affiliation, not professional qualifications.

The incompetence is widespread, according to multiple sources. Things have gotten so bad that many qualified staff are burning out from having to shoulder more and more of the workload. And they are quitting.

As a result, accurate, timely information is rare. And yet, Hidalgo keeps bragging about “transparency.”

Lacking Leadership, Direction on $750 Million Flood-Mitigation Allocation

Universal Services is not alone. See the org chart below.

Changes under Hidalgo. Red X’s represent changes in leadership. Green boxes represent new departments.

The Community Services Department has had three different leadership changes under Hidalgo.

So whom did she choose to develop a plan for spending $750 million in Harvey flood-mitigation funds? Community Services, not Flood Control!

Community Services may be knowledgeable about disaster relief. That’s about helping individuals recover from past floods. But flood mitigation is about lessening the severity of future floods. One requires social workers; the other requires engineers, like they have in Harris County Flood Control.

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) administers those flood-mitigation funds for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The GLO signaled its intention to allocate $750 million to Harris County on August 23, 2021, but Community Services hasn’t even started compiling a list of potential projects yet.

They are still waiting on “direction from leadership,” according to an internal memo obtained by ReduceFlooding. In 14 months, Community Services has only defined a “process” for determining the list.

Community Services has, however, determined that it wants to spend almost a hundred million of the $750 million on planning and administrative costs.

From CSD Planning Meeting Presentation for the $750 million.

Meanwhile, H-GAC which covers a much larger area and includes many more governmental entities received notification of a $488 million allocation – also on 8/23/21. Yet H-GAC has already submitted its project list, received approval, and is working with sub-recipients to secure and validate bids.

Brain Drain Continues

Some of the departments shown above have been gutted. For instance, Engineering lost 4-5 layers of management. They don’t even have a disaster relief capability anymore.

Also, their “Fix Flooding First” program lost its leader and has reported no progress in months. Fix Flooding First was especially important to people on the periphery of the county. Its objective was to get neighboring areas that drain into Harris County to adopt minimum drainage standards.

What you see in the org chart above is the wholesale replacement of highly credentialed professionals by political cronies. And often, the cronies have no experience or qualifications.

Many managers under Hidalgo have described the environment as “chaotic.”

And then there’s Elections Administration. Hidalgo hired a political activist who had never run an election. She missed key deadlines and lost 10,000 votes. So, Hidalgo replaced her … just weeks before early voting starts for the upcoming election.

Management Mayhem Under Hidalgo

In my opinion, Hidalgo’s biggest problem is that she’s just a bad manager. She:

  • Doesn’t attract and retain top talent
  • Pushes out those who disagree
  • Hires people based on political affiliation, not qualifications
  • Doesn’t value experience and institutional knowledge
  • Blatantly discriminates against Republican-leaning precincts.

Hidalgo repeatedly says that she’s proud of what most would consider screw-ups.

Hidalgo never “owns” her problems. She just waves them away. In my opinion, another four years of Hidalgo would leave the county in disastrous and unrecoverable shape.

County spending is up. Crime is up. Taxes are up. And virtually all the flood-mitigation money promised to the Lake Houston Area has so far gone elsewhere.

About Alexandra del Moral Mealer

Mealer comes to the job with much more life and leadership experience than Hidalgo did. She has a way of confronting the truth head on.

You would expect that from a West-Point-educated Army Captain who commanded a bomb squad in Afghanistan. Mealer understands:

  • The necessity of accurate intel
  • That peoples’ lives and livelihoods depend on the decisions she makes.
Alex Mealer
Alex Mealer spent days touring the Lake Houston area to understand local flooding issues first hand. Hidalgo has not.

Mealer also has MBA and JD degrees from Harvard. She was a VP at Wells Fargo where she helped put together billion-dollar oil-and-gas deals before deciding to run for County Judge. In flooding as with law enforcement…

Mealer’s focus is making sure the county spends money wisely.

Straight Talk Vs. the Flood-Control Fairy Tale

Before this campaign, Mealer acquired a wealth of knowledge about how the county works. And she has surrounded herself with experts on various subjects.

The Chronicle described her as a data wonk. In my opinion, that’s what the county needs: someone grounded in reality. In one commissioner’s court meeting after another, Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis, have spun a flood-control fairly tale.

It goes something like this. “Flood control has ignored poor neighborhoods. Rich ones like Kingwood get all the flood-mitigation money.” Why? They point to institutional racism!

If we had a judge who knew where her money was actually going, she could have challenged this myth. The reality is that LMI neighborhoods have consistently received the lion’s share of flood-mitigation funding going back decades.

By ignoring reality and blaming flooding on racism, Hidalgo has divided people. Worse, she has diverted attention AWAY FROM the REAL causes of flooding.

Laser Focus on Results that Benefit All

I have discussed flooding issues with Mealer a dozen times since the primary last spring. In my opinion, she is laser focused on accurately diagnosing problems. National and state issues over which she has no control do not distract Mealer.

Mealer is determined to provide a safe and secure community with well-maintained public infrastructure that support growth and opportunity for all.

Accurately diagnosing problems is the key to fixing them quickly and cost effectively.

I, for one, don’t plan to support Hidalgo. She continually says she needs more money when she doesn’t know where billions of flood-mitigation dollars have gone. Nor does she seem eager to deploy another $750 million already in her hip pocket. I’m voting for Mealer.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/16/22

1874 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.

Formula for Allocating Future Flood-Mitigation Funding Deceives

How do you fairly allocate flood-mitigation funds? Voters have argued about that since the day Harris County Commissioners Court redefined the conventional meaning of “equitable” with the first equity formula in 2019. Since then the formula has changed several times to ensure low-to-moderate income (LMI) areas continue to receive the lion’s share of mitigation funding, even as some commissioners claim LMI areas get none.

On 6/28/22, the Harris County Community Resilience Flood Task Force proposed yet another formula for allocating potentially billions of dollars in future flood-mitigation funding. It purports to objectively calculate the benefits received by different areas. But it doesn’t in any conventional sense. And therefore, the results can be deceptively counter-intuitive.

Problems With Formula

The formula shows increased benefit when:

  • Risk remains unchanged.
  • Costs increase.
  • Population decreases.

The formula is…

Benefit = Total Cost/(Population X Risk)

On July 2, 2022, I posted about a variety of issues that affect the validity of this formula. Admittedly, the post got complex. So let me give you two simple examples that dramatize these problems.

In each example below, I’ll hold two of the three variables constant. That makes it easy to see whether “benefit” varies in a predictable direction. And whether that matches what people expect when they hear the word “benefit.”

Cost Example

The value of “10” applied to Risk in each case represents a 10% annual chance of flooding.

If you hold risk and population constant, while increasing cost

  1. Population = 5000, Risk = 10 and Cost = $100,000, then Benefit = 2
  2. Population = 5000, Risk = 10, and Cost = $1,000,000, then Benefit = 20

…benefit increases by spending more without reducing risk! A taxpayer nightmare!

Population Example

If you hold cost and risk constant, while increasing population

  1. Population = 2000, Risk = 10, and Cost = $1 million, then Benefit = 50
  2. Population = 5000, Risk = 10, and Cost = $1 million, then Benefit = 20

…benefit decreases by helping more people with the same dollars! Again, counter-intuitive.

Both takeaways are confusing. What is this formula measuring?!

I would argue that, in a flood context, most people strongly associate the word “benefit” with “risk reduction.”

But this formula doesn’t measure risk reduction. And it doesn’t measure efficiency either. It measures per capita investment associated with a certain level of flood risk and calls that “Benefit.”

So, the more people you help with any given sum, the more the benefit goes down. Voila! That makes it look as though the highly populated watersheds (that have received the overwhelming majority of prior investments) have received little benefit. And that may be the point of this formula. It will send even more money to those same areas.

In logic, they call this the fallacy of incomplete evidence – more commonly known as cherry-picking. You cherry pick data that favors your argument and ignore the rest. For instance, consider the image below.

Brays Bayou at Calhoun, photographed May 2021. Note abundance of multi-story apartments.

The total population in some areas includes many people in tall apartment buildings or high-rises. For many of them, flooding may be more inconvenient than financially devastating. Yet the formula assumes all people suffer equally.

The formula provides the appearance of objectivity and fairness. But it masks important information by lumping everything into a single number.

But the proponents of this formula don’t even want to discuss numbers. They want to render the results as heat maps, layered with Social Vulnerability Index, LMI and other data guaranteed to mask and perpetuate the lopsided distribution of flood-mitigation funds.

Omitting Benefits to Structures

By defining Benefit as the cost per person to achieve a certain level of flood risk, the formula omits any benefit to structures. That’s the traditional way to define the benefit of a flood-mitigation project. You measure “the value of damages avoided.” Whether one person lives in a house or two people live there, the cost to protect those people and that home remains the same.

For instance, widening a channel can reduce flood risk for a house. But with the proposed formula, that home and its value no longer count – only the number of people living within it. So, doubling the number of people in a representative home cuts the Benefit of a flood mitigation project in half.


The formula is a vast oversimplification. It omits valuable information such as avoided damages.

It’s also confusing and semantically deceptive in that results vary in counter-intuitive directions.

Finally, as I previously posted, the formula is not valid. It masks several apples-to-oranges comparisons.

Yet the majority of the Community Resilience Flood Task Force proposes using it to help guide (potentially) billions in future flood-mitigation investments. That could hurt taxpayers, flood victims, future bonds and the credibility of local government.

The formula can deceive people into making bad flood-mitigation investments. But in this case, there’s no Securities & Exchange Commission to protect investors. Only the ballot box.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/6/22

1772 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Of Active HCFCD Bond Construction Spending Totaling $226 Million, Lake Houston Area Has $2 Thousand

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) delivered its March 2022 Flood Bond Spending Update yesterday to Commissioners Court. It shows $226,476,745 dollars worth of active capital construction projects underway throughout the county. But only two of those valued at a grand total of $2,000 are in the Lake Houston Area.

That’s less than one-tenth of one percent, despite the fact that the Lake Houston Area was one of the most heavily damaged in the county during Harvey.

Maintenance Costs Harder to Determine

The update also includes active maintenance projects. However, those are grouped in ways that make it difficult to determine the exact cost of each. The Lake Houston Area had 3 out of 36 of those. At least one of the three is now complete. It consisted of cleaning a block-long stretch of the drainage ditch that parallels Stonehollow Drive in Kingwood. Judging by the group costs, none of the three qualifies as major.

The update does not disclose the value of past projects. Nor does it break out the value of studies, right-of-way acquisition, or future improvements.

For the full update, click here. I compiled the numbers above from the last two pages in the PDF. To see the location of projects, check the HCFCD’s Flood Education Mapping Tool. It shows the number of every ditch and stream in Harris County.

Other Insights

The report yields many insights.

  • 19.7% of the bond work has been completed as of the end of March. That’s up from 19.4% at the end of February. That percentage should increase faster as HCFCD completes more preliminary studies and moves into the expensive phases of projects, such as right-of-way acquisition and construction.
  • Of 1175 buyouts identified, 457 have completed – 39%.
  • Biggest winners to date in the flood-bond, mitigation-funding sweepstakes have been:
    • Brays Bayou – $173.1 million
    • Cypress Creek – $87.4 million
    • Greens Bayou – $82.7 million
    • Addicks Reservoir – $75.4 million
    • Little Cypress Creek – $53.7 million
    • White Oak Bayou – $53.2 million
    • Clear Creek – $38 million
    • Halls Bayou – $35.4 million
    • Hunting Bayou – $34.1 million
    • Willow Creek – $33.5 million
  • The San Jacinto River watershed has received $20.7 million despite being the largest in the county.
  • HCFCD completed two projects during the month and began construction on one other.
  • Eight other projects changed stages, i.e., from feasibility study to preliminary engineering.

“Partner Funds” To Date Virtually Equal “Bond Funds”

Virtually half of flood bond spending through the end of March 2022 came from partner funds. Local funds plus grants totaled $483 million. Money spent out of the bond itself has totaled $492 million. So, 49.5% of spending to date came from partner funds. It has gone largely to watersheds supposedly disadvantaged by partnership requirements. A popular political narrative claims low-to-moderate income watersheds get no partner funding and more affluent watersheds get it all. But that simply isn’t true.

The narrative is being used to accelerate the start of projects in LMI neighborhoods by decoupling grant approval and project initiation. However, as these numbers show, turning our backs on partnership funds could potentially double the cost of flood mitigation.

49.5% of mitigation dollars to date have come from partners. 50.5% came from the bond itself.

Glaring $750 Million Omission

Although the March update contained a discussion of several partnership grants, it failed to mention $750 million allocated to Harris County by HUD and the GLO for flood mitigation on March 18. The March update did, however, discuss several smaller grants, earmarks and partner funds. Those took up two and a half pages.

The $750 million, together with the flood resilience trust approved last year, would fully fund the flood bond. That means that no watershed should have to wait on partner funding for construction projects to begin once engineering is completed.

Only one step remains before Harris County can start using the money – approval of a “method of distribution.” That’s a final plan for how and where the money will be used.

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 11, 2022

1716 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.

Top Stories of 2021 in Review

Below are my personal picks for the top flood-mitigation stories of 2021.

The Fight for Funding

In 2019, Commissioners Court established “equity” guidelines that prioritized projects in Low-to-Moderate Income watersheds. Then this year:

Still no word from HUD on a possible direct allocation of $750 million. We may hear in January.

To help you follow this story, I make quarterly FOIA requests for Harris County Flood Control District spending and post the analyses on a dedicated funding page.

Sand-Mining Best Management Practices

Activists led by the Lake Houston Area Flood Prevention Initiative and the Bayou Land Conservancy petitioned the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to establish best management practices for sand mines in the San Jacinto watershed. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we got a vast improvement over what we had. And the new BMPs may help reduce erosion that contributes to future floods in this area.

West Fork Sand Mine illustrates need for vegetative controls to reduce erosion.

Relentless Development

Fueled by low interest rates and flight from city crowds during Covid, suburban and rural development surged in 2021. Flood-mitigation felt like an afterthought in many developments. We saw that with Colony Ridge in Liberty County. Colony Ridge clearcut wetlands, paved over floodplains and ignored county regs designed to reduce erosion.

In the Kingwood Area, the Laurel Springs RV resort took advantage of a grandfathering clause in permitting to build a detention pond one-half the size of current requirements. These represent just two examples of many.

The Laurel Springs RV Resort got its detention pond approved one day before stiffer regs went into effect.

After Harvey, we saw how such practices made flooding worse. How soon we forget!

Houston Housing and Community Development Meltdown

Houston’s Housing and Community Development Department, which was responsible for distributing more than a billion dollars in Harvey disaster relief funds, came unglued again this year. Last year, it sued the Texas General Land Office to keep money it couldn’t give away. This year, the Department’s Director publicly denounced the Mayor of Houston for trying to steer multi-family housing subsidies to the Mayor’s former law partner. The Mayor claimed ignorance of the partner’s involvement and announced a City Attorney investigation which never materialized.

Meanwhile, flood victims were victimized a second time. Bureaucratic bungling denied aid to people who deserved it.

World War II And Lake Houston Gates

May 9, 2021, was 1349 days after Hurricane Harvey ravaged Texas and the Gulf Coast. That’s the number of days it took the US and its allies to win World War II. But during that time we’ve had few victories in the fight against future flooding in the Lake Houston Area with the exception of dredging, So far, we’ve mainly completed studies. And many of those are still in the works.

For instance, the City of Houston has been studying ways to increase the release capacity of the Lake Houston Dam. Right now, the release capacity is one-fifteenth that of the gates on Lake Conroe. That makes it difficult to shed water quickly before and during floods. FEMA gave the City money to study the problem, but is still finalizing recommendations. The City hopes to make an announcement in January.


The Lake Conroe Association had its lawsuit against the SJRA thrown out of court…with prejudice. The LCA hoped to prohibit the SJRA’s policy of seasonal lake lowering, which was designed to help protect the Lake Houston Area until other flood mitigation efforts could be put in place.

The Texas Attorney General is still suing the Triple PG Sand Mine in Porter on behalf of the TCEQ. There has been little movement on the case in the last 18 months. The mine’s owner changed legal counsel in July 2020. A TCEQ representative says the AG has not given up. The two sides are still in discovery.

Approximately 1700 homeowners in the Lake Houston Area sued sand mines for contributing to flooding during Harvey. The cases were consolidated in the 281st Harris County District Court under Judge Sylvia Matthews. She recently set deadlines in the first half of next year for motions, depositions, joinder, expert witness testimony and more. The case is known as “Harvey Sand Litigation.”

Various lawsuits against the SJRA for flooding during Harvey are still working their way through the legal system.

Kingwood residents reached a settlement with Perry Homes, its subsidiaries and contractors this year over two floods that damaged hundreds of homes in Elm Grove and North Kingwood Forest during 2019. The incidents had to do with development of Woodridge Village, just across the Harris/Montgomery County line.

Woodridge Village

Harris County Flood Control District purchased Woodridge Village from Perry Homes in February this year and hired a contractor to begin doubling the current floodwater-detention capacity on the site. When complete, the additional capacity will help protect homes in Elm Grove, North Kingwood Forest and downstream along Taylor Gully.

Expansion of Dredging

After three and a half years of dredging in the San Jacinto West Fork, dredging has now moved to the East Fork. State Representative Dan Huberty secured $50 million earlier this year to extend the dredging program to other inlets around Lake Houston in the future.

East Fork Dredging. Photographed in early December between Huffman and Royal Shores in Kingwood. Looking south toward Lake Houston.

Bens Branch and Taylor Gully Cleanouts

In Kingwood, HCFCD finished excavating both Bens Branch and Taylor Gully to help restore their conveyance. Through gradual sediment built up, both had been gradually reduced to a 2-year level of service in places. That means they would come out of their banks after a 2-year rain.

Final phase of Bens Branch maintenance between Kingwood Drive and Rocky Woods. Note Kingwood High School in upper right.


Years of fighting over subsidence between the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District and Groundwater Management Area 14 came to a head earlier this year. LSGCD fought any mention of subsidence in Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) for Montgomery County. GMA-14 wanted to include it, but finally recommended allowing each groundwater conservation district to make a subsidence measure optional. Unlimited groundwater pumping in southern Montgomery County could tilt Lake Houston toward homes at the northern end of the lake. That’s because subsidence would be greater there than at the Lake Houston Dam by TWO FEET.

GMA-14 will take a final vote on January 5 on the final DFCs. You still have time to protest.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/31/2021

1585 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Where Flood-Bond Spending Is Going, When New Flood Maps Will Be Released

On the Harris County Commissioner’s Court agenda for today are two Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) “transmittals.” One will update commissioners on flood-bond spending to date. The other will update commissioners on the progress of new flood maps (the MAAPnext program). They are items 269 and 270 on today’s agenda.

Transmittals are reports by departments. Commissioners don’t usually discuss them unless one of the commissioners wishes to make comments for some reason. So, I’m calling them to your attention here.

Flood-Mitigation Spending Through Third Quarter Reaches $865 Million

About half of the $865 million spent on flood mitigation since voters passed the bond in 2018 has come from bond funds. The rest has come from grants and local partnerships. See pie chart below on left.

The left pie chart underscores the importance of partnership funding.

The map below shows where flood-bond spending has occurred.

Flood-mitigation spending by watershed since approval of flood-bond in 2018.

The winner in the $weep$take$: HCFCD spent almost $154 million on Brays Bayou.

Other leading watersheds (rounded to nearest million) in flood-bond spending included:

  • $81 million in Addicks Reservoir
  • $76 million on Greens Bayou
  • $76 million on Cypress Creek
  • $50 million on Little Cypress Creek
  • $46 million on White Oak Bayou
  • $32 million on Clear Creek

With a few exceptions, this spending reflects the influence of the Harris County Flood-Bond Equity Prioritization Framework implemented in 2019. That framework gives highest priority to low- to middle-income watersheds with a high social-vulnerability index. Thus, tiny Halls Bayou has received more assistance than the largest watershed in the county – the San Jacinto River. And Brays Bayou has received almost 11 times more assistance than Buffalo Bayou.

Two notable exceptions are:

  • Vince Bayou which is almost totally inside the City of Pasadena and is therefore primarily Pasadena’s responsibility.
  • Little Cypress Creek which is part of HCFCD’s experimental Frontier Program. The Frontier Program aims to prevent future flooding by buying up land on the cheap before it’s developed. HCFCD then sells detention basin capacity to developers to help make back its investment.

Other Insights Gained from Report

  • Most projects are ahead of schedule and on budget. Good news!
  • More than half of buyouts have been completed and enough funding apparently remains to complete the rest.
  • Progress continues on the $124 million FEDERAL Flood Damage Reduction project on White Oak Bayou, where six stormwater detention basins will hold almost a billion gallons of stormwater. That’s equivalent to about a foot of stormwater falling over almost 5 square miles.
  • No actual projects in the Kingwood Area have begun construction yet. However, the Excavation and Removal Project on Woodridge Village could soon begin.

Additional maps in the full report show:

  • Dollars funded to date by watershed (Note, for instance, another $47 million in funding already committed to Brays).
  • Active Maintenance projects
  • Active Capital projects

Also, a massive GANNT chart shows the stages of every project in every watershed and county-wide projects.

Check out the full report here.

Controversy over Previous Version of Report

An earlier version of this report generated some controversy. People in some watersheds didn’t believe the reported expenditures. Members of the Northeast Action Collective questioned whether any projects had started in their watersheds. They demanded immediate cancellation of projects in Kingwood and transfer of Kingwood’s funds, so that projects in Halls and Greens Bayou could start immediately.

That’s, in part, why I wrote “How to Find and Verify Flood-Related Information: Part I.” Flood-mitigation projects are hard to spot from the ground. Construction almost always happens out of sight behind tall fences and dense tree lines. After construction, the projects are often disguised as parks. For those who doubt, I recommend confirming the existence of projects from the air.

I haven’t confirmed every project in the county, but I have spot-checked many. And I have yet to find discrepancies between what HCFCD reports and what I can see from the air.

C-25, a Halls Bayou Detention pond now under construction by HCFCD
C-25, a Halls Bayou Detention pond now under construction by HCFCD. The bayou runs through the trees in the foreground.
flood detention basin
New basin at Hopper and US59 on a tributary of Halls Bayou.
Lauder Detention Basin on Greens Bayou as of 10/12/2021
Lauder Detention Basin on Greens Bayou as of 10/12/2021. Phase One of a two-phase project is nearly complete.
Cutten Road detention basin on Greens Bayou continues its relentless expansion.
Phase 2 Aldine Westfield Basin
Phase 1 of the Greens Bayou Aldine-Westfield Basin on left is complete. Phase 2 on right is now beginning.

For more information that includes watershed spending data before the flood-bond, check out the funding page.

MAAPnext Effort About to Be Turned Over to FEMA

Harris County Flood Control (HCFCD) estimates it has completed 86% of its part of the flood-map updates. HCFCD will deliver drafts of the new maps to FEMA in January for review and kick off a campaign of public meetings at the same time. The public will see draft maps in February. A public comment period of 90 days will follow. And FEMA hopes to release preliminary flood insurance insurance rate maps by mid-year next year.

I have had a peek at the new maps and reports. And I must say, the effort should result in a dramatic leap forward in flood-risk understanding. Individualized reports will inform homeowners of their flood risks from a variety of different sources, including street flooding. The prototype of the website is very user friendly.

After receiving preliminary maps from HCFCD, it typically takes FEMA another 18-24 months to release final, official flood maps. That gives affected property owners time to comment and appeal. The process looks like this.

MAAPnext milestones as of the end of 2021.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/30/2021

1554 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Garcia’s Proposal to Divert $191 Million in Flood Funds from Cedar Bayou is Defeated

During a spirited, but cordial debate Thursday that lasted almost two hours, Harris County Commissioners Court decided NOT to divert $191 million designated for Cedar Bayou in the flood bond. The deciding factor: previous promises not to cancel projects made by Lina Hidalgo and, you guessed it, Adrian Garcia himself.

Commissioners also recognized a need to ask voters for more flood-mitigation money and feared that cancelling projects would jeopardize the trust of voters and put future bonds at risk.

In the end, Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey got Judge Lina Hidalgo to agree with them, and Garcia withdrew his motions to transfer the money. It was reportedly the first time in years that Democrats broke ranks. Garcia seems crushed.

Two Sides Lay Out Opening Positions

Democrats primarily argued that we need to spend the money quickly to protect populated neighborhoods that have repeat flooding instead of newly developing areas.

Garcia led off the debate by stating the ideas behind the motion: flood bond matching funds have not yet fully materialized, so money is short. And cure is more important than prevention.

Republicans argued that voters approved a bond with a list of projects, and that diverting money would violate the public trust and jeopardize future bonds.

Cagle Reminds Hidalgo and Garcia of Previous Promises

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle started his talk by showing this series of visuals. Within it was this four-page letter from Hidalgo to State Legislators dated February 27, 2019. In it, she said, “Let us start with this unequivocal truth: every project on the 2018 Flood Bond project list will be completed.”

The last page of the letter also contained a FAQ sheet. The very first question: “Is Harris County going to cancel my project?” Answer” “No, every project on the Flood Bond project list will be completed.”

Cagle also showed a rambling statement Garcia himself made at Commissioners Court on 8/27/2019. “If anybody and if anybody is watching on live streaming that believes that this body has somehow taken action to eliminate projects that were already planned, already posted, and already listed, I want people to know that whoever is spreading that rumor, whoever may be making phone calls, whoever may be having someone make phone calls, whoever may be out there telling people to call you and tell you come down to Commissioners Court and tell them don’t eliminate our projects or why are you eliminating our projects. I want to make sure you know that that is blatantly false if not maybe a lie. If anyone is getting that kind of information that things of that nature are happening, I’m not sure how this information is getting out there but it is just downright false.”

Whew. That first sentence is 88 words long! But the gist of it is that, “The allegation that we’re eliminating projects is blatantly false.”

Commissioner Ramsey focused mostly on a project he wanted to kill just six months ago, so he could use the money on one he considered more important in the same watershed. However, he was told that he couldn’t. Ramsey, in essence, was arguing that a double standard seemed to exist.

Those reminders seemed to turn Hidalgo. Realizing there was no hope of a win, Garcia withdrew the motions (#136 and #323) to divert the Cedar Bayou money.

Garcia Makes New Motion

But that didn’t end the discussion. Garcia made another motion. He asked the county administrator to work with Flood Control to come back with a funding recommendation “for projects outside the 100-year flood plain.” The motion carried unanimously without debate.

However, someone should have asked if he was so concerned about repeat flooding why would he focus efforts on 500-year floods instead of floods with higher frequency.

Misrepresentation of Available Funds

Repeated falsehoods marred the discussion. One had to do with the amount of money available. On numerous occasions, Garcia claimed only $2.5 billion was available. However, because of partnership funds already received and transfers from HCTRA, the total committed to flood mitigation to date exceeds $4 billion. As of June 2021, only another $951 million is needed to fully fund all bond projects with seven years left to find the money. And the GLO is waiting in the wings with another $750 million from HUD. That one grant could come close to fully funding all bond projects.

So funding is not quite as dire as Garcia stated. Flood bond projects are fully funded for at least the next six years.

Misrepresentation of Number of Homes Flooded

Garcia also misrepresented the number of homes flooded along Cedar Bayou; he claimed 400. But Harris County Flood Control Federal Reports show the number was more than 2,200. Garcia contrasted that with 2,494 in the area where he wanted to shift the money.

If you look closely in Garcia’s spreadsheet, you will also see that his consultant claims Garcia’s projects will take more homes out of floodplains than Harvey flooded. Hmmmm, 2494 flooded in Harvey vs. 3697 removed from floodplains. Wonder how that works.

Show Me the List!

Finally, after repeatedly talking about specifics and referring to “this project” or “these projects”, the number of homes that could be removed from the 500-year floodplain, and the rankings of projects, Garcia pretended that “a list” was still in development. However, I later obtained a copy. While Garcia may still be fine tuning the list, he had one that he shared with other commissioners but not the public. That list identified 17 projects from which he compiled the 2,494 structures saved.

The 17 projects include Carpenters Bayou, Vince Bayou, Goose Creek, Jackson Bayou, Spring Gully, Armand Bayou, Galveston Bay, Greens Bayou and San Jacinto watersheds.

List of projects Garcia wanted to fund with $191 million from Cedar Bayou. For a high res pdf, click here.

Projects Fall within Boundaries of Precinct 2 Proposed in Ellis Plan

The flood bond already included money for nine of those projects. So transferring money for them should have been unnecessary, but Garcia included their costs in his total dollars needed.

Nine were within Cities (Pasadena, Baytown, La Porte). And eight were in unincorporated areas. The county’s primary mission is to serve unincorporated areas.

As predicted, virtually all of the projects fell within the boundaries of a new Precinct 2 proposed by Rodney Ellis.

Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan
Proposed new Harris County Precinct Boundaries in Ellis Plan. Lines represent existing boundaries and colors represent proposed new boundaries.

This supports the hypothesis that the attempted transfer related to bolstering Garcia’s re-election chances.

The location of the projects relative to the proposed Precinct 2 boundaries never came up in debate, however. That’s probably because dozens of additional people complained about redistricting plans today BEFORE the discussion of shifting Cedar Bayou money.

Head Scratcher

Garcia also repeatedly mentioned homes that flooded in the 500-year flood plain. And his motion talked about removing homes from the 500-year floodplain rather than protecting homes in the 10, 50, and 100 year floodplains. Those flood far more frequently and he said upfront that his primary concern was repeat flooding.

Redistricting Not Decided Tuesday

Commissioners debated redistricting Tuesday, but deferred any decision until at least Thursday when they will hold another special session to take up the subject. They did debate the merits of different maps but asked a contractor to develop even more. Garcia stated that he, like Rodney Ellis, wanted to see a map with four Democratic precincts. Then they made a hasty departure for the Astros first World Series game.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/27/2021

1520 Days since Hurricane Harvey

HCFCD Issues Update on Bond Spending In Advance of Harvey’s Fourth Anniversary

Last Friday, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) issued a 37-page report detailing spending on 2018 flood-bond projects to date. It was attached to the agenda for the Harris County Commissioner’s Court meeting on Tuesday, August 24, 2021.

Total spent by watershed from all sources as part of HCFCD bond program. One of ten similar maps in the report.


Late this week and early next will be the fourth anniversary of Harvey’s four day rampage through the Houston area. The storm broke so many records that NOAA retired its name. A year later, still reeling from the storm’s effects, Harris County voters approved a $2.5 billion bond issue to catch up with decades of chronic underfunding for HCFCD.

Since then, the rate of spending on flood mitigation projects has more than doubled. And the rate will accelerate even more as more projects move from engineering to construction.

High-Level Findings

Three years into a 10-year bond, HCFCD has spent slightly more than 30% of the money. That puts them exactly on track time-wise.

Among other things, the full report released last Friday shows that:

  • 175 of 181 bond projects have been initiated
  • $251 million in contracts have been awarded to engineering companies
  • $552 million in contracts have been awarded for construction of capital improvements and repairs.
  • 27 projects have completed, removing 11,000 homes from 100-year floodplains
  • Another 660 buyouts have been completed with another 662 in process.

Back in 2018, the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) vowed to be open and transparent with bond funds. This report shows how, when, and where it spent the public’s money.

Accurate Snapshot of Progress

Until now, HCFCD’s website was the primary means for communicating with the public. But information was scattered across hundreds of pages and updates took place incrementally. That meant information on some watersheds was current and others could be months old. That made it difficult to get an accurate snapshot of progress.

To rectify this problem, HCFCD last week released the first in a series of new monthly reports. It gives everybody in every watershed information about what’s happening that affects them…at a glance.

Types of Information Included

The first report is 37 pages and tracks spending through the end of July 2021.

It’s broken down into a series of sections that include:

  • An introduction that summarizes active bond projects, grants, local partner funding, buyouts, contracts awarded, projects completed, community engagement, floodplain preservation, selective clearing and turf establishment
  • A visual timeline that tracks the progress of projects by month and year
  • Key performance metrics
  • Recent news
  • A GANNT chart showing the stages and progress of every single project approved by voters
  • Eight maps showing cumulative spending from different sources of funding
  • Two maps showing the location and spending to date on all active construction and maintenance projects in the county.

The Ultimate Go-To Doc on Where Your Money Has Gone

This is the ultimate go-to document for everyone who wants to know what’s happening near them. And HCFCD vows to update it monthly.

If you compare this to articles I previously published on funding, keep in mind that this data includes:

  • Four more months of spending
  • Only spending starting August 2018 (approval of the bond fund).

So numbers may vary from posts you see on ReduceFlooding’s Funding page. I also included historical spending going back to 2000 to help put the current spending in context.

Replacing Fear with Facts

All in all, HCFCD’s monthly spending reports will advance the public dialog. It will be good to have discussions based on facts, not just fear.

Flooding is one of the most terrible things that can happen to someone. It produces lasting trauma and alters the trajectory of lives.

To complicate matters, not many people understand what a flood control project is. They may see a jogging trail in a park and not realize it is a massive flood detention basin. They may not realize that a channel through their neighborhood has been widened. And they likely don’t know how to track historical gage data to see if their neighborhoods are flooding from bayous or streets.

This report won’t solve all those problems. But it will go a long way toward helping people understand they have not been forgotten.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/22/2021

1454 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Changes to ReduceFlooding: New “Funding” Page

I have made two major changes to ReduceFlooding.com by adding a new page dedicated to “Funding” and removing the “High Rise” page from the menu.

High-Rise Issue No Longer Topical, Funding Is

Funding is a hot topic at the moment and the high-rise battle is over…at least for now. Even though I removed the high-rise page from the menu, I did not delete it. Historical researchers can still find it by searching for “High Rise.” If the topic becomes active in the future, I will restore it to the menu again.

The Funding Page contains links to every funding post since 2019 when the equity debate first arose and commissioners adopted an “equity prioritization framework.” That framework put projects in low-to-moderate-income watersheds at the front of the line. And now some are trying to cancel projects in affluent watersheds to send more money to low-income watersheds that have already received hundreds of millions of dollars.

Learn Where Your Money is Going

The Funding page is broken into two parts. The left contains a summary of the equity debate and how it has evolved in the last three years. It also contains links to the volumes of data obtained from Harris County via Freedom-of-Information-Act requests, as well as statistical analysis of the data. The right part contains links to every related post published since the equity debate started.

Collecting all information related to funding in one place should make it easy for people to find information about their watersheds and where their money is going.

Please explore and send me feedback. I’m always eager to make ReduceFlooding better. And if you see information in the media that is demonstrably false, please send them to the Funding page to find the real data.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/29/2021

1430 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.