Tag Archive for: H-GAC

Montgomery County Allocated $60 Million in Harvey Mitigation Funds

The Houston-Galveston Area Council of Governments (H-GAC) has allocated $60 million to Montgomery County. The money comes out of a $488 million of Harvey flood-mitigation funds previously allocated to HGAC by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through the Texas General Land Office (GLO). The $60 million is the single largest allocation to any governmental entity in the region out of the $488 million pot.

50% Committed to LMI Areas

At least 50% of the money must go to low-to-moderate income (LMI) areas in Montgomery County. The GLO has determined that MoCo plans meet HUD rules and conditionally approved the allocation.

However, things could still change and Montgomery County has not yet received the money.

According to H-GAC, the conditionally approved preliminary method of distribution (a plan for whom gets how much) is still pending acceptance by eligible entities and is subject to change through a published re-allocation process. A complete list of eligible activities is available in the Texas General Land Office (GLO) guidelines for the Regional Mitigation Program – Council of Governments Method of Distribution (COG MODs). Depending on changes, another 30-day public comment period may necessary, according to the GLO.

Where, How MoCo Will Spend the Money

I reached out to the Montgomery County Judge’s office to see how MoCo hopes to spend the money. Jason Millsaps replied, “Montgomery County will attempt several projects with these funds as soon as final approval has been granted.”

Millsaps continued, “In East County, we will work to de-snag, de-silt and remove vegetation that hinders flow from the Peach Creek, Caney Creek, White Oak Creek, and East Fork of the San Jacinto River. We will do the same for Lake Creek and Stewart Creek in Central/North County, with additional bank armor going in for Stewart Creek near the River Plantation Subdivision.”

Those should reduce flooding in Montgomery County. This flood map shows the areas most affected by repeat flooding in the county.

And this map shows the location of each creek and how much floodwater each conveyed during Harvey.

Peak Flows During Harvey
Peak flows in the San Jacinto Watershed during Hurricane Harvey

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/12/22

1778 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Commissioners Court Discusses What to Do with HUD, Flood Resilience Trust Money

If you managed to watch Harris County Commissioners Court yesterday, near the end you saw a lively and somewhat confusing discussion of flood mitigation funding. See the video at approximately 6:38:10. Agenda Item 249 was a request by Adrian Garcia to discuss disbursement of the $750 million in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds allocated to Harris County by the Texas General Land Office (GLO) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

During the debate, commissioners also discussed approximately $830 million currently sitting in a Flood Resilience Trust that they created last July to compensate for an expected shortfall in flood-bond partner funding.

In the end, Commissioners made no decisions. But it became clear that Commissioners Ellis and Garcia leaned toward spending it in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, cleaning out roadside ditches, and sharing money with the City of Houston.

Still No Plan for How to Spend $750 Million

HUD and GLO made the award on March 18, contingent on approval of what HUD calls a Method of Distribution (MOD). Basically, that’s a plan for how and where the money would be spent.

Commissioner Ramsey noted that the pursuit of the money was bi-partisan and that he hoped the distribution would be bi-partisan as well.

Commissioner Garcia said he was immensely frustrated because a) he just didn’t know when the $750 million was going to arrive, and b) what strings came with the money.

He then referenced the Flood Resilience Trust created by commissioners last year from toll road and other county funds. “If we’re going to be getting $750 million, then I think those other dollars (approximated $830 million in the Trust) can be put somewhere else for practical use,” said Garcia. He also noted that another hurricane season was fast approaching.

He then asked Dr. Tina Petersen, the new head of the Flood Control District, whether she had a chance to study this and come up with any recommendations. Petersen who has been in her job about a month said, “We’re working on that.” She reiterated that no project has been delayed due to a lack of partnership funding and that she was working hard to ensure none would be.

Garcia, Ellis Argue for More Money in LMI Neighborhoods

Garcia then claimed, without citing a source, that 70% of the people who flooded in an unspecified flood (but presumably Harvey) “are still without a given project.” He also said that $830 million had accumulated in the Flood Resilience Trust to date.

Commissioner Ellis claimed the County and City of Houston should each have gotten $1 billion and that he would continue to fight for the County’s other $250 million, as well as a billion for the City.

Ellis then tried to add up the amount of committed funding in the flood bond to date but forgot to add approximately $1.5 billion in partner funds already committed. Oops! With the $750 million and the money already in the flood resilience trust, the flood bond should be more than fully funded by now.

flood bond funding
As of the start of this year, HCFCD had $1.57 billion in committed partnership funding and $833 million in the flood resilience trust, leaving a gap of $100 million. The $750 million HUD allocation in March should have created a $650 million surplus.But nobody talked about that.

Ellis assumed the $750 million would be spent in Greens, Halls, and Hunting Bayou watersheds. All qualify as low-to-moderate income areas. But if you look at the latest flood-bond project list spreadsheet, Harris County Flood Control District needed $69 million in partner funding for Greens, $269 million for Halls, and $65 million for Hunting. So partner-funding needs for the three watersheds total about $400 million. That leaves about $350 million out of the $750. Nobody, however, even mentioned that in the discussion.

County Administrator Says “Not So Fast”

The County administrator David Berry then pointed out that we don’t have the $750 million yet. “It was not a direct allocation. The county must prepare the method of distribution (MOD) and a citizen participation plan first,” then get them approved by HUD and the GLO.

Then Berry dropped a bomb. He said, HCFCD was proposing projects, but not preparing the documents about how the money would be spent. That tells me the distribution will be based on political, not technical considerations.

Ellis Uses Threat of Title 6 To Support LMI Funding

Ellis concluded the discussion by saying that HUD used a Title 6 complaint as a lever against the GLO, “and if we’re not sensitive to [LMI, Social Vulnerability], there will be a Title 6 Complaint against us.”

Title VI, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq., was enacted as part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

According to a summary of the Texas CDBG-MIT Action Plan Amendment approved by HUD, HUD requires that at least 50% of total funds must be used for activities benefiting low and moderate income (LMI) persons. However, the summary also states that “all programs will have an LMI priority.”
Click here to see the complete text of the GLO’s action plan amendment approved by HUD on March 18.

Berry didn’t see the LMI focus as a problem, though. He concluded by saying, “The goals of this court in terms of protecting the most people at the highest risk of flooding, and who are the most vulnerable from recovery, all of that seems straight up the alley of the way we should be distributing this money.”  

Ellis Wants More But…

Ellis said that he still wanted to fight for more funding. He felt the City of Houston and the County each deserved $1 billion. And he wanted to fight for another $250 million. He volunteered to fight on the City’s behalf, too. No one told him that all the flood mitigation money had already been committed.

Ellis claimed the City got $0, but HUD and the GLO made a direct allocation to the City of $61,884,000. And the Houston Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) received $488 million.

According to Brittany Eck, a spokesperson for the GLO, “Funding for three competitions, Harris County’s allocation, and the Regional Mitigation Program all totaled more than $3 billion. Entities within H-GAC were either awarded or allocated a little over 56% of that. Congress has not indicated additional funding may be coming, though it could appropriate additional funds at any time. But that is not likely.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/6/2022

1681 Days since Hurricane Harvey

HGAC Honors Bayou Land Conservancy with Award for Strategic Conservation Plan

Since 1996, Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC) has been a land and water conservation leader. In 2019, BLC developed a Strategic Conservation Plan to continue that tradition for the next twenty years. This plan identified lands with the greatest positive impact on flood control, water quality, and wildlife habitat in the region. 

About the HGAC Awards

H-GAC selected the Plan for recognition in its annual Parks and Natural Areas Award Program, which began in 2006 to highlight best practices and innovative approaches to parks planning and implementation.

H-GAC honors projects in the categories of Projects Over $500,000, Projects Under $500,000, Planning Process, and Policy Tools. BLC received special recognition in the Planning Category. Projects recognized by this awards program are selected by a panel of expert judges and industry professionals.

Photo courtesy of Bayou Land Conservancy

About Bayou Land Conservancy

Bayou Land Conservancy’s mission is to preserve land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife. They envision a protected network of green spaces that connect people and nature. Although a small organization, BLC aims to have a large impact on land conservation, stewardship, and community engagement. Strategic planning is critical to achieving these goals.

Becky Martinez, BLC Conservation Director, explains, “We developed a strategic conservation plan to better prioritize our land conservation projects. The plan is a great tool to direct BLC’s community supported conservation projects. Though Houston feels very urban, there are many beautiful and beneficial natural places around us.”

The goals of the SCP were to identify and describe important areas for BLC to protect and create a plan of action toward their conservation.

Having reviewed the entire plan, I must say that the rigor and discipline used by BLC matches the organization’s dedication and enthusiasm. There’s a reason BLC has thrived for more than 25 years while other groups have come and gone. BLC currently preserves more than 14,000 acres across six counties from Houston to Huntsville.

The Hundred Thousand Acre Opportunity

BLC’s land preservation improves the quality of life for over five million people living in the greater Houston area. The strategic conservation plan identified approximately 100,000 acres of very high priority lands where preservation will have the greatest positive impact on flood resiliency, water quality, and wildlife habitat.

“When floodplains are left in their natural state or undeveloped, they can mitigate flooding by absorbing stormwater before it can inundate houses and businesses,” said Martinez. “Natural corridors along streams also filter runoff and rainwater, safeguarding our drinking water supply. By strategically focusing on these areas, BLC is able to maximize the benefits of land preservation and increase the community’s feeling of safety.”

The SCP also prioritizes land ideal for recreation and environmental education opportunities adjacent to existing parks and other protected spaces and trails.

But without the support of conservation-minded people, a plan is just a plan. Help put it into action. Support the Bayou Land Conservancy.

In the 1247 Days since Hurricane Harvey, I’ve posted hundreds of articles about threats to sensitive areas that could help reduce flooding. Here’s an easy way to help preserve those areas and enjoy them at the same time.

Learn More

Bayou Land Conservancy and other winners will be honored during an online celebration at 9 a.m. February 5, 2021. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required at https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEsfuqvrT4pHdK8RmnQPh01-XzROD0yEY98

For more information about The Strategic Conservation Plan visit https://www.bayoulandconservancy.org/strategic-conservation-plan. Or click here to review the entire plan.

For more information about H-GAC’s Parks and Natural Area Awards, visit http://www.h-gac.com/parks-and-natural-areas/awards.aspx

Posted by Bob Rehak on January 27, 2021

1247 Days since Hurricane Harvey

San Jacinto West Fork Watersheds Partnership Focusing on Water-Quality Issues

The Houston Chronicle yesterday reported on a coalition called the West Fork Watersheds Partnership (WFWP), tackling water quality issues on the West Fork of the San Jacinto and its tributaries. The article claims that the West Fork and one of its tributaries fail to meet water quality standards. It also cites the dangers of fecal material in the water.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC), Galveston Bay Estuary Program, TCEQ, and EPA are leading the WFWP, which includes a wider group of organizations, businesses and residents concerned about water quality.

The map above shows critical levels of bacteria in the upper San Jacinto River basin. Red means “impaired.” Green means “not impaired.” In fresh water the indicator bacteria is E. coli. When present, it is likely that other disease-causing bacteria, parasites, and viruses may also be present. Source: H-GAC’s Water Resources Information Map.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council Water Resources Information Map above indicates just how critical bacteria have become. It features water-quality data from the H-GAC’s Clean Rivers Program, which helps ensure safe, clean surface water for the region by providing high quality data. H-GAC works with seven partner agencies to collect and analyze data from over 450 monitoring locations throughout the region.

Bacteria levels are measured at all monitoring locations. In fresh water the indicator bacteria is E. coli. These bacteria originate in the intestinal tract of warm blooded animals and can be harmful to humans. When either of these bacteria are present, it is likely that other disease causing bacteria, parasites, and viruses may also be present.

How does bacteria get into our waterways?

According to H-GAC, bacteria can enter surface waters through many pathways. Most water bodies have most, if not all, of the following bacteria sources.

  • Malfunctioning wastewater treatment plants
  • Sanitary sewer system overflows
  • Failing Onsite Sewer Facilities (OSSFs) and septic systems
  • Runoff from livestock
  • Pet waste
  • Wildlife and feral hogs

Each water body is unique in the combination of bacteria sources and the amount from each source that makes up the total bacteria present.

Why should we care about bacteria?

The water you drink from a tap has been treated to remove bacteria. However, anyone who ingests contaminated water, i.e., when swimming or during a flood, can become ill. People with compromised immune systems or individuals with open wounds or cuts that come into contact with contaminated water are especially vulnerable. A Kingwood resident who had a cut and was exposed to floodwater during Harvey died from flesh-eating bacteria.

Contaminated water can also cause diseases such as:

  • cholera
  • dysentery
  • giardiasis
  • hemolytic uremic syndrome
  • hepatitis
  • typhoid fever

Turbidity a Complicating Factor

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) indicates that excessive turbidity, or cloudiness, in drinking water may also represent a health concern. “Turbidity can,” says the USGS, “provide food and shelter for pathogens. If not removed, turbidity can promote regrowth of pathogens in the distribution system, leading to waterborne disease outbreaks, which have caused significant cases of gastroenteritis throughout the United States and the world. Although turbidity is not a direct indicator of health risk, numerous studies show a strong relationship between removal of turbidity and removal of protozoa. The particles of turbidity provide “shelter” for microbes by reducing their exposure to attack by disinfectants. Microbial attachment to particulate material has been considered to aid in microbe survival. Fortunately, traditional water treatment processes have the ability to effectively remove turbidity when operated properly. (Source: EPA)”

Any increase in sedimentation beyond the baseline level of nature increases the difficulty and cost of water purification. USGS data shows a spike in turbidity after every major rain. The rain carries exposed sediment to the river. Some comes from urban environments; some comes from stream beds, agricultural land and construction sites; and some comes from sand mines.

USGS has set up a special website that lets you monitor water-quality data from dozens of gages in and around Lake Houston, many of them in real time.  If you are ever concerned about water quality issues, this is a good place to start your investigation.

Graph showing how turbidity spiked in Lake Houston after three major storms in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Posted by Bob Rehak on September 12, 2018

379 Days since Hurricane Harvey