Tag Archive for: Harris County Flood Control District

Caught on Camera: Moment Forest Cove Townhome Toppled

This morning at 10:34 AM, the last remains of another Forest Cove townhome complex toppled to the ground. The HCFCD demolition contractor nibbled away at it last week and earlier this morning. Eventually, all but a narrow strip of the last townhome in the complex had turned into a pile of rubble.

That strip started to lean. Then, suddenly, one more touch from the excavator, and the building collapsed on itself with a billowing cloud of dust and a thunderous boom. When the dust cleared, only one last complex remained standing.

We are nearing the end of a process that started in 2018.

Sequence of Photos

As of Saturday, 7/16/22, one of the last three buildings was completely gone along with half of the second.
Early Monday, 7/18/22, demolition of the remaining portion of the second building started again.
As the excavator clawed away at the building, it started to lean.
Periodically, the excavator would pile more rubble under itself so it could then reach higher. Note falling doors, walls and floors, frozen in space by the camera’s fast shutter speed.
What took months to build came down in seconds. Note the severe bowing of the wall on the right.

Final Collapse Caught on Camera

At this point, I sensed the building would soon collapse. So, I switched from the drone to my Nikon which can shoot many more frames per second. And then it started…

With parts of the second and third floors removed, along with most of the truss structure in the attic, the remainder of the building started to collapse in on itself.
A chimney came tumbling forward.
The final collapse took less than 10 seconds.
Three minutes later, the dust had cleared.

Next Steps

Contractors will extract any recyclable waste from the rubble. Then, they will crush what remains so that it takes less space in a landfill. Finally, they will remove the concrete from the foundation and likely recycle that, too.

Eventually, this area will return to nature. However, what form that takes has not yet been determined. Typically, HCFCD partners with other organizations such as the Houston Parks Board to create and maintain improvements such as trails, parks or recreational space. In fact, the Houston Parks Board West Fork Trail currently ends behind the rubble in the photo above. The Parks Board plans to extend it to Edgewater Park at US59, so hikers and bikers can connect from the Kingwood Trail System to the Spring Creek Greenway.

Demo Date for Last Building

After this morning, only one Forest Cove townhome complex remains standing. That’s at 1020 Marina Drive near the community swimming pool. According to Amy Stone, a Flood Control District spokesperson, HCFCD will demolish that building starting August 1, 2022. More news to follow.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/18/2022

1784 Days since Hurricane Harvey

HCFCD Accelerating Spending on Mitigation Projects

Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) is accelerating its spending on flood mitigation projects. I compiled the chart below with data from a FOIA Request. This request parallels an earlier request at the end of the first quarter and includes spending through the end of the third quarter. In the 3.5 years since the flood bond, HCFCD has completed many preliminary studies and engineering designs. Now many projects are moving into the capital-intensive phases: Right-of-Way Acquisition and Construction.

Current Spending Rate is 8X over pre-Harvey Rate

Comparing the periods before and after Harvey, spending per month tripled. And comparing the last six months to the post-Harvey period, you can see that the pace accelerated another 2.75X. The average for the last six months is up a whopping 8X compared to the pre-Harvey period.

HCFCD Flood Mitigation spending is rapidly accelerating.

That’s good news.

Where/When Spending Occurred

The chart below shows where HCFCD has spent that money. It ranks watersheds by total spending. But within that, you can see tremendous variability between the pre- and post-Harvey eras. In some watersheds, such as Sims, HCFCD largely completed projects with its partners, before Harvey. In other watersheds, such as Little Cypress, you see the opposite. HCFCD accelerated spending on land acquisition as part of its Frontier Program to help prevent, rather than remediate flooding.

Looking at spending before and after Harvey shows the most watersheds ramping up spending as a few taper off.

Four Watersheds Have Received 53% of All Spending since 2000

The flood bond prioritization framework helps shape the curve above. It gives priority to low-income, socially vulnerable neighborhoods. Those projects started first while others wait.

Thus, most of projects in low-income watersheds cluster toward the left. Likewise, with a few exceptions, more affluent watersheds tend to cluster toward the right.

In the years ahead, as HCFCD completes more projects on the left and begins more projects on the right, the slope of the curve may change.

Spending continues to be concentrated in a handful of watersheds. Four have received more than half of all dollars since 2000.

In the meantime, however, looking at subsets of this data, reveals much about priorities. Only five watersheds out of 23 have been allocated significant dollars above the average.

If you took Cypress Creek out of that mix, four other watersheds would be at the average. And fourteen would be below it.

But the top four watersheds alone comprise 53% of all spending since 2000.

Additional Analysis to Follow

In the next few days, I will examine other aspects of spending and what drives it. Those other aspects will include, but are not limited to:

  • Where the most damage has occurred
  • Population density
  • Watershed size
  • Percent of low-to-moderate income residents
  • Partnership funding

More news to follow.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/9/2021

1563 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.

HCFCD Continues Relentless Expansion of Cutten Basin on Greens Bayou

Where Greens Bayou cuts across the northwest corner of Beltway 8 and 249, Harris County Flood Control District is expanding its Cutten Regional Stormwater Detention Basin.

Location of HCFCD’s Cutten Floodwater Detention Basin
The basin includes 5 separate Basin Compartments (BCs). One is on the north side of the Bayou (BC5) and four are on the south side (BC1-4).

The $16.2 million expansion will add 866 acre-feet of stormwater storage capacity to the previous 677 acre-feet. That’s enough to lower the water surface elevation by .36 feet throughout the surrounding floodplain.

When complete, the 235-acre complex will have enough capacity to hold a foot of stormwater falling over 2.4 square miles.

Photos Taken 10/15/2021 Show Current Construction Status

Looking E at the extension of Greens Road between BC3 (right) and BC4 (left). Red line indicates path of culvert under roadbed.
Looking W in opposite direction. Greens Bayou is on right. Greens Road (coming from top of frame) will be extended south along ridge that bisects BC3 and BC4 in foreground. BC1 and BC2 are in background on either side of Greens Road. Hollister cuts through the frame from left to right.
Looking NW across Hollister toward yet another detention pond, BC5.
Looking SW across the intersection of Hollister (left) and Greens Road (right). Excavation of BC1 still has a way to go. On Friday, muddy conditions were slowing down the work, but if you look closely, you can still see heavy equipment working in the distance.

How Ponds Will Work with Bayou, Surrounding Developments

These ponds will function two ways. They will take stormwater:

  • Out of Greens Bayou when it starts to overflow.
  • Directly from surrounding subdivisions before it gets into the bayou.

This presentation describes more about the Cutten Basin.

It’s important to understand that County/Municipal neighborhood drainage and HCFCD infrastructure often pre-date current building and development codes, as they do in this area.

As cities and precincts re-grade and reconstruct streets with more and bigger storm sewers that get water out of neighborhoods faster, that water needs a place to go – without flooding others downstream.

In this area, these ponds will be that place. Everything has to work together. The very first sentence of the Texas Water Code Section 11.086 states, “No person may divert … surface waters in this state … in a manner that damages the property of another…”

Stormwater detention basins like these also provide greenspace and recreational opportunities, such as public parks.

HCFCD expects to complete the Cutten Project in the summer of 2022.

Cutten Basin Size in Perspective

To put the size of this basin in perspective, it roughly equals the size of Woodridge Village. Woodridge is the aborted Perry Homes development in Montgomery County. HCFCD purchased it earlier this year to build a regional Stormwater Detention Basin on Taylor Gully in the Porter/Kingwood area.

The Woodridge site already contains five small detention ponds and HCFCD has room in the center to add more. Perhaps the Woodridge site will look somewhat like this one before things are all over.

Cutten is one of six detention basins (Cutten, Antoine, Kuykendahl, Glen Forest, Aldine-Westfield, Lauder) either recently constructed or almost constructed by the Army Corps and HCFCD in the mid and upper reaches of Greens Bayou. HCFCD is also studying a number of flood mitigation projects on the lower reaches of Greens.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/16/2021

1509 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 758 since Imelda

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

Watersheds with Low Voter Turnout Get Most Flood-Mitigation Funding

Sixth in a series of eight articles on flood-mitigation funding in Harris County

In August of 2018, Harris County voters approved a historic flood bond of $2.5 billion. Afterwards, KTRK ABC13 created an interactive precinct-by-precinct voter turnout map for the referendum.  Now, with spending data for flood mitigation projects in hand, we can see that, in general, but not in every case:

  • Watersheds with the highest turnout are getting the least money
  • Those with the lowest turnout are getting the most money.

Ironically, the worst-damaged areas generally had the lowest turnout.

Four Maps Tell Story

Let’s start by looking at four maps. They show: 

  • Location of six low-income watersheds used in a quartile analysis
  • Location of six six high-income watersheds used in the same analysis
  • Voter turnout for the 2018 Harris County flood-bond referendum
  • Damage from Harvey

Ironically, low-income watersheds had the lowest turnout for the 2018 flood-bond referendum and they’re getting the vast majority of flood mitigation funding.

Previous articles in this series have shown that, out of 23 watersheds in Harris County, six low-income watersheds:

Location of Lowest Income Watersheds

The low-income watersheds are all located primarily inside the Beltway.

Most of Greens Bayou is inside Beltway 8, though a portion of it wanders just outside.

Location of Watersheds with Highest Income

Now let’s look at the location of the six high-income watersheds.

High-income watersheds are all outside the beltway.

Who Approved that $2.5 Billion Flood Bond?

Now look at the voter turnout map below from the 2018 flood bond referendum. 

  • Light areas had the lowest voter turnout. 
  • Dark areas had the highest voter turnout. 

Note the area inside the yellow outline. It contains all the watersheds that Commissioners Ellis and Garcia complain about the most as having the least funding: Greens, Halls, Hunting, White Oak and Sims.

To see turnout in both absolute numbers and percentages in individual precincts, go to the interactive version of this map. Click on the visual above or here.

Some precincts in those watersheds had 0 voters. That’s right. No one showed up at the polls. At all. Many precincts had less than 1% turnout. Those light tan-colored areas generally had 1-5%. 

The darkest areas, such as those around Kingwood, had turnout in the 20 to 30% range – generally 5-20 times higher than in the neighborhoods where most of the money is going. 

In fact, Kingwood precincts had five of the top eight turnout percentages in the county. But Kingwood has NEVER received even ONE Harris County FLOOD CONTROL DISTRICT capital improvement project.

Damage Concentrations

Compare damage in Harvey (below) with the area outlined in yellow in the map above.

When you consider these four maps together with the historical funding data discussed in previous posts (see links below), they show that most of the money is already going where most of the damage was. 

But large pockets of damage exist elsewhere that get comparatively little to no funding.

For instance, in the map above, note the curving arc of damage along Cypress Creek in the northern part of the county which extends into the Humble/Kingwood area.

People in those damaged areas turned out in high percentages for the flood bond. But they are seeing the vast majority of flood-mitigation projects being built in neighborhoods that didn’t even bother to vote in many cases. That doesn’t bode well for future bonds referendums.

Misleading Statements Undermine Trust in Government and Future

Some political leaders are telling poor people that flood-mitigation projects are all going to rich neighborhoods and the Houston Chronicle blindly repeats what they say without checking the real numbers. Or even bothering to mention projects already completed.

Twitter feed of Chronicle writer who wrote the article above.

But as I’ve shown in previous articles (see links below), depending on how you measure it, up to three quarters of the money is actually flowing to poor neighborhoods.

Funding in six highest and lowest income quartiles.
Funding in six low income watersheds compared to 15 higher income watersheds

Certain Harris County commissioners have fought to prioritize funding for minority and low-income neighborhoods. And in the next Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday 6/29/21, they’re pushing to expand that prioritization framework to include future projects and funds. See Item 191 on the agenda.

Yet poor people believe all the money is going to rich watersheds – because that’s what their leaders tell them. And rich people see the lion’s share of the money going in the opposite direction.

Everyone believes someone else is getting the funding. So who would vote for another flood bond at this point? No one.

How are you going to convince people that taxed themselves $2.5 billion – and think they aren’t receiving any benefit from it – to vote for the next bond?

We need to restore trust in government by giving people accurate information, not misleading them with racial rhetoric for political gain. More on that tomorrow.

For More Information

For more information, see: 

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/26/2021

1397 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.

Six Low-Income Watersheds Receive One Billion Dollars More than Six High-Income Watersheds

Second in a Series of Eight Articles on Flood-Mitigation Funding in Harris County

If the charges of racial and income bias in flood-mitigation funding in Harris County were true, you would expect the poorest neighborhoods to get less funding than the most affluent. But the opposite is true. They get a billion dollars more

Contrary to the “equity” narrative repeated ad nauseum in Harris County political circles, an analysis of flood-mitigation spending shows that JUST SIX low-income watersheds already:

  • Received a billion dollars more than six high-income watersheds since 2000
  • Averaged three times more funding per watershed
Data obtained from HCFCD via FOIA Request compares six highest and lowest income watersheds. These numbers include only capital improvement projects, not maintenance.

Data obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request debunks the narrative that falsely claims high-income watersheds get more funding because they have higher home values. Higher home values theoretically create higher Benefit/Cost Ratios. And some political leaders claim that causes the Federal government to favor projects in affluent neighborhoods, compared to poor. 

However, that argument ignores dozens of other factors that enter into grant funding

So, look through the other end of the telescope. Examine actual funding instead of the funding process. You will see that, in Harris County at least, actual flood-mitigation funding favors low-to-moderate-income (LMI) watersheds by a wide margin. If the process favors high-income watersheds, why do the low-income get a billion dollars more?

Analysis Reveals Funding Favors Low-Income Neighborhoods

I requested from Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) the following data by watershed – broken up into various time periods:

  • Capital improvement funding (excluding maintenance)
  • Population totals
  • Low-to-moderate income (LMI) population
  • Watershed size in square Miles
  • Damaged structures in major storms

From that, I computed other factors such as $/square mile, population density, LMI %, LMI Rankings, etc. The data goes back to 2000, but also includes “Since Harvey.”

Comparing the quartiles for lowest- and highest-income watersheds since 2000 showed that HCFCD spent more than $1.5 billion dollars in six low-income watersheds, but only $472 million in six high-income watersheds.

The lowest income quartile received a billion dollars more than the highest. There’s just no truth to the “rich-neighborhoods-get-all-the-funding” story.

Terminology and Methodology

Before going further, let’s clarify some terms. LMI means Low-to-Moderate Income. 

  • High LMI means watersheds with a high percentage of low-to-moderate income residents.
  • Low LMI means watersheds with a low percentage of low-to-moderate income residents, which actually means High Income.

Instead of bogging readers down in confusing double negatives, I will simply use the terms “High Income” and “Low Income” for this discussion.

The numbers in the lists below represent the percentages of people with incomes below the average for the region. So, with 16% LMI, Little Cypress has 84% of residents making above the average. That’s why it ranks as “higher income” even though it has a lower LMI percentage.

To create each group of six, I started with seven. That’s because each included a statistical anomaly explained below.

Watersheds with the highest income (lowest LMI ranking) include:

  1. Little Cypress (16%)*
  2. Barker (22%)
  3. Cypress Creek (26%)
  4. Armand (26%)
  5. Willow Creek (27%)
  6. Jackson (30%)
  7. Spring Creek (31%)

The seven with the lowest income (highest LMI ranking) include:

  1. Halls (71%)
  2. Hunting (69%)
  3. Sims (65%)
  4. Vince (62%)*
  5. Brays (58%)
  6. Greens (57%)
  7. White Oak (51%)

*Note: For this analysis I substituted Spring Creek for Little Cypress because Little Cypress is a statistical anomaly. Harris County is buying vacant land there along creeks to prevent future flooding as part of their “frontier program.”  But the small number of people who currently live in the Little Cypress watershed skews most statistical comparisons. I also excluded Vince in the low-income category because it lies almost wholly within the City of Pasadena, which is responsible for it.

Summary of High-Level Findings

The six low-income watersheds received $1.52 billion since 2000. But the six high-income watersheds received $472 million – more than billion dollars less.

Let’s also compare total spending since 2000 per square mile in each group.

  • Low-income watersheds got $2.8 million/sq. mi. 
  • High-income watersheds received $0.9 million/sq. mi.

Again, the 3X advantage for the low-income quartile held up.

Finally, let’s compare average dollars per watershed for all groups since 2000 (not adjusted by square mileage). The 3X advantage held up yet again for the low-income group, which also more than DOUBLED the countywide average. See below.

These comparisons make compelling evidence that the political narrative is misleading! However, these numbers don’t tell the whole truth either.

Low-income watersheds had 7X more damaged structures in four major floods (Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day and Harvey) – 144,754 vs. 19,677.

If there’s one truth about flood-mitigation funding in Harris County, it’s that “dollars flow to damage.” The following tables show funding, damage and LMI% rankings for both income groups. 

Only one of the watersheds in the high-income group received more funding than Hunting, the lowest in the low-income group. (I will explore this further in article #7 in this series.) 

Reasons for Rankings

If you understand Houston neighborhoods, the reason for these rankings becomes apparent when you look at a watershed map. Here are the high-income watersheds…

High-income watersheds are generally newer and built to higher standards on the periphery of the City. They also generally have fewer developments beyond them to create flooding issues. Not one is predominantly inside the Beltway.

Now, let’s look at the low-income watersheds.

Each low-income watersheds IS predominantly inside the Beltway.
Homes and drainage in these older areas are not built to current standards.

Role of Density in Flooding and Flood-Mitigation Funding

Another huge disparity exists between these two groups of watersheds: population density. 

  • 1,517 per square mile for the high-income group 
  • 3,912 for the low-income – 2.6X more.

Higher density brings with it more impermeable surface; more and faster runoff; more crowding of floodplains; plus, less room for detention facilities, channel expansion and wetlands. Often, wetlands are destroyed to accommodate higher density.

Very high density can also escalate flood-mitigation costs and delay flood-mitigation construction projects. Sometimes, homes or even entire subdivisions must be “bought out” to widen ditches or install detention ponds. For an example, see this post about Halls Bayou.

Also understand that when homes must give way to flood-mitigation projects, the projects often generate significant pushback from people being displaced.

Moving Forward, Let’s Ask the Right Questions

The statistics in this post disprove racial bias in funding. However, inner-city, minority residents are more susceptible to flooding than their suburban counterparts. But it’s largely because of where they choose to live for whatever reason: affordability, proximity to work, transportation, etc. Sometimes people just have no options, despite flooding. (I’ll explore this subject more in #7 of this series.)

To help residents in these low-income areas, HCFCD is already spending 3X more than it does in high-income areas. This raises the question, “Are we underfunding some watersheds?” 

As development pushes past today’s high-income watersheds, they too will come under pressure from even newer developments beyond the Grand Parkway. It’s already starting to happen to the westnorth and northeast. Those along Cypress Creek may first to feel the full brunt on this (see rankings above).

To solve the problems that really plague us, we need to bury the racial rhetoric, realize the true nature of the problems, and work together on solutions. 

The current inflammatory “equity” discourse only seems to distract and divide people. The real question we should ask ourselves is, “How can we upgrade the drainage infrastructure (streets and storm sewers) in neighborhoods that are 60 – 70 years old?” I’ll discuss that more in the seventh article in this series.

If leaders truly want to reduce flood risk, then the discussion needs to focus on how best to support the professionals and organizations toiling to protect all residents from the next flood. 

If the conversation does not change, then that will prove flood prevention is not really a priority for Harris County leadership. 

For More Information on Flood-Mitigation Funding

For more information, see: 

Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/22/2021 based on data received from a FOIA request

1393 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.

San Jacinto River Master Drainage Plan Draft Provides First Look at Final Report Due Out in August

On 7/23/2020, consultants for the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Plan gave the SJRA Board and the public a first look at a draft of the plan. The final report is due out at the end of August. The draft shows the broad outline of the team’s efforts.

Draft Shows Broad Outline of Recommendations

It shows the types of recommendations they will make. However, this draft does not yet include specific recommendations as to prioritization of projects. Those will change before the final report. For instance, much of the draft focuses on upstream detention. But specific detention site recommendations have not yet been finalized.

Funding and Partners

Below are the key slides and a brief explanation of the main point behind each. This drainage study is 75% funded by a FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant and 25% by four local partners: the SJRA, City of Houston, Harris County Flood Control, and Montgomery County.

Scope of Study

The study area covers almost 3,000 square miles and the tributaries listed on the left.
The SJRA primarily has responsibility for the portion of the watershed in Montgomery County. However, the scope of the drainage study extends to other counties including Waller, Grimes, Walker, Liberty, and San Jacinto.

Heat Map Shows Where Most Damage Occurs

The team started by looking at where flooding has occurred historically. The tan areas above show where the most damage has occurred.

Goals and Methodology

The partners started by looking at vulnerabilities and identifying mitigation possibilities. Their main goals are in red. The final report will make specific recommendations for detention, buy-outs and improving conveyance. Recommendations will also improve flood warning and communication.
The team started by integrating and updating all existing hydraulic and hydrologic models in the watershed as reflected on the latest 2018 lidar terrain data. They now take into account new construction, growth, additions to impervious cover, and Atlas-14 rainfall probabilities (which vary by sub-watershed within the larger watershed).
To calibrate and verify its H&H models, the drainage study team examined four historical storms that, together, impacted the entire study area. They then adjusted the models using radar rainfall data, and USGS high water marks and peak flow data. The objective: to make the models reflect “ground truth.”
The team is also looking at strategies to reduce sedimentation. However, this is not a major focus of this study. Their purpose is not to evaluate the relationship between sediment and flooding. Other studies will do that.

Three Main Areas of Focus

This slide shows the three major thrusts of drainage study effort over the last 1.5 years. The primary focus has been on: a) identifying the best locations for upstream detention that can reduce the volume of water coming downstream to populated areas during floods, b) where to install additional gages to improve flood predictions and warning times, and c) improving communication during emergencies.
This shows the steps the drainage team went through to evaluate and rank-order potential sites for detention.

Areas of Highest Potential for Mitigation

Here’s where they found the highest and lowest potential for mitigation. The box explains the watersheds that see the most effective solutions within the SJMDP study area, as explained in the list to the left of the slide.
Some drainage projects recommended in previous plans are no longer possible today because of upstream development. However, areas that once held potential for a single large project still hold potential for several smaller projects that add up to significant flood reduction.

Mitigation Project Funding

The cost all the drainage projects identified adds up to about $3 billion. They only reduce flooding of structures worth about $756 million dollars. Because costs exceed benefits, FEMA will not likely fund all of these.
However, many of the projects are in areas with low to moderate income (brown and tan areas). See the large concentration in the eastern watershed. That opens up other sources of funding, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development where the benefit/cost ratio may not be as important.

Harmonizing Regulations Throughout Region

The team will also make recommendations to harmonize floodplain development regs throughout the region. Continuing to allow unmitigated upstream development in floodplains could destroy any new investment made to protect highly populated downstream areas.

Some Problems May Only Be Solved Through Buyouts

Buyouts usually have a high benefit-to-cost ratio relative to construction projects such as detention ponds. Buyout strategies can target the most vulnerable properties, such as those in the 2- and 5-year floodplains. None of the detention projects recommended by the team will likely remove those from danger.

Steps Still Not Completed

The team has finished the steps in red. They in the process of prioritizing projects and developing a phasing plan. The last bullet point is not part of this study.

More Upstream Gages Needed to Eliminate Blind Spots

The team has also identified locations for additional upstream gages and local partners who can help maintain those gages. Think of these like a “distant early warning” system. They give river forecasters visibility into “blind spots.” Forecasters will be able to add up the rainfall on various tributaries and predict the impact and timing of flooding downstream. That could give people more time to evacuate.

Ways to Improve Communication

The team is also looking at ways to communicate better during flood emergencies. They are looking at inundation mapping, evacuation routes, and improved communication protocols.

Timetable for Remainder of Project

This chart outlines the project workflow. It shows completed steps in red, and incomplete steps in yellow.
The final report with specific recommendations should be released at the end of August or in early September.

Every Little Bit Helps

I can’t wait to see this report in its final form. During the presentation, the presenter talked about reducing flooding downstream at the West Fork and I-45 by up to six feet if all upstream projects are implemented.

One thing to keep in mind: there is no single silver bullet that can solve the regions flood problems. All of these steps are additive. In my personal opinion, a foot here and a foot there can help offset future releases from Lake Conroe. People in the Lake Houston Area benefit from any and all upstream improvements.

Posted by Bob Rehak with thanks to SJRA and HCFCD

1064 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 313 since Imelda

Ben’s Branch Update: Channel Wide Open, HCFCD Hydromulching Banks

Harris County Flood Control District’s (HCFCD) work on Ben’s Branch has been one of the bright spots in flood mitigation since Hurricane Harvey. The channel is now wide open, bulldozers are neatening up the banks, and crews are hydromulching this morning.

What Is Hydromulch?

Hydromulch (or hydraulic mulch seeding, hydro-mulching, hydraseeding) is a planting process that uses a slurry of seed, mulch, and fertilizer. It is often used as an erosion control technique on construction sites, as an alternative to dry seed. The “gel” accelerates the growth of grass by providing enough moisture and nutrients for the seeds to germinate even in dry weather.

Progress Photos

Paul Campbell of Towncenter Apartments caught this shot outside his apartment this morning.

Hydromulching the banks of Ben’s Branch on 4/25/2020. Photo courtesy of Paul Campbell.
Looking northwest over Ben’s Branch toward YMCA soccer fields (upper left). This and photos below taken 4/21/2020.
Looking west up Ben’s Branch toward Kingwood Greens and Kingwood Country Club Forest Course across West Lake Houston Parkway. YMCA soccer fields in upper left.
Reverse shot of the wide-open Ben’s Branch Channel looking east toward YMCA across West Lake Houston Parkway.

Hydromulching is usually the last step in channel repairs. Planting grass reduces erosion. Without it, rain would simply carry silt back into the channel.

Like New Again

Many thanks to the hard-working folks of the Harris County Flood Control district and their contractors.

In the last year, they have removed approximately 80,000 cubic yards of silt from the area between Kingwood Drive and the YMCA. Despite setbacks during Tropical Storm Imelda. Conveyance should now be restored to what it was in the mid-1990s.

Ben’s Branch hasn’t looked this good in decades. And residents will be much safer from flooding in future storms.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/25/2020 with thanks to Paul Campbell and HCFCD

970 Days After Hurricane Harvey

Corona Virus Lockdown Expansion Will Not Affect Flood Mitigation

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced a tightening of the lockdown already in place because of the corona virus. For the full text of the County’s 20-page order, click here.

Summary of Key Provisions

Starting tonight at 11:59 P.M. and lasting through April 3, 2020, “this Order requires all individuals anywhere in Harris County, to stay at home – except for certain Essential Activities and work to provide Essential Business and Essential Government services or perform essential infrastructure construction, including housing.”

Rustling Elms Bridge over Taylor Gully during peak of May 7, 2019 flood.

Non-essential and prohibited:

  • All exercise facilities including gyms, swimming pools and martial arts studios must close.
  • A broad range of retail shops must close including barbers, hair salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, game rooms, massage parlors, malls, flea markets, movie theaters, concert halls and more.
  • All public and private gatherings occurring outside a single household or living unit are prohibited.
  • Nursing homes, retirement, and long-term care facilities must prohibit non-essential visitors except for end-of-life visitation or critical assistance.
  • Restaurants will remain closed except for drive-through and carry-out orders.
  • Churches may only provide services via video or teleconference.

Essential and still exempt:

  • Grocery stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Gas stations
  • Convenience stores
  • Liquor stores
  • Car dealers and repair facilities
  • Professional services, such as legal, accounting, insurance, etc.

Flood Control Not On List

The corona virus prohibited and exempted lists stretch for 20 pages. They are too numerous to summarize here. However, as I read through the list, nowhere did I see “flood control” or “flood mitigation” work. That made me wonder whether we had potentially traded one type of crisis for another.

So I reached out to county officials and asked how today’s corona virus order would affect the activities of the Flood Control District. Said another way, were they considered “essential activities.”

Flood Control Deemed Essential, Will Continue

The answer: Yes, Flood Control is considered essential under the infrastructure and construction provisions of the order. No, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) will not shut down mitigation projects.

Matt Zeve, Deputy Executive Director of HCFCD had this to say. “Everyone who can will work from home. We had already been phasing that in before today. All construction and field work will continue as normal…with appropriate social distancing and hygiene procedures of course.”

Moving Into High-Risk Season for Flooding

As we move into April and May, the rainiest months of Spring, that’s comforting. A reader asked me today, “What would happen if we got a flood on top of the corona virus?” My first inclination was to tell her she needs to write the screenplay and go to Hollywood. But then I said, “That’s actually pretty plausible.”

People mucking out houses in unsanitary conditions and tight, crowded spaces could accelerate the spread of the virus. Crowded rescue boats and choppers would make a first responders nightmare, especially when rescuing people with the corona virus. Thousands of evacuees in churches, schools and convention centers. Evacuating high-risk populations like the elderly from nursing homes. These are not pleasant thoughts.

That’s why I’m glad that the work of flood control will continue as normal. Hurricane season is only nine weeks away.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/25/2020

939 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 188 since Imelda

City Decides Not to Participate in Elm Grove Rescue; Says County Should Pay 100%

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin shocked a meeting of Kingwood residents at a town hall meeting on February 25, 2020. He he said the City would not participate in a much-rumored buyout of the Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village property that contributed to the flooding of Elm Grove Village twice last year. The rumors first went public in a Houston Chronicle story on January 27th this year. In that story the Chronicle characterized the plan as a bailout, not a buyout, but later retracted that in an editorial board statement.

The plan was to purchase all or part of the land and build a giant detention pond on it that would prevent Elm Grove from flooding again.

Silence After Executive Session in Commissioner’s Court Meeting

The Chronicle story appeared one day before a Harris County Commissioner’s Court meeting. Commissioners were to consider the purchase of the property at that meeting in executive session. But there was no public announcement after the meeting of what they decided. We later learned the reason why.

County Asked City to Pay for Half of Purchase

Harris County, according to Martin at the town hall meeting, decided to ask the City to put up half the money for the purchase of the land. Martin initially supported the purchase “at the right price,” according to the Chronicle story.

However, something happened between the Commissioner’s Court Meeting and the Town Hall Meeting to make Martin change his mind about participating in the deal. At the Town Hall meeting, Martin never mentioned the purchase price as an objection.

Martin Claims We Pay Taxes to County So County Should Pay 100%

Instead, Martin launched into a discussion of his tax bill. He said that out of his total tax bill he paid:

  • 56.4% to Humble ISD
  • 18.8% to the City of Houston (of course, that didn’t include fees, such as those for drainage)
  • 14.4% to Harris County.

That adds up to 89.6%, but Mr. Martin did not explain what happened to the missing 10.4%.

Who Is Doing What

He simply said that dramatized the need to get “… Harris County to do more work in Kingwood.” (Editor’s note: at a previous town hall meeting Martin explained that the county was already taking over all work on ditches and streams in Kingwood, but then he quickly added that if the County purchased the Woodridge property, it would let the CITY do more work on ditches and streams. Martin never addressed that apparent contradiction).

Why City Refuses to Participate

Martin then explained that Kingwood overwhelmingly supported the $2.5 billion Harris County Flood Bond in 2018. He also pointed out that the language in the flood bond lets Harris County purchase land in other upstream counties for the purpose of floodwater detention – exactly like the proposal for Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village property.

According to Martin, County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle wants the City of Houston to contribute half of the money.

“Quite frankly,” said Martin, “I’m not going to ask the Mayor to contribute half. Because they (Harris County) should contribute 100% of it because we gave them our tax dollars and they specified what these tax dollars are to be used for. So they need to come up with 100%.”

Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin

(Another editor’s note: neither the bond language, nor the associated project list that was published before the vote specifically mentions Elm Grove or the Perry Homes land. The bond language mentions upstream detention only in a generic sense, and the majority of projects identified before the election involved partnerships.)

Martin then talked about berating Harris County Judge Lina Hildago on the subject before urging residents to contact their county officials. He closed by demanding that the County should put up 100% of the money for Perry Homes’ land because “WE are that close to making this happen.” (Emphasis NOT added.) Martin also asserted that if the County took sole responsibility for the deal, it would somehow help flooding problems in other unrelated areas such as North Woodland Hills.

Listen to Audio Clip of Discussion at Town Hall

To listen to a four-minute audio recording of this segment of the meeting, click the key frame of Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin below.

Segment of 2/25/2020 Kingwood Town Hall Meeting in which Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin discusses the buyout of Perry Homes’ Woodridge Village land to construct a detention pond and why Harris County Should Pay for 100% of the deal.

Mr. Martin never explained why the taxing entity we pay the least to should assume exclusive responsibility for the entire project. Nor did he address why drainage fees paid to the City, could not be used for the project.

Meanwhile, the county has been silent on whether it will pick up 100% of the tab for the detention work. And Elm Grove residents still spend sleepless nights every time it rains.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/1/2020

915 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 164 after Imelda

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.