Good to have the Pearl Harbor Day flooding in the rear-view mirror. And good that the worst predictions did not come true. So what happened? Did we just get lucky? Or did something go right for a change? It might have been a little of both.
Here’s what I know at 8 p.m. on Saturday night, about when the flood was expected to crest and flood multiple neighborhoods.
Lake Conroe Releases Have Peaked
According to Jace Houston, General Manager of the SJRA, releases from the Lake Conroe dam have likely peaked. The current release rate of 8181 cfs falls far short of previous floods and short of 9,000 to 11,000 cfs release rates predicted earlier.
Less Rain than Expected
That’s because we got less rainfall than predicted. Most of the area, including Lake Houston and upstream from Lake Conroe, received about 4.5 inches or less instead of the 8 to 10 predicted earlier. And rain was fairly spread out over time. The heaviest rainfall seems to have happened in The Woodlands with some gages approaching 6 inches.
Aggressive Pre-Release by City
Finally, the City of Houston started releasing water from the Lake Houston Dam two days in advance of the storm. They took the lake level down two feet before the storm and kept releasing water during the storm. Had it not been for that, homes along the shoreline would almost certainly have flooded.
Trending Steady or Down
At this moment, every stream gage that the SJRA reports upstream from the Lake Houston area is trending down. The peak has passed.
Harris County Flood Control shows that the gages at US59, West Lake Houston Parkway and FM1960 also appear to have peaked.
A photographic tour of the Kingwood area this afternoon showed that the river came out of its banks at River Grove Park and US59 and was on the verge of coming out in many other places. Surprisingly, I saw no flooded homes, not even on Marina Drive in Forest Cove. However, I did hear of many affected by street flooding, especially upstream in Montgomery County.
Still Much Mitigation Work to Do
Ben’s Branch by the Enclave and Kingwood Library had standing water. That should be a reminder that the County needs to make cleaning out this stream a high priority.
One final point. Late this afternoon, I noticed a huge difference between the gages upstream and downstream from the dredging.
Normally, these gages all read the same elevation. One can partially attribute the differences to spreading of the river. However one must also consider the huge blockages in the river that the Corps has not yet removed. At the moment, one of the biggest is just downstream from River Grove Park. Another, the mouth bar, blocks the river between Kings Point and Atascocita Point.
The Lake Houston Area lucked out this time due to aggressive action by City officials, a conservative release rate by the SJRA and the kindness of Mother Nature. I hope we don’t press our luck and assume that these blockages make no difference. They do. We need to remove them.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/8/2018
466 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/CommandSiteNearlyFlooded.jpg?fit=1500%2C1000&ssl=110001500adminadmin2018-12-08 20:46:402018-12-08 21:33:30Whew! Luck and Aggressive Action Avert Major Flooding
When I go to various flood mitigation meetings around town, I often hear – with some jealously and resentment – that the San Jacinto River Watershed seems to be getting the lion’s share of flood mitigation funding. This is not true, but it’s a popular misperception. Those who believe they are underfunded tell me constantly how unfair they think it is.
Flood Damage and Mitigation Funding Varies Greatly by Watershed
I wondered if there could be a correlation between underfunding of flood mitigation projects and excessive damage. That led me to another report that lists spending by watersheds in dollars: Harris County Flood Control District’s (HCFCD) annual federal briefing. It’s Flood Control’s annual report to the Federal Government about how Federal funds are being spent here. The link above is to the 2018 version, published last March. That was just BEFORE the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started its West Fork dredging project. Note also, it was BEFORE Harris County passed its $2.5 billion flood bond in August. So what follows is a snapshot of the way things were BEFORE Harvey, not now.
SJR Flood Mitigation Projects Underfunded Until Recently
A re-reading of that Federal Briefing confirmed my suspicions and the findings of the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium. The San Jacinto River watershed is by far the biggest in Harris County. With the exception of a few buyouts and flood gages, until now, it has received NO federal dollars for flood mitigation projects (at least through the County).
Source: Harris County Flood Control 2018 Federal Briefing. Harris County has 22 watersheds. The San Jacinto appears to be the largest.
Previously, projects were completed for the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, Halls Bayou, Buffalo Bayou, Vince Bayou, Little Vince Bayou, and Cypress Creek. There are no capital projects listed for the San Jacinto River Watershed, past or present.
Sims Bayou had 19% of the budget and 2% of the damage.
Clear Creek had 13% of the budget and 7% of the damage.
Greens Bayou had 8% of the budget and 7% of the damage.
Brays Bayou had 23% of the budget and 18% of the damage.
Hunting Bayou had 8% of the budget and 1% of the damage.
White Oak Bayou had 14% of the budget and 3% of the damage.
With No Budget, SJR Tied for Third Highest Amount of Damage
Compared to the six creeks and bayous above, the San Jacinto River had 0% of the budget and 14% of the damage. Here’s how it looks in graph form, taken from the Flood Mitigation Consortium report.
The Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium Report dramatizes the need for equity in funding throughout the region. For a complete breakdown of all watersheds, see the table on page 25 of the report.
What can we deduce from this?
Flood mitigation spending, without a doubt, reduces damage.
The San Jacinto River watershed is by far the most underfunded compared to others.
People in the Lake Houston Area need to fight future underfunding. We have been too quiet and therefore neglected for far too long. We must remain vigilant in coming years to ensure that the projects we have been promised (additional dredging, detention and floodgates, plus better ditch maintenance) are in fact delivered.
Harris County and the federal government together are spending $1.342 billion dollars on capital projects for Sims Bayou, Clear Creek, Greens Bayou, Brays Bayou, Hunting Bayou and White Oak Bayou. The San Jacinto currently gets only one twentieth of that due to the current Corps dredging project.
Before you call Judge Emmett and your county commissioners, I would like to point out that they have already committed to a more equitable distribution of project dollars from the $2.5 billion flood bond passed in August and that the Lake Houston area should get its fair share in the future. Phone calls at this moment are not necessary. Vigilance is. We can’t change the past, but together we can change the future.
Posted by Bob Rehak on October 24, 2018
421 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/HarrisCountyWatersheds.jpg?fit=1500%2C972&ssl=19721500adminadmin2018-10-24 15:54:112018-10-24 16:03:44San Jacinto River Watershed: Underfunded, Overdamaged
The Montgomery County Tax Appraiser’s office has indicated it will look into sand mine appraisals after two reports last week by ReduceFlooding.com that showed thousands of acres used for sand mining were not being appraised as sand mines.
Same mine, same use, same owner, radically different appraisals on each side of the county line. Montgomery County granted a timber exemption even though there is practically no timber on the the triangular one behind $56.25 per acre. Harris County appraised the land just inches south at market value. The difference is more than 12X.
17 East Fork Sand Mine Parcels Not Classified as Sand Mines
Seven other parcels on the East Fork, owned by the same group were classified as “E4 – Vacant Rural Land over 5 acres Non-Ag” or “C1 – All Vacant Res Lts & Vacant Res Tr < 5 Acres.” Of those seven parcels, two were being mined and were definitely not vacant.
Of the 17 East Fork parcels, a total of nine (more than half) were being mined, yet not one of those was classified as being mined. Seven of the parcels being mined received ag/timber exemptions even though they were not “principally” used for agriculture or timber, one of the five standards that land must meet to qualify for that exemption. Two other parcels being mined were classified as “vacant” even though they were clearly not vacant.
35 West Fork Sand Mines Not Classified as Sand Mines
2 were classified as “A1 – Single-family residential.”
6 were classified as “D1 – Qualified Ag/Timber.”
1 was classified as “E3 – Other Improvements over 5 acres Non-Ag.”
24 were classified as “E4 – Vac Rural Land over 5 acres Non-Ag”
1 was classified as “F1 – Commercial (real).”
2 were classified as “F2 – Industrial (real).”
“That’s not right.”
Altogether, I sampled 53 different sand mine parcels in Montgomery County.
All 53 were classified as something other than sand mines.
When these inconsistencies were called to the attention of a representative of the Montgomery County Appraisal District, he seemed genuinely upset – not only by the inconsistencies, but by the apparent misclassifications. After reviewing several examples, he said, “That’s not right!” He vowed to look into the issue, asked me to send him a list of the misclassified properties, and said, “I pay my fair share of tax and want to make sure everyone else does to.”
“They Should Be Classified as What They Are – Sand Mines.”
Another official at the State Comptroller’s office verified that G3, the classification for sand mines, was still active and appropriate.
When asked if counties had the discretion to appraise mines as something else, he said, “They should be classified as what they are – sand mines.”
Regarding coding, the State Comptroller’s office does allow counties to create their own designations, for instance S for sand. However, they must report the mines to the state as G3. A quick check of neighboring counties found that some, do indeed, use alternative designations. For instance, Liberty County classifies several sand pits as “S.” Harris County just calls them sand pits. I could see no comparable alternative in Montgomery County.
Multiple Classifications Used for Similar Properties
“Multiple classifications for similar properties are highly unusual,” the official in the State Comptroller’s office said. “And you wouldn’t classify an occupied property as vacant. Maybe at one point in time they were vacant or in timber. But they no longer are. Sounds like they slipped under the radar of the chief appraiser.”
Need for Uniform Standards of Appraisal
He further stated that such appraisals are usually based on estimates of reserves, much like oil and gas. When asked if there was a specific procedure to follow for such appraisals, he said, “There are several appraisal standards and methods such as USPAP. Counties just have to pick one and stick with it, so they can be consistent and justify their appraisals.” USPAP stands for Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice.
“Usually, sand mine appraisals are based on tonnage, remaining reserves, and a formula for discounted cash flow. The law says you must use standard methods and appraisal practices,” said the source in the Comptroller’s office.
Most Likely an Oversight
The Montgomery County Appraisal District office also felt the appraisal inconsistencies were most likely an oversight. “The number of sand mines out there is minuscule compared to the number of homes, businesses, ranches and farms. They probably just slipped through the cracks. We rely a lot on self-reporting for these types of properties. Owners are supposed to tell us when the use of a piece of property changes.” Other counties also seem plagued by inconsistencies when it comes to sand mine appraisals, though not to the degree Montgomery County is.
Ready for a Rollback?
Mines that were receiving the ag/timber exemption which requires a special application, may be in for a large surprise if the mines are reappraised. According to state guidelines, the properties are subject to a rollback tax dating to the change of use or five years. Reappraisal equals the difference between the timber valuation and the market valuation plus 7% interest per year. Some mines have been using the ag/timber exemption for many years so penalties could add up quickly. See the State of Texas Guidelines for Appraisal of Timberlands in Chapter 2 and the rollback procedures in Chapter 3.
Same Land, Same Owner, Same Use on Different Sides of County Line – A 12X Difference
To put this issue in perspective, let’s look at the lone mine on the East Fork owned by the Guniganti Family Property Holdings LLC. The Harris/Montgomery County line bisects the lower part of the mine.
The land on the Montgomery County side is assessed as “ag/timber” even though it has been a sand pit for thirteen years. Because of the ag/timber exemption, Montgomery County taxes the land based on an assessed value of $56.25 per acre.
Montgomery County appraised the pit as timber even though it contained none.
Just inches to the south, land on the Harris County side used in an identical fashion is classified as a sand pit. That pit is taxed at its market value, which is $701.73 per acre. That’s more than a 12x difference in the taxable value for land on the same property.
Inches to the south, Harris County appraised the same land at its MARKET value for 12X more.
Montgomery County schools and hospitals could have a nice Christmas this year if all that so-called vacant land and timber land in sand mines gets re-appraised.
As always, these are my opinions on matters of public policy, protected the the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.
Posted 10/1/18 by Bob Rehak
398 Days since Hurricane Harvey
https://i0.wp.com/reduceflooding.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Screen-Shot-2018-10-01-at-8.07.05-PM.jpg?fit=2414%2C1950&ssl=119502414adminadmin2018-10-01 22:12:412018-10-01 23:10:45Montgomery County Says It Will Re-evaluate Sand Mine Appraisals
On August 25th, voters overwhelmingly approved the Harris County flood bond. The bond didn’t just pass, it passed overwhelmingly. 85.64 percent of the votes were FOR and only 14.36% were against. That made the margin of victory almost 6:1. Near midnight, the county clerk posted these results for the Bond
Breakdown of Vote
Not many people voted. Only 152,305 of 2,285,881 registered voters cast ballots. That’s 6.66%.
Approximately 94,000 people voted by mail or during early voting. Another 57,000 people voted on Election Day, August 25th, the semi-official anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.*
The total number of voters equaled the number of homes in Harris county that were destroyed – about 150,000 – but only half the number of cars that were destroyed – about 300,000. Perhaps everyone just assumed passage and stayed home.
Local Tallies Not Yet Available
Officials have not yet posted results by precinct. Therefore it’s not immediately clear how the Lake Houston Area voted compared to the rest of the county.
Anecdotal evidence, however, suggests the Lake Houston area had higher percentages of voters and positive voters than the rest of the county. One precinct in Kingwood had ten times more voters than an Aldine precinct and only 3% who voted against the bond. We’ll have to wait for the official results to tell more.
Everything Approved for Lake Houston
The turnout may have been disappointing, but the results were not. This will mean critical funding for projects that the Lake Houston Area needs for flood mitigation: more detention, dredging and gates. The bond also includes money to improve long neglected ditches and money to buy out homes that flood repeatedly.
In the year since Harvey, we defined the problems, developed consensus around solutions, and secured funding.
Now starts the hard work. We actually have to implement the plans.
On Friday, August 24, the first of two dredges entered the river for the completion of assembly, The dredge is 27 feet wide, 90 feet long and weighs 270 tons.
Additional Dredging Approved
I’m hoping that additional dredging will be one of the first items on the agenda for the Lake Houston Area. Currently, the Army Corps is about to start dredging 2.1 miles worth of “hot spots” in the river. Twenty-five percent of the cost of that project or about $17.9 million is for mobilization and demobilization. If we can launch a follow-on project to address the mouth bar before that project is completed next April, we may be able to redeploy all the equipment and dredge pipe without incurring all of those mobilization charges again.
Additional Gates Approved
The additional flood gates for Lake Houston will most likely be the next highest priority. Reportedly, the project received a very high score from the Texas Division of Emergency Management and FEMA. Engineering is already underway. However, this is a massive capital project that could easily take several years.
Additional Detention Approved
Adding more upstream detention will require a watershed survey (also in the flood bond budget) to determine the best place or places. Reportedly a vendor has already been selected and is standing by to start work the minute funding is assured.
To see the complete project list, click here and scroll down to the San Jacinto Watershed.
I contacted Matt Zeve tonight to congratulate him on the outcome of the vote. I think he was already hard at work on the projects. Within seconds, I received this response. “We are ready to deliver for everyone in Harris County.”
Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/26/17
362 Days since Hurricane Harvey
*PS: You may note that my anniversary date is a little out of sync with what others are calling the anniversary of Harvey, My calendar started ticking when water started creeping in my neighbors homes, not when the storm first approached Corpus Christi.
00adminadmin2018-08-26 00:50:392018-08-26 00:50:39Harris County Flood Bond Approved by 6:1. What’s Next?
Today, I received feedback from Harris County on adding “more detention, dredging and gates” (Plea for DDG) to the upcoming flood bond referendum. The good news: Additional dredging, detention and gates will be achievable within the bond. The bad news: based on the feedback, there is still one hurdle to clear: finding partners to share dredging costs.
The mouth bar where the West Fork meets Lake Houston. Fosters Mill and King’s Point are in the background.
Background on Plea for DDG: Detention, Dredging and Gates
You may recall that RecoverLakeHouston, the Lake Houston Area Chamber, and the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative (as well as I) all lined up to support the Plea for DDG. The idea: during floods, more detention, dredging and gates would reduce input, increase throughput and speed up output.
The community turned out in force to support the initiative. The response literally overwhelmed county officials at the meeting. Seven to eight hundred people attended, making it the most attended of all the watershed meetings to date. Typically, meetings have been drawing one to two hundred people according to those who have attended multiple meetings.
Because of the large number of attendees in Kingwood and the open house format, many people felt the meeting was somewhat chaotic. Worse, some attendees received feedback from a small number of the county employees who mistakenly told them that dredging was NOT possible under the bond.
Clearing up the Confusion
I received this email from the county today. It clarifies their position on all three requests:
Thank you for your input in support of #PleaForDDG for the San Jacinto River watershed. Your submission has been recorded and considered by the Harris County Flood Control District staff.
With regard to drainage improvements for the the San Jacinto River watershed, the Flood Control District is partnering with Montgomery County, the City of Houston and the San Jacinto River Authority to determine short-term and long-term improvements, such as:
Expanding the Flood Warning System (http://www.harriscountyfws.org) into Montgomery County to include new rainfall and stream level gages
Improved coordination between the two county Offices of Emergency Management during disasters
A vegetation and sediment management plan with the goal to reduce the amount of silt and sand eroding into the river
Regional mitigation projects such as river dredging, buyouts and detention basins
Dredging to restore the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston
On July 6, 2018, the US Army Corps of Engineers awarded a contract to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, in the amount of $69,814,060 to remove sediment and debris resulting from Hurricane Harvey from the West Fork of the San Jacinto River. The Bond Program does include funding that could provide a portion of the cost share for any future dredging work on the East Fork/West Fork/Lake Houston area. Any future dredging project would have to be a collaborative effort between the City of Houston, the Coastal Water Authority, and possibly the State of Texas. At this time, no details have been worked out on future dredging. The Flood Control District will update the Bond Program maps to indicate another Partnership Project (green cross symbol) within the San Jacinto River watershed exhibit noting East Fork/West Fork/Lake Houston Dredging. The description will be “Potential Partnership Project with the City of Houston, Coastal Water Authority, and the State of Texas to permit, design, and complete dredging of the East Fork/West Fork/Lake Houston area waterways to reduce flooding risks.” The dollar amount will be shown as $50M from Harris County Flood Control District and TBD (to be determined) for the City of Houston, the Coastal Water Authority, and the State of Texas. The Flood Control District cannot commit nor obligate other agencies to allocate funding due to the fact that there is no agreement in place for the dredging project.
Detention/Sediment Basins West and North of Highway 59
These improvements are included in the list of potential projects within the bond program (see local projects F-88, F-14, and F-15 which will be used for Planning, Right-Of-Way Acquisition, Design and Construction of General Drainage Improvement along the San Jacinto River and Cypress Creek west of Highway 59). For drainage improvements north of Highway 59, the Flood Control District is coordinating with Montgomery County on a watershed study to investigate flooding problems and identify where detention basins could best serve to reduce flooding risks along the San Jacinto River.
Tainter Gates on Lake Houston Dam
On July 10, 2018, as a result of the community input process, the Flood Control District has added a Partnership Project (green cross symbol) to the list of potential projects within the bond program for the design and construction of additional gates. The partners would be the City of Houston and the Coastal Water Authority since they are the entities that have jurisdiction over the lake and the dam structure; our agency does not. The Bond Program could, however, provide partial funding of up to $20M for this effort.
When considering project ideas suggested by the community, the Flood Control District will prioritize projects that meet its mission to provide flood damage reduction projects that work, with appropriate regard for community and natural values. You can learn more about the project ranking criteria on our website: https://www.hcfcd.org/bond-program/community-input/
Thank you again for sharing your input. The bond election will be held on August 25 with early voting on August 8.
After reading this, I emailed Harris County Flood Control for one more clarification. Was spending $50 million on dredging contingent upon finding partners to share the cost? The answer: Yes. Fifty million, they say, is not sufficient by itself to do the dredging necessary.
So Where Does that Leave Us?
Additional gates for Lake Houston seem to be within scope and well supported.
More upstream detention seems to be within scope and also well supported. However, before any action can take place, the San Jacinto Watershed study must be completed. It is rumored to cost around $2 million and has been awaiting funding since late March. Presumably, the County’s share of the funding would come from this bond if it passes. The study would take a year or more to complete.
No one can say at this time what the study’s recommendations would be. So there is some uncertainty surrounding the request for more upstream detention. Please note, however, that other groups further upstream, for instance on Cypress Creek, are also requesting more upstream detention. My feeling? If the bond passes, more upstream detention is very likely. However, of all the projects, detention would take the longest to complete because it involves identifying and acquiring land.
Finally, additional dredging is also within scope and well supported. However, dredging has the highest degree of uncertainty associated with it because it will require partners who have not been approached and who have not committed any dollars.
To reduce uncertainty surrounding dredging before the bond, we would likely have to obtain commitments from one or more other stakeholders who are mentioned in the email above.
Recommended Next Steps
Before the bond referendum, area leaders need to actively seek support from those other stakeholders and communicate the outcome so that voters can make informed decisions about their votes. Of all three measures, dredging could be implemented the quickest.
Here are four things that I think would make the biggest impact for this area. Do you agree?
More river dredging. We must restore the velocity and carrying capacity of the entire river, not just a small portion of the West Fork and not just to pre-Harvey conditions. The Army Corps of Engineers is restoring a 2-mile stretch to pre-Harvey conditions. But we need to dredge deeper and further. And we need to do it on a regular basis. In 2000, Brown & Root recommended dredging and periodic maintenance as the best option they examined to mitigate flooding. Neither was ever done. That’s a huge part of the reason why we face increased flood risk today. Personally, I’d like to see the East and West Forks restored to their 2000 condition.
More floodgates on Lake Houston. Freese and Nichols found that 14 additional gates could have lowered the flood level during Harvey by up to 1.9 feet. That could help reduce flooding both upstream and downstream from the dam. It could also help reduce flooding downstream. By releasing water before a storm hits in a gradual, controlled fashion, you can create more capacity within the lake so you can discharge water at a lower rate as the reservoir fills back up.
More upstream detention. Offset Lake Conroe releases by capturing and holding water elsewhere. Everybody from here to Waller County seems to be lobbying for this. Small dams along the streams and bayous could temporarily hold back flood waters before they reach highly populated areas. Spring and Cypress Creeks are popular candidates. Lake Creek has also been mentioned. Finally, TACA pointed out that sand mines could make excellent detention ponds – my favorite alternative.
Better ditch maintenance. Before Harvey, many of our drainage ditches became silted and clogged with fallen trees. Some, like Ben’s Branch, near the public library, still have islands and standing water in them. Keeping these ditches clear and free flowing should be a high priority at all times to eliminate internal flooding.
Consensus Starting to Emerge
Monday, at separate meetings of the Lake Houston Area Grass Roots Flood Prevention Initiative and the Recover Lake Houston Task Fork, I saw consensus emerging around these flood mitigation measures. Together, these top priorities seem to have the best chance of actually reducing flooding in the Lake Houston area.
What are your top priorities? Whether you agree or disagree with these, please communicate your thoughts to Harris County Flood Control ASAP. The County is actively soliciting ideas for the bond proposal right now.
County bond money can be used to leverage Federal matching funds from FEMA and HUD grants. These grants usually operate on a 75/25 or 90/10 basis, returning $3 to $9 for every dollar put up. If voters approve the$2.5 billion referendum, it could potentially bring in tens of billions of additional dollars. This flow chart explains how the Flood Control District’s funding works.
Federal dollars for Harvey flood mitigation efforts are available now, but may go elsewhere if we don’t act. So it’s important that we:
Make sure the language in the proposed bond accommodates our needs
Pass the bond
Focus the money where it will do the most good
Here is where the proposed bond language stands as of this date. See BondLanguageAsOf6.13.18. It will most likely be modified before voting begins, based on what officials hear from citizens at a series of meetings being held in all 22 watersheds throughout Harris County.
Give the County Your Thoughts
Remember, according the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium, the Lake Houston area historically has received 0% of the region’s flood mitigation dollars, but sustained 14% of the region’s damage during Harvey. Let’s make sure we get our fair share of flood control dollars this time around.
Call 713-684-4107 or mail comments to 9900 Northwest Freeway, Houston, Texas 77092, ATTN: Bond Program Communications.