Tag Archive for: maintenance

Flood- and Garcia-Bond Updates

The Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) August update to County Commissioners on the progress of the 2018 flood bond shows a continued lopsided distribution of funds in favor of low-to-moderate income (LMI) watersheds. It also showed slowing activity overall.

Separately, the County has posted a new website and scheduled input sessions for Adrian Garcia’s proposed new $1.2 billion bond proposition(s). The dates of input sessions relative to the legislative deadline for bond language make it clear that the bond language will not reflect much voter input.

Lopsided Distribution of Funds Continues for Flood Bond

Five watersheds with a majority of LMI residents have received 39% of all the flood bond spending. LMI is defined as “below median income for the region.” Brays, Greens, White Oak, Halls and Hunting watersheds received a total of $430.4 million – an average of $86 million each. Together, the other 18 watersheds received $443.5 million – an average of $24.6 million each. Countywide projects received the rest – $217 million.

Page 9 from the August Flood Bond Update.
Data transferred from map above and arranged by total spending per watershed.

I’ve said it before. Facts do not support the political narrative that affluent watersheds get all the funding. To see what the funding in those five LMI watersheds helped buy, see the photos in these posts.

Flood-Bond Progress Appears to Slow

During the month, HCFCD:

  • Awarded only one new construction contract valued at $1 million.
  • Awarded three new agreements with other contractors but spent $0 with them.
  • Completed 19 buyouts compared to 21 the previous month.
  • Spent $2.4 million on buyouts compared to $6.6 million the previous month.

The total value of active capital improvement construction projects fell to $225.8 million from $231.9 million in July and $235.6 million in June. Out of that, the Lake Houston Area still only has $2,000 or 0.0009% of the total. Although that should improve in the future, it could also worsen, depending on election outcomes in November.

Page 12 from full update.

Total reported bond spending increased to $1.1 billion, up from $1.06 billion the previous month, an increase (with rounding) of slightly more than $40 million.

Overall progress of the bond program? 23.5% complete – four years into a 10-year program.

However, HCFCD believes it is only slightly behind schedule. The District’s key performance indicators stayed steady at .97 percent.

Major-Maintenance Flood-Bond Spending Holds Steady, but Still Lopsided

Major maintenance projects held fairly steady. HCFCD spent $78.4 million in August compared to $78.8 million in July. But there’s only one maintenance project in the entire northeastern section of the county – some drainage system repairs in the Jackson Bayou watershed with an unspecified value. It’s unspecified because the report lumps it together with two projects in the Halls Bayou watershed. The total for all three is about $1 million. Assuming each project got one third of that million, the entire northeastern section of the county received 0.42% of all the maintenance spending from the bond last month.

Active maintenance projects reported on page 11 of full report.

The largest group of maintenance projects is along Cypress Creek and its tributaries. There are 14 projects valued at $48.1 million. That’s 61.4% of the major-maintenance total.

Input Sessions for Garcia-Bond

Separately, Adrian Garcia has proposed another $1.2 billion bond – even though hundreds of millions remain from the 2015 bond. Unlike the 2018 Flood Bond, which specified projects in each watershed so people knew what they were supposedly getting, Garcia’s bond contains only three high-level categories split up into Propositions A, B, and C. They include:

  • A) Public safety: $100 million
  • B) Transportation: $900 million
  • C) Parks and Trails: $200 million

That’s right. Garcia wants to spend twice as much on hike-and-bike trails as public safety.

The county will hold four open houses in each of the four precincts during the next five weeks. It will also hold four virtual open houses. For a complete schedule, see HarrisCounty2022Bond.org.

The one input session in the northeastern section of Precinct 3 will be at the Humble Civic Center at 6PM on October 4th. Neither Kingwood, Huffman, Atascocita, nor Crosby will have its own input session.

Bond Language Will Not Reflect Voter Input

The county must post bond language by September 30 at the latest. But the input sessions run until October 20th. Early voting starts on October 24. And Election Day is November 8. So the bond language will not reflect much voter input. Neither the county, nor media, will have much time to digest voter input. It’s pure political theater.

The bond website simply says that “Input will be shared with Harris County Precinct staff as they make decisions regarding future projects.”


The bond website provides absolutely no detail about SPECIFIC PROJECTS or WHERE projects would be – despite promises made by the County Administrator to Commissioners Court.

In contrast, my records show that Harris County Flood Control under Judge Ed Emmett posted a comprehensive list of projects almost two full months before the Flood Bond Referendum in 2018.

Equity and Political Leaning Will Guide Distribution of Garcia-Bond Funds

Commissioners Ramsey and Cagle argued for months to delay the bond referendum until details could be nailed down, but Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis refused.

During debate in Commissioners Court, it became clear that Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis intend to use “equity principles” to divvy up the money, not just to prioritize the start date of projects as they did with the 2018 flood bond. Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis even passed a motion that would give Democratic-leaning Precincts about 40% more money than Republican-leaning Precincts. For instance, Precinct 3 would be guaranteed only $220 million. That’s 18% of the total even though P3 has 47% of the county’s unincorporated area to maintain, improve and patrol.

Why Trust in Government is Eroding

During debate, Rodney Ellis even bragged about how he redefined “equitable distribution of funds” in the 2018 Flood Bond text after the election.

My takeaway: Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis don’t want to be held accountable. They talk transparency, but this is nothing more than a slush fund. And this is why trust in government is eroding in my humble opinion.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/20/22

1848 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.

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

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

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

Maintenance Costs Harder to Determine

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

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

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

Other Insights

The report yields many insights.

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

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

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

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

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

Glaring $750 Million Omission

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

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

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

Posted by Bob Rehak on May 11, 2022

1716 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Harris County Commissioners Vote to Explore Using Flood-Bond for Maintenance, Possibly Floating Another Bond

At the October 27, 2020 Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia introduced a motion from the floor to explore using flood bond funds for maintenance projects. The motion was not on the agenda, nor did he circulate it before the meeting. It caught some commissioners off guard. Minor changes in wording between what the motion said, and how Garcia and Commissioner Rodney Ellis described it, will keep court watchers guessing about their true intent.

Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia

In the end, the motion passed. It didn’t commit commissioners to anything more than conducting a survey and exploring options. However, last Tuesday’s discussion gives voters a peak over the horizon. It reveals what commissioners think and how desperate some are to find new sources of revenue rather than reign in runaway spending.

Garcia Explains Rationale for Motion

View the discussion yourself online. Click on Departments (Part 4 of 5). Start at approximately 4:21 into that segment. Below is a close transcription.

Adrian Garcia: The flood control district has developed the future operations and maintenance needs for the projects that the district will be constructing using the bond program. The overall need for the next 10 years is ninety seven million, with an average annual budget increase need of approximately 10 million per year. Major infrastructure that the control district owned and maintained are detention ponds, earthen channels, concrete channels, and outfall. It’s extremely important that the county funds the proactive maintenance and deferred maintenance for all Harris County owned infrastructure.

I see the spreadsheet that the district has submitted for their 10-year, cost-increase projections for bond projects and growth only as of 10/16 of this year. I am curious as to why some of the heavy equipment, the vehicles, management software implementation, the customer service, the (garbled) software, large repair projects, why these couldn’t be paid out of the bond funding [Emphasis Added, see below] versus using general-fund dollars?

And so I’d like to propose a motion that would touch on the customer-service satisfaction aspect of the flood control district. (Interruption) …

…so the customer-service satisfaction model, the risk-based model and the deferred-maintenance model.

Garcia Proposes Motion

Adrian Garcia:  And so my proposed motions would read that Harris County flood control district should perform a customer satisfaction survey for deferred maintenance and services to develop the maintenance cycle and overall maintenance budget needs.

The flood control district should develop an overall condition assessment for the infrastructure and based on the risk of failure and risk of potential flooding, the flood control district should develop a prioritized criteria and maintenance-needs budget and the Harris county flood control district needs to take a comprehensive look at the condition of all existing infrastructure and identify maintenance needs that have been deferred for years due to budgetary or any other reason. There are many areas where repair work can be significantly large and may also qualify for a capital project. And the Budget Management Department needs to evaluate if we can fund this through a bond program [Emphasis Added, see below].

So that’s the motion I’d like to propose.

Judge, just make sure that we’re not forgetting how to maybe better deal with the O&M (operations and maintenance) side of the Flood Control District’s operations.

Ellis Wants Maintenance Tied to “Equity” Scheme

Rodney Ellis: Second.  It also brings to my mind the question of, “How much of the flood bond money was spent before we adopted the equity guidelines?” 

Harris County Precinct One Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Matt Zeve (Deputy Exec Director, HCFCD): Yes, sir, Commissioner. My staff and I are working on getting those numbers over to you by the end of the week, plus all the other questions that you asked us to dig into. We plan to have that over to you before the end of the week.

Rodney Ellis: And Commissioner (Garcia), I only ask because it relates to the issue. Let’s say if a half a billion, five hundred million was spent before we adopted equity guidelines, I know the city is trying to get us to do some swap. They don’t have equity guidelines as it relates to that … some other project in another county … and I’m going to propose that they give us a recommendation or I’ll come up with one so that we make up a project that will fund it in the absence of equity guidelines, possibly in an equitable way. And money was taken off the top while we were coming up with guidelines, and I want to compensate for that going forward. And that ties in with what you’re doing today.

Hidalgo: So there’s a motion and a second… 

Cagle Objects Because Motion Isn’t in Writing

Cagle: Was it sent around, Judge? (Meaning, “Was the motion circulated so that commissioners could see in writing what they were voting for?”)

Adrian Garcia: It’s coming around now, Commissioner.

Cagle: I’ll hold off until I see it. 

Hidalgo: We can circle back (before taking a vote).

One Hour Later, Motion Passes

Approximately an hour later, at time code 5:23:50, Hidalgo finally circles back to Garcia’s motion.

Commissioner Jack Cagle asks Commissioner Garcia if he discussed his motion with the leaders of the flood control district. Answer: “Some of it.”

Cagle then states, “It’s asking for an assessment. I don’t have an issue with that.”

Commissioner Radack asks whether it could be implemented without coming back to court.

Robert Soard, speaking for the County Attorney’s office, says that any action on the survey would have to come back through Commissioner’s Court for a vote.

Garcia restates the motion, but this time the wording differs slightly: To direct the Harris County Flood Control District to perform a customer satisfaction survey for deferred maintenance and services (i.e. mowing, desilting, etc.) to develop the maintenance cycle and overall maintenance budget needs, to develop an overall condition assessment for the Infrastructure and based on the risk of failure and risk of potential flooding, HCFCD should develop a prioritization criteria and maintenance needs budget and to take a comprehensive look at the condition of all existing infrastructure and identify maintenance need that has been deferred for years due to budgetary or any other reason. There are many areas where repair work can be significantly large that may also qualify for a Capital Project and Budget Management Department need to evaluate if we can fund these through a Bond Program.

Ellis seconds it again. The motion passes.

Text of Flood Bond That Voters Passed

The words “maintenance” and “operations” appear nowhere in the bond language approved by voters.

Under Texas law, bond funds from the 2018 referendum can only be used for purposes approved by the voters.

However, as Commissioner Garcia alludes to in the final sentence of his motion, some maintenance projects are so large that they could legitimately be characterized as capital projects. In fact, the 2018 Flood Bond contained three such projects:

  • F-53 $40 million for “Rehabilitation of Channels Upstream of Addicks Reservoir to Restore Channel Conveyance Capacity”
  • F-52 $20 million for “Rehabilitation of Approximately 20 Miles of Channels Upstream of Barker Reservoir to Restore Channel Conveyance Capacity”
  • CI-012 $60 million for “Major Maintenance of Cypress Creek and Tributaries”

Before the 2018 Bond Election, Harris County Flood Control had only a $120 million budget for maintenance, half of which it spent on capital projects. So you can see that those three maintenance projects would have consumed the entire annual maintenance budget by themselves. Clearly, they fall into a gray area.

The three projects above fall under language in the flood bond that allows “channel improvements.” Also HCFCD publicized them as potential projects before the vote.

Is It Wise to Pay for Maintenance With Bond Money?

Ordinarily, it’s a bad idea to pay for maintenance out of 30-year bond funds.

Mr. Garcia’s introduction of the motion mentioned things not in the motion. For instance:

  • Vehicles
  • Software
  • Customer service

The County should never, in my opinion, pay for those with a 30-year bond. Neither should the bond pay for mowing, which WAS in the motion.

It’s literally like taking out a mortgage to cut your grass. A week later, you’re back where you started and saddled with 30 years of debt.

A New Bond?

Above, I bolded “THE BOND” and “A BOND.” At first, Commissioner Garcia said he wanted to use money from THE BOND (meaning the 2018) bond to pay for some maintenance items. But his actual motion refers to “A BOND.”

That’s certainly a strange way to refer to the historic flood bond passed in 2018. It sounds as though he’s laying the groundwork to float another flood bond.

Rodney Ellis’ rush to second the motion supports the second interpretation. For months, Ellis has consistently carped that there won’t be enough money in the 2018 bond to do all the projects that need doing.

Ellis, Equity Flap and Elm Grove

That’s why Commissioner Ellis redefined “equity” earlier this year. The 2018 Flood Bond specified “equitable distribution of funds.” 88% of people throughout the county voted for that language – thinking they would get their fair share of flood bond money. However, Commissioner Ellis redefined the word to favor the socially vulnerable and penalize others.

Now, Ellis seems to be linking help for Elm Grove to the City of Houston’s adoption of “equity guidelines” comparable to his. He said, “I’m going to propose that they give us a recommendation or I’ll come up with one…” Then he added, “That (meaning equity) ties into what we’re doing here today.” Literally, they are conducting an inventory of maintenance needs and developing a prioritization framework for it.

That framework will no doubt be used to ensure distribution of maintenance dollars according to Mr. Ellis’ definition of equity.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/3/2020

1162 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Commissioners Will Vote Tuesday On Measure That Could Improve Drain/Ditch Maintenance

On Tuesday, Harris County Commissioners will vote on an asset-swap proposal that could improve drain and ditch maintenance county wide. It’s item 2A1 on the Commissioners Court Agenda. But it may take a while to implement. Here’s the background.

Untangling Overlapping Responsibilities

During recent storms, many blamed local flooding on lack of drain and ditch maintenance. The 80,000 cubic yards of silt clogging the lower portion of Ben’s Branch is just one example. Hundreds of others exist throughout the City of Houston and Harris County.

As the City and County Flood Control District tried to determine who was responsible for what, they became mired in legal tangles. Often, they discovered, both entities had responsibility for different portions of the same ditch.

But determining where one’s responsibilities stopped and the other’s started delayed mitigation and ran up legal fees. And even where responsibilities were clear cut, they wound up mobilizing two different crews, when one would have sufficed. This duplication of efforts ran up mitigation costs needlessly. It also often resulted in a patchwork quilt of repairs where one part of a ditch was maintained and another was not. And that reduced effectiveness.

Dividing Responsibilities by Core Competency

Luckily, common sense prevailed. The City and County reached an agreement in principle after Harvey to exchange responsibilities. Now each will focus on its core competency to maximize efficiency.

The goal: to get to a point where the City takes over responsibility for underground drainage and the County takes responsibility for above ground inside City limits.

One of the Flood Control District’s core competencies resides in ditch maintenance and improvements. Likewise, the City Public Works Department specializes in storm drains and sewers.

Any business school grad can tell you that companies maximize efficiency when focusing on their core competencies. The key: outsourcing parts of businesses where others offer greater efficiency.

Gradual Changeover In Series of Asset Swaps

However, the changeover won’t be like flipping a universal switch. It will happen gradually over several years with a series of asset swaps. Why? To ensure that neither side becomes saddled with deferred maintenance costs of the other.

Accordingly, each asset must be brought up to standards before swapping responsibilities.

See the explanation for Agenda Item 2A1 – The Houston City Council approved the interlocal agreement on February 27, 2020. Harris County Commissioners will vote on it on Tuesday, 4/28/2020.

Along with the agreement, the parties have identified the first batch of properties for exchange. However, they have not yet publicized those.

Only One Potential Problem

I only see one problem with this program. Some ditches that desperately need maintenance may not qualify for exchange before people flood.

Kings Forest, for example, has a ditch that parallels Valley Manor, west of Kingwood High School. Like Ben’s Branch, the City never maintained it. Now, water backs up dangerously close to homes on Kingsway Court and Twin Grove during heavy rains.

Rick Beaubien, a resident who lives near the ditch, took the pictures below.

Downed trees in ditch between Valley Manor and Twin Grove.
Clogged drain in same ditch.
North side of Kingwood Drive looking south. Trees and silt block channel and culverts. You can tell by the size of the trees that no one has maintained this ditch in a long time.
Same culverts, but in center of Kingwood Drive.
Exit of same culvert south of Kingwood Drive

Dustin Hodges, District E North Sector Manager for Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin indicates that Public Works is working on a plan to maintain this and other ditches. However, he also admits that “Currently, there are no available funds to address this ditch and there is no timeline on when any funds would be available for this ditch.”

Theory Good, Time Will Tell

I wholeheartedly support the asset-exchange program outlined in agenda item 2A1. Voting against it will not immediately accelerate the maintenance of ditches such as the one above. However, in principle and in the long run, it should help if the City and County treat neighborhoods equitably and partisan politics don’t intervene.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/26/2020 with thanks to Rick Beaubien

971 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Plans For Next Phase of Dredging Announced

Behind-the-scenes work for the next phase of dredging has already started. The City, County and State are working together on a $30 million grant application for submission this month. The legislature earmarked the money for dredging at the confluence of the San Jacinto and Lake Houston. However, the money must go through the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to Harris County and then the Harris County Flood Control District.

Circuitous Route for Funding

The supplemental appropriations bill, SB500, that the legislature approved dictates the circuitous route for funding. See the exact text from SB500 below.

“Out of funds appropriated in Subsection (1), $30 million is dedicated to the Texas Water Development Board to provide a grant to Harris County for the purchase and operation of equipment to remove accumulated siltation and sediment deposits located at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston.”

DIY vs. Outsourcing

State Representative Dan Huberty, who authored the SB500 amendment, has worked closely with all parties involved to explore the most cost-effective and timely solutions. For instance, Flood Control explored how much it would cost to hire an outside company for dredging versus buying the equipment and doing it themselves. Said Huberty, “In my discussion with the TWDB last week, they have agreed we can buy equipment if we need to, which is the direction we are pushing for at this time.” However, that option would take longer to implement and the money must be spent within the current bi-annum – by law.

Long Term vs. Immediate Needs

Meanwhile, the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto have urgent, immediate dredging needs, too. So the partners could break the work up and pursue both DIY and outsourcing options.

Said Huberty, “I met with DRC (Disaster Recovery Corporation) a week ago. DRC has an ongoing contract with both the City and County for debris removal from Lake Houston and they are still removing debris from the lake. So they might be an option that would let us deploy faster.” 

DRC is the parent company of Callan Marine, a subcontractor during the Army Corps’ Emergency West Fork Dredging project after Hurricane Harvey.

The dredges are gone but the pipe is not. The quarter-mile long sections of pipe used in the initial Emergency West Fork Dredging Project have been broken down into smaller sections for transport, but much of it remains on the West Fork. Photo taken 12/3/2019.

Additional Sources of Funding

Huberty also said that, “In addition to the $30 million, the Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Council Member Dave Martin committed last weekend to help us fund this in partnership with Harris County Flood Control.” The City committed approximately $6 million, according to Huberty.

The ever-growing mouth bar on the San Jacinto West Fork. Imelda wiped out many of the gains from the Corps’ supplemental dredging program that ended on Labor Day and removed 500,000 cubic yards. Photo taken on 12/3/2019.
The growing mouth bar on the East Fork of the San Jacinto near the entrance to Luce Bayou and the Interbasin Transfer Project.
The Inter-Basin Transfer canal empties into the lower reaches of Luce Bayou, which flows into the northeastern corner of Lake Houston, near the emerging mouth bar. The project costs $351 million and will provide water to the Northeast Purification Plant. Photo taken 12/3/2019.

“In addition,” says Huberty, “I spoke to the Governor’s staff this weekend. We still have money left over from Harvey debris removal. That’s approximately another $16 million. They told us we can spend the money on the river and lake, but not for other purposes. This will let us complete the mouth bar dredging and get mechanical dredging done in areas like Huffman and Atascocita. The scope of the project is expanding, which is very good news. We’ll be able to help more people.” 

Smaller mouth bars have set up around the lake at the entrance to drainage ditches, like this one in Atascocita near Walden. Photo taken on 10/4/2019. Such blockages can force water up, out and over the banks into neighborhoods during large rains.

Next Step: Commissioners’ Court Needs to Approve Grant Request

The ball, at this moment, is in Flood Control’s court. Commissioners’ Court must approve all grant requests made by any part of the County. Says Huberty, “There will be an item on the December 17th Commissioners Court agenda requesting permission from the Court to submit the grant application to TWDB. All parties involved have already had discussions with the TWDB staff and are working on the grant application paperwork.”

Early next week Huberty plans to meet with John Blount, the Harris County Engineer; Stephen Costello, the Mayor’s Flood Czar; and John Sullivan, President of DRC.

Constant Dredging for Foreseeable Future

“In my discussions with all interested parties,” said Huberty, “we should have the application submitted by year end. We have been pushing to get it awarded quickly. It is a formality. We need to spend this money quickly which works to our advantage. We can always go back to the legislature for more after that.”

“All of these initiatives will ensure we can have constant, permanent dredging on the Lake for the foreseeable future,” said Huberty. “I am very pleased with the result and look forward to getting this project started.”   

Posted By Bob Rehak on 12/4/2019

827 Days after Hurricane Harvey and 76 since Imelda

Q&A with HCFCD on Ben’s Branch Flooding Issues

After St. Martha’s Catholic School and Kids in Action almost flooded on a two inch rain earlier this week, I asked Harris County Flood Control a series of questions about Ben’s Branch. The questions covered a variety of topics. They included the Kingwood Drainage Assessment; flood mitigation alternatives along the creek; preservation of natural amenities; a maintenance agreement with Friendswood and Bear Branch Trail Association; timing for all of the above; and more.

St. Martha’s school on Tuesday after two inches of rain

Harris County Flood Control District continues to be a paragon of openness and transparency. Below: detailed answers to the questions people have been asking.

Q. Ben’s Branch is included in the Kingwood Drainage Assessment. When will that study be complete?

A. Our consultant is scheduled to submit the Draft Feasibility Report for HCFCD review in May 2020. We plan to hold a public meeting by early 2020 to present preliminary results and then a second meeting to present final results and recommendations for future actions.

Q. Will the consultant report findings on creeks “as they go” (one by one) or deliver one summary report at the end? (The concern: that they could sit on recommendations for months that might prevent flooding in the interim.)

A. We do not envision the alternative analysis to be completed on a creek by creek basis, but we are working to identify some initial projects that could be recommended for implementation prior to completion of the report.

This assessment is to determine level of service and make recommendations for projects to move into preliminary engineering once this assessment has concluded. Some projects might require partnerships to implement.

Q. I understand that you are close to reaching a maintenance agreement with Friendswood for the natural portion of Ben’s Branch between North Park and Kingwood Drive. Can you send me a copy of the proposed maintenance agreement or, as a backup, summarize the key features?

We are seeking an easement from the Bear Branch Trail Association, with a waiver from Friendswood Development Company, to perform desnag activities for stormwater conveyance purposes on the portion of Bens Branch between Woodland Hills and Kingwood Drive where we currently have no property rights; that is, from approximately 1,500 feet downstream of Woodland Hills to approximately 3,000 feet upstream of Kingwood Drive. Please go to the Interactive Maps of Kingwood Assessment Area on our website and look at the fuchsia line along Bens Branch on the “Channel Right-of-Way in the Kingwood Area” map.

We will share the easement language once it has been finalized.

Q. How long have you been working on this easement?

Since October 24, 2018.

Q. How will this easement differ from your normal easements?

We are obtaining this easement to perform desnag activities to allow the free flow of stormwater. For information about our desnag operations, please visit our website https://www.hcfcd.org/hurricane-harvey/kingwood-information/hcfcd-vegetation-management-activities/.

When Friendswood Development Company granted fee ownership of this portion of Bens Branch to the Bear Branch Trail Association, they retained certain rights and set specific restrictions on the property that would make it impossible for HCFCD to perform its necessary flood control responsibilities.

This agreement is different because the Friendswood Development Company wants to restrict HCFCD’s rights to “widen, deepen, enlarge, straighten, or smooth the channel in such a way as to increase channel capacity.” 

HCFCD has been working to negotiate the right to enter this property and complete channel maintenance operations for drainage purposes, while still maintaining the aesthetics that are important to both the Friendswood Development Company and the Bear Branch Trail Association. HCFCD will request the right to review plans for future improvements placed within the channel (e.g., bridges and low water crossings).

HCFCD cannot allow activities that could increase the risk of flooding where we spend public dollars.

Q. What were Friendswood’s concerns?

They wanted no alteration of the channel geometry and to retain the ability to add trails, bridges, and other structures without obtaining permits from HCFCD.

Q. Will the maintenance described in the agreement be enough to restore conveyance of Ben’s Branch so that it doesn’t flood surrounding homes and businesses?

We plan to perform desnag operations to remove obstructions so that stormwater can be conveyed efficiently.  HCFCD can’t guarantee that flooding won’t occur in surrounding homes and businesses.  HCFCD can selectively remove vegetation along the banks and other debris in the channel to increase the capacity of the channel to convey stormwater downstream.

Q. What will it take to avoid flooding? Said another way, what obstacles do you face in restoring conveyance?

Before we can perform these activities, we need to have property rights and the ability to safely access the site.

Q. What would Harris County Flood Control prescribe for Ben’s Branch to protect people from flooding?

We have not formally begun our process to identify alternatives; however, we expect to explore these alternatives for the Bens Branch channel:

  • Expanding the Kingwood diversion ditch from 150 feet to approximately 300 to use more of the right of way. Because the Kingwood diversion channel diverts water from the Montgomery County portion of the upper Bens Branch watershed, and there appears to be available capacity in the diversion channel, we will look into whether diverting more flow down the diversion channel would result in reduced flows along Bens Branch. Please note that we anticipate that this option would require a stormwater detention basin along the lower limits of the diversion channel.
  • Effectiveness of building stormwater detention basins in the upper Bens Branch watershed (Montgomery County side). This will only be feasible if large undeveloped tracts are identified for possible future basins.
  • Evaluation of channel conveyance improvement needs along the entirety of Bens Branch. Some improvements may need to be considered on portions of the channel within which HCFCD has no legal authority to work.  If this is the case, HCFCD would coordinate with the property owners to determine what improvements could be completed.

Q. Are there compromises that would provide protection from flooding without destruction of the natural amenities which residents also value? I realize this may involve a discussion of degrees of protection.

As part of this study, HCFCD will be identifying alternatives to provide 100-year level of protection within the channels, using the rainfall rates from the newly adopted Atlas 14. These alternatives will identify the magnitude of improvements necessary to handle approximately 18 inches of rainfall runoff in a 24 hour period.

There are times that flood risk reduction competes with natural and public amenities; when that occurs, HCFCD works to minimize impacts to natural amenities. Once alternatives are identified, Kingwood Area residents will have a chance to voice their opinions and concerns with our alternatives. Please note that at some point it might become necessary for the Kingwood community to decide between higher levels of flood protection and maintenance of existing amenities.

Q. Do you have any idea yet why St. Martha’s and Kids in Action almost flooded on a one year rain? What has changed in your opinion?

We do not have any formal findings as to the potential causes for the excessive ponding along Bens Branch near the Kids in Action / St. Martha’s area. The intensity of the rainfall contributed to the ponding; inlets are typically designed to handle approximately 1” per hour, and when the rainfall intensity exceeds this, there is ponding in streets and parking lots.

It also appears that there may be a downstream blockage since extremely slow velocities were seen in the water in this area and there are much lower water surface elevations in the Bens Branch channel sections further downstream. HCFCD has contacted the Bear Branch Trail Association to ask them to assess their channel and remove any blockages.  

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/1/2019 with help from Beth Walters of HCFCD

794 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 43 since Imelda

Excavation of Taylor Gully Began Monday

When Barry drifted east over the weekend, it helped the Kingwood Area in more ways than one. Not only did it take flooding rains elsewhere, it allowed Harris County Flood Control to begin maintenance of Taylor Gully on Monday.

Erosion Upstream Clogged Ditch with Sediment

Beginning last year, developers clear cut the area upstream of the Harris County line without sediment control measures in place. That let erosion from the Woodridge Village property (see below) clog Taylor Gully with sediment.

Photo taken after May 7th flood showed massive erosion over large parts of Woodridge Village. Dirt from this area washed through the culvert in the background which had no erosion control measures in place at the time.

Cleaning that sediment out of Taylor Gully will help restore the natural conveyance of the ditch and reduce future flood risk to Harris County residents.

Video courtesy of Jeff Miller. It looks up Taylor Gully toward the Montgomery County Line in the background and then pans downstream toward Rustling Elms. He was standing with his back to Creek Manor. The culvert you see at the start of this shot is the same culvert in the background of the erosion photo above.

Reducing Flood Risk

Approximately 200 homes adjacent to this ditch flooded on May 7th. Residents appreciate every extra margin of safety they can get, especially since Perry homes and its subsidiaries are far from finished with installing detention upstream.

It was less than a week ago that Harris County commissioners accepted the right of way agreement. That allowed flood control to begin this project. Hats off to to the hard and fast working people at HCFCD!

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/16/2019 with video from Jeff Miller

686 Days since Hurricane Harvey

All thoughts expressed in this post are my opinions on matters of public policy and safety. They are protected by the first amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the great State of Texas.

How County Bond Funds Could Leverage Additional Dollars

Early voting for the $2.5 billion Harris County Flood Bond Referendum begins August 8. If approved,  the County could leverage that money to increase the amount available for flood mitigation. Matching funds from FEMA, HUD, the State, and other sources are available. These grants usually operate on a 75/25 or 90/10 basis, returning $3 to $9 for every dollar put up.

Local Dollars Leverage Matching Funds

If voters approve the $2.5 billion referendum, the bond funds could potentially bring in billions of additional dollars. Here is how funding for Flood Control District projects works. (For a printable PDF, click here.)

Partnership Matching Funds Available for Harris County Flood Control District Projects

Bond money can be used as “seed money” for some types of projects. It qualifies us to receive additional money in the form of grants from other partners such as the Federal Government, State, Coastal Water Authority or the City.

Federal dollars for Harvey flood mitigation efforts are available now, but may go elsewhere if we don’t act. Every city along the Gulf Coast is competing for available matching funds.

Partnership Projects: More Leverage but Less Control

Even though you may not be able to follow all the ins and outs of the diagram above, you should be able to see that many opportunities exist to extend the impact of our own dollars. That’s the good news. The downside is that when you start spending other people’s money, they want to have a say in how you spend it. It’s important that we understand risks as we move forward. To get more money, we must give up some control.

Q: How will projects in the bond proposal be selected and prioritized?

A: Harris County Commissioners Court directed Flood Control District staff to develop list of projects. This is not an exact list of projects that must be or will be built with bond proceeds. It represents a list of projects that would meet the goal of the bond election, which is to both assist with recovery after previous flooding events (including Harvey) and to make our county more resilient for the future.

High on the priority list are construction-ready projects with federal funding partners (such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency) that give the County “the most bang for its flood control buck.”

Q: Can the bond money be used for purposes other than flood risk reduction?

A: No. Under Texas law, bond funds in this election could only be used for the purpose approved by the voters. Bond funds will not be used to fund additional staff positions at the Harris County Flood Control District.

Q: Do bond proceeds have to be used for the specific projects recommended by the Flood Control District?

A: No. Voters will be asked to authorize bonds for flood damage reduction projects, but specific projects may be added to the list of potential projects in the future or projects on the list could be modified based upon public input.

However, officials can only spend bond money on projects supported by the Bond Language. Voters will not be voting on a specific project list, only on the language in the proposal.

Freeing Up Budget to Improve Maintenance

Maintenance is NOT in the bond proposal. Nevertheless, the bond could still improve maintenance in a roundabout way. Here’s how. About half of the Flood Control District’s current $120 million per year budget goes to capital expenditures. If approved, the bond would free up about $60 million currently focused on construction projects.

The other $60 million in the Flood Control District’s budget is devoted to Maintenance and Operations. It is roughly divided as follows: $30 million for salaries and overhead; $10 million for mowing; and $20 million for maintenance.

That $20 million currently devoted to maintaining ditches, bayous and streams, if added to the $60 million that is freed up, would make $80 million that could be devoted to improving maintenance. That means the District’s maintenance budget could quadruple.

Yea or Nay?

On balance, I like how the bond is shaping up and I trust the people in charge of it. I wish that the $50 million allocated for a dredging partnership project was a dedicated $50 million. Then, if the bond proposal passes, we might be able to get the Army Corps to extend the scope of their current dredging to include the giant sand bar at the mouth of the West Fork. Addressing that issue as a change order to the current contract could save years, save dollars, and reduce risk immediately.

Posted on June 23, 2018, by Bob Rehak

328 Days since Hurricane Harvey