Tag Archive for: San Jacinto Watershed

More People Live in Texas Floodplains than Live in 30 States

According to Texas Water Development Board data compiled for the first state flood plan, 5.9 million Texans live in 100- or 500-year floodplains. That means more people live in Texas floodplains than live in 30 states. Yep. Thirty entire states have populations smaller than that of Texas floodplains.

Other key observations also emerge from the data:

  • One in five Texans lives in a floodplain
  • 42% of those live in the San Jacinto watershed.
  • The number of floodplain dwellers in the San Jacinto watershed alone exceeds the population of 15 states and the District of Columbia.

Where Biggest Problems Are

No other watershed comes close to 42%. To understand where the most people live with the most flood risk, see the table below. I compiled it from reports by the 15 regional flood planning groups in Texas.

Column 3 shows people living in 100-year floodplain (1% annual chance) and Column 4 shows the 500-year (.2% annual chance) floodplain population.

When looking at all people living in floodplains, Texas has almost 5.9 million. The last column shows where the largest concentrations of those people reside:

  • Only two other watersheds, the Trinity and Lower Rio Grande, reported double-digit percentages.
  • Trinity had 11.7%. 
  • Lower Rio Grande had 17%. 
  • No other watershed even made it over 5% of the floodplain dwellers.

The pie chart below really drives home the lopsided percentage of the state’s flood-plain dwellers living in the San Jacinto basin. San Jacinto is the large green area.

Compiled from data reported by each of Texas’ Regional Flood Planning Groups.

The San Jacinto basin has more people living in floodplains than the next five watersheds put together.

Possible Reasons for San Jacinto Issues

The TWDB report does not explain why. Likely, a number of factors contribute to the high percentage: 

  • The state’s largest concentration of people, jobs, industry
  • Rapid growth and lax enforcement of development regulations
  • Insufficient upstream mitigation
  • Proximity to coast, tropical storms/hurricanes
  • High rainfall rates
  • Low, flat terrain

Floodplain Dwellers as Percent of State’s Total Population

The U.S. Census Bureau now estimates that 30,029,572 people live in Texas. With almost 5.9 million of them living in a 100- or 500-year floodplain, that means a whopping one in five live in floodplains.

Of the 20% of Texans who live in floodplains:

  • 8% live in a 100-year (1% annual chance) floodplain
  • 12% live in a 500-year (0.2% annual chance) floodplain.

So, statewide, more people prefer to live in the less risky floodplains. But that’s not the case in every watershed. See the San Antonio watershed in the table above. Three times more people live in the riskier, 100-year floodplain than the 500-year.

Coastline Concentrations

The numbers also show concentrations of floodplain dwellers near other parts of the Texas coastline. 

  • The lower Rio Grande has 13 times more people living in a floodplain than the upper Rio Grande.
  • The lower Colorado has twice as many people living in a floodplain than the upper Colorado.
  • The lower Brazos has 2.5 times more people living in a floodplain than the upper Brazos.
  • The San Jacinto, which is one of the state’s shorter rivers and mostly near the coastline has the highest number of people in floodplains by far.

This 2014 NOAA study showed that 40% of the U.S. population lives in coastal counties. Density is far higher in coastal counties compared to inland areas. Coastal counties have 40% of the population but only 10% of the land. 

Coastal areas also face different issues than inland communities. According to NOAA, “These include increased risks from high-tide flooding, hurricanes, sea level rise, erosion, and climate change.”

Cost of Making People Safe 

The San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group recommended $46 billion worth of studies and mitigation projects in its regional plan. And the San Jacinto is just one of 15 watersheds in the state!

In sharp contrast to the magnitude of mitigation needs, the legislature voted only approximately $1 billion for flood prevention projects this year.

If I’ve learned one thing about flood prevention, it’s that nothing moves quickly.

Need for More Awareness 

And that gives me a sinking feeling – especially knowing how few people have flood insurance and how many more need it.

The floodplains in our area are huge. We have a lot of people. And thus, the scary numbers for the San Jacinto watershed. And also consider this. The numbers above are likely understated, because they only reflect riverine flooding and not street flooding from poorly maintained ditches.

With few affordable structural solutions in sight, TWDB should spend some of their funds on public awareness and education while we wait for projects to happen. Few people understand how much flood risk they live with…until they flood.

For the entire 63-page report, see TWDB Board Agenda/Item #8 from their July 25th meeting. (Caution: 33 meg download.)

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/29/23

2160 Days since Hurricane Har vey

TCEQ Approves New Best Management Practices for San Jacinto Sand Mining

This morning, the TCEQ approved new Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Sand Mining in the San Jacinto Watershed. The effort to inventory, establish and publish BMPs for sand mining began shortly after Harvey. This web site contains thousands of pictures and 210 posts about area sand mine operations.

But the real credit for today’s agreement goes to:

  • The Lake Houston Area Flood Prevention Initiative (FPI)
  • Bill McCabe and Dave Feille (now deceased), two FPI steering committee members
  • Dianne Lansden, FPI founder
  • The Bayou Land Conservancy
  • Bill Dupre, professor emeritus in Geology from the University of Houston
  • State Representative Dan Huberty.

Others, too numerous to mention also picked up the baton and worked tirelessly for years to reach an agreement with the sand miners.

West Fork Sand Mine that will be affected by new best management practices. Photographed in August

McCabe composed the short article below that describes the significance of today’s events.


History of Project

The Lake Houston Grassroots Flood Prevention Initiative (FPI) formed shortly after Hurricane Harvey, led by a group of citizens concerned with the area’s future.  Its goal: to seek out and remedy issues that made Harvey’s flooding more devastating than expected. Early on, one issue became evident as a major area of concern for future floods —the effect of sand mining on sediment and pollution in the San Jacinto Watershed.

We had looked at litigation, legislation and negotiation solutions as ways to address this situation. Other groups were already pursuing Litigation and Legislation. So, we decided to address the future through negotiation with the sand-mining industry.  

Negotiation with TACA

We contacted the Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association (TACA), the industry representative for sand miners, and began negotiations on Best Management Practices (BMPs).  

Starting with a blueprint of Best Management Practices for sand mining developed by other states, we re-formulated them to fit the Texas situation. For several months FPI, TACA, and other groups and individuals worked on a document we could present to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).  Many individuals, including Representative Dan Huberty, Jill Boullion with the Bayou Land Conservancy, and former City officials from Humble and Kingwood, worked with us to fine tune a document for presentation.

Because TACA and FPI could not fully agree on the requirements for sand mining BMPs in the San Jacinto River Watershed, we presented separate Petitions to TCEQ. TACA presented its on June 12, 2020. FPI presented its a week later.  

Scope of Petitions

Although they differed in several key areas, both Petitions followed the same basic pattern. We focused on a three part approach: Pre-mining, Mining and Post mining.  

Following submittal, TCEQ conducted a series of stakeholder meetings and public input requests. The Commission fine-tuned our proposals and developed its own Rules and Guidance Documents.  

View the original Petitions and subsequent modifications on the TCEQ website. See Rulemaking: Best Management Practices for Sand Mining in the San Jacinto River Watershed – Texas Commission on Environmental Quality – www.tceq.texas.gov.

Final Approval, a Good First Step

On December 15th, TCEQ Commissioners approved the new BMP Rules document. It will become effective early next year. Although we did not get everything we would have wished for, this is a very good start and will help to hold sand miners to an accountable standard in the future.  

Between the Rules Document (Subchapter J, Best Management Practices for Sand Mining Facility Operations Within the San Jacinto River Basin, Sections 311.101 – 311.103 of 30 TAC Chapter 311, Watershed Protection) and the associated Guidance Document developed by TCEQ, we now have a comprehensive standard for the sand-mining industry to follow.

By Bill McCabe on 12/15/2021

1569 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Harris County Flood Control Solicits Ideas for Flood Bond Package on New Portion of Website

Harris County Flood Control District has just launched a new portion of its website designed to explain the proposed $2.5 billion flood bond package. Residents will go to the polls on August 25, the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, to vote on the package. For details about the bond package, access the site at https://www.hcfcd.org/bond-program/.

The site is organized by all watersheds in Harris County. For people new to the Lake Houston area, we live within the San Jacinto watershed. Within each watershed, the site also talks about:

  • Potential project types
  • Community engagement meetings
  • Community input
  • Frequently asked questions

One of the more interesting features of the site is an interactive map with icons representing the locations of potential projects. Clicking on an icon reveals the type of project under consideration at that location, the number of people affected and more.

Preliminary map of projects currently under consideration within the San Jacinto River Watershed.

Transparency and Equity Among Goals for Flood Bond

Remember several important things: In addition to flood mitigation, two goals of this project are transparency and equity. The county wants to ensure that the bond money helps each watershed throughout the area, and that money is spent in ways that will help the largest number of people and yield the greatest benefit. That’s why you see the population numbers for each watershed and the number of people affected by each project as you click on icons throughout the map.

More Projects Than Dollars To Do Them

The county has far more potential projects than dollars. Some projects currently under consideration may not make the final cut. Likewise, other projects not yet listed could make the final cut. According to Matt Zeve of Harris County Flood Control, “Our staff is working furiously to define projects for the bond.”

Community Input Meeting for Flood Bond on June 14

Zeve says the County is also soliciting citizen input through community meetings and the website itself. Mark your calendar. One of the first meetings will be in Kingwood at:

Kingwood Community Center
4102 Rustic Woods Drive
Kingwood, Texas  77345

June 14, 2018
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Citizens can also submit input through the website.

“The Harris County Flood Control District accomplishes its mission by working with our partners and local stakeholders to evaluate, develop, and implement flood damage reduction plans and then perform long-term maintenance of drainage infrastructure,” says the site.

Flood damage reduction plans and projects can include:

  • Modifications of streams and bayous to increase the amount of stormwater they carry
  • Creation of detention basins to store excess stormwater
  • Nonstructural flood mitigation tools
  • Any combination of the above

Types of Flood Bond Projects Currently Under Consideration

Currently, the vast majority of projects fall into the following categories. Types of projects eligible for bond funding include:

  • Voluntary Home Buyouts – The purchase of flood-prone structures from willing sellers in areas that are too deep in the floodplain to benefit from structural flood risk reduction projects, or in areas where flood risk reduction projects are not feasible.  This process includes the demolition of the structure and relocation of the seller to higher ground.
  • Storm Repair – Major maintenance projects that restore the designed function and capacity of a channel or stormwater detention basin.
  • Subdivision Drainage Improvement – Partnership projects with the Harris County Engineering Department and a Municipal Utility District to provide drainage improvements to subdivisions in unincorporated Harris County.
  • Local Projects – Flood risk reduction projects such as channel modifications or stormwater detention basin construction using only Harris County Flood Control District funds.
  • Partnership Projects – Flood risk reduction projects such as channel modifications or stormwater detention basin construction using a combination of Harris County Flood Control District funding and funding from local, state, or federal partners such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Prioritization of Projects

Make sure you read the Frequently Asked Questions. One asks, “How will projects be prioritized?” Answer: “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.”… Consideration is also given to areas that have a lower level of current protection as compared to other areas in the county.”

The county will give highest consideration to projects that meet the following criteria:

  1. Provides the greatest potential flood risk reduction benefits relative to the community’s population
  2. Causes NO increase in existing flood risks upstream or downstream
  3. Offers potential for multiple benefits, in addition to flood risk reduction
  4. Features long-term viability and relatively low maintenance
  5. Includes a clearly defined drainage issue and flood risk reduction benefit
  6. Uses readily available, proven engineering techniques and industry standards
  7. Poses NO undue burden on disadvantaged communities
  8. Minimizes adverse impacts on the environment

Submit Your Flood Bond Ideas Now

If you have ideas to contribute, submit them now so that they can receive the full consideration they deserve. Remember: when it comes to “equity,” historically the San Jacinto watershed has received 0% of flood mitigation budgets, but we suffered 13% of the damage in the region during Harvey. For an excellent discussion of equity and needs throughout the region, see the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium’s report.

The consortium’s report provides an excellent summary of the needs of the San Jacinto watershed.

Posted on May 31 by Bob Rehak. Thanks to Clay Crawford the tip.

275 Days since Hurricane Harvey