Tag Archive for: san jacinto

Nine Crenshaw Flood-Related Earmark Requests Approved by Various House Committees

U.S. Congressman Dan Crenshaw made nine flood-related earmark requests for 2024. And according to his office, several House of Representative Committees have approved all nine. They include:

  • $1.75M – Taylor Gully Flood Mitigation Project
  • $1.75M – Goose Creek Channel Conveyance Improvements
  • $3.6M – Highlands, Huffman & Crosby Roadway Reconstruction and Drainage Improvements project
  • $1.83 – San Jacinto River Wastewater System Replacement
  • $4M – Kingwood Diversion Channel/Walnut Lane Bridge
  • $1.12M – FM1488 Area Street Rehabilitation and Drainage Improvement Project 
  • $3M – Tamina Economic Development Planning Project
  • $7M – Ford Road Improvement Projects
  • $700,000 Montgomery County Bridge Project 

A committee also approved a request by Crenshaw NOT related to flooding – $1.65M for the Montgomery County Active Shooter Defense Training Facility. That means all 10 of Representative Crenshaw’s 2024 requests received funding, although not all received the full amount requested.

Project Descriptions

For descriptions of all 10 earmarks requested by Crenshaw, see below.

1. Taylor Gully Flood Mitigation Project

Recipient: Harris County Flood Control District

Requested: $8 million 

Committee Approved: $1.75 million. See Interior List.

Purpose: To reduce flood risk in the Kingwood area.  This area experienced widespread flooding from recent storm events, including Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda.  This project will create a detention basin and improve stormwater conveyance to minimize flood risks. Engineering studies show that completion of this project will result in substantial reductions in flooding along Taylor Gully.  The studies show that this project will remove the 100-year floodplain from more than 276 structures and 115 acres of flood area.

2. Goose Creek Channel Conveyance Improvements and Stormwater Detention Project

Recipient: Harris County Flood Control District

Requested: $8 million

Committee Approved: $1.75 million. See Interior List.

Purpose:  This project is designed to reduce flood risk within the Goose Creek Watershed by creating a detention basin and improving stormwater conveyance. The project is estimated to remove approximately 28 acres of inundated land, up to 77 structures, and 1.44 miles of inundated roadways from the 100-year event. Preventing flooding will avoid the need for more costly recovery efforts after flooding events.

3. Highland / Huffman / Crosby Roadway & Drainage Improvement 

Recipient: Harris County, Texas

Requested: $3.6 million 

Committee approved $3.6 million. See Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development List.

Purpose: Reconstruction of multiple poorly paved roads in subdivisions throughout the Highlands, Crosby, and Huffman areas of northeast Harris County. Existing gravel roads and inadequate drainage will be replaced with asphalt pavement, driveway culverts, and roadside ditches that will greatly improve residents’ quality of life. The projects will also improve accessibility for law enforcement and emergency services, reduce flood risk, and bring the local infrastructure to a standard acceptable for long-term County maintenance. 

4. San Jacinto River Wastewater System Replacement Project

Recipient: Army Corps of Engineers

Requested: $1.8 million

Committee Approved: $1.83 million. See Energy and Water List.

Purpose: To increase the reliability of the San Jacinto River Authority Woodlands Division wastewater conveyance system and repair damage from recent storms. List stations were damaged by flooding during Hurricane Harvey and have yet to be repaired. Both on-site lift stations, the control building, and the emergency generator were flooded and need to be replaced. This request would fund the demolition of the existing structure and build new systems. 

5. Kingwood Diversion Channel – Walnut Lane Bridge Project

Recipient: City of Houston

Requested: $4 million 

Committee Approved: $4 million. See Homeland Security List.

Purpose: The project includes the widening and reconstruction of Walnut Lane Bridge in Kingwood. This bridge, in its current configuration, will restrict flood flows unless widened to accommodate the future expansion of the Kingwood Diversion Channel currently being designed by the Harris County Flood Control District. The purpose of the overall project is to route drainage from Montgomery County to Lake Houston and reduce flood damage to residents of Kingwood along Bens Branch. The funding is needed to construct improvements needed to facilitate the expansion of the Kingwood Diversion Ditch and rebuild the Walnut Lane Bridge.

6. FM1488 Area Street Rehabilitation and Drainage Improvement Project 

Recipient: City of Conroe

Requested: $1.12 million

Committee Approved: $1.12 million. See Transportation, and Housing and Urban Develop List.

Purpose: The project will fund roadway resurfacing, drainage improvements, and storm sewer upgrades of roadways connecting to FM1488 near IH-45 (southern part of Conroe). The City of Conroe has experienced severe weather and rainfall which causes considerable wear and tear on the roads and drainage network. The project will benefit residential areas, including the Arella Forrest at Woodland Senior Living Center and Stillwater neighborhood. It will also improve access to the WG Jones State Forest, which serves a community located in a Historically Disadvantaged Community Tract. 

7. Tamina Economic Development Planning Project

Recipient: Montgomery County

Requested: $3 million 

Committee Approved: $3 million. See Transportation and Housing and Urban Development List.

Purpose: The Tamina area is not served by modern street and stormwater management systems. The streets are in disrepair and the area drains very poorly, creating an elevated risk of flooding. The first phase of economic development planning, which this request would support, is to complete detailed engineering and environmental studies, provide new driveways and culverts, and re-grade all of the ditches to allow them to drain. 

8. Ford Road Improvement Project 

Recipient: Montgomery County 

Requested: $12 million 

Committee Approved: $7 million. See Transportation List.

Purpose: Support Ford Road improvements from US 59 in Montgomery County to the Harris County line. The current road is undersized and serves as one of only three evacuation routes for the Kingwood area. All three routes have drainage issues and Ford Road is only a two-lane road. The proposed project would make Ford Road a four-lane road, improve local drainage, and improve driver and pedestrian safety in the corridor.

9. Montgomery County Bridge Project 

Recipient: Montgomery County 

Requested: $900,000

Committee Approved: $700,000. See Transportation List.

Purpose: Provide funding for five rural wooden bridges in Montgomery County that are past their design life and need to be replaced. The bridges were not built to current criteria and increase the risk of flooding by backing up water during large storms. One bridge serves as the only way in and out of a subdivision presenting a safety hazard. The funding request is for engineering, surveying, and permitting services to develop construction plans to replace five bridges.

10. Active Shooter Defense Training Facility

Recipient: Montgomery County 

Requested: $2.3 million 

Committee Approved: $1.65 million. See Commerce, Justice, Science List.

Purpose: Purpose: To assist with the operations of our regional active shooter rapid response training facility by purchasing training supplies/aids, equiping graduates with medical response supplies, and ballistic equipment for actual threats. To date, graduates include 1,600 law enforcement personnel, fire and EMS first responders. 

Next Steps

Being approved by a committee doesn’t mean the Crenshaw earmarks are “done deals” yet. The full House of Representatives and Senate must still approve them. And then the President must sign the Appropriations bill into law. So, things could change between now and the end of the year. Final amounts could vary. More news to follow on the Crenshaw earmarks.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/24/23

2155 Days since Hurricane Harvey

San Jacinto Flood-Mitigation Spending Down 81% in One Quarter

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. On 4/20/23, I reported about a drastic slowdown in the rate of Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) spending. Data obtained via a FOIA request indicate that with a few exceptions the slowdown has affected watersheds across the county.

Two thirds saw a decline in flood-mitigation spending last quarter. But the decline in the San Jacinto Watershed, which had the eighth most flood damage in Harris County in the last quarter century, was particularly steep.

The San Jacinto watershed decreased from $1.614 million in the fourth quarter of 2022 to $306,000 last quarter – an 81% decline in one quarter!

Admittedly, that’s over a very small base to start with. But that in itself is a testament to how little flood-mitigation activity there is in Harris County’s largest watershed at this time.

4Q22 to 1Q23 Changes

Comparing the last quarter of 2022 with the first quarter of 2023 shows that spending increased in only eight watersheds: Greens, Luce, White Oak, Armand, Goose Creek, Barker, Vince, and Spring Creek. Spring increased only from $24,000 to $37,000 in the first quarter.

Arranged in order of 4Q22 spending.

Increases totaled only $6.1 million. They were offset by $16.4 million in decreases, for a net spending decline of more than $10 million. Spending totaled only $38 million for the quarter.

San Jacinto Ranking Slips

Below, you can see how each watershed ranked solely on the basis of first-quarter spending.

Watersheds ordered by 1Q23 spending

The San Jacinto watershed slipped to 17th place in 1Q23 (down from 14th when the ranking includes spending going back to 2000).

Spending by watershed since 2000
From 1/1/2000 to 3/31/2023. Data supplied by HCFCD in response to FOIA request.

San Jac had ranked as high as 7th in post-Harvey spending back in mid-2021.

HCFCD construction in the San Jacinto watershed has seen multiyear delays in start dates while other areas received higher priority based on factors unrelated to flooding.

So-called “equity policies” instituted by a majority of Harris County Commissioners starting in 2019 have punished San Jacinto residents. That’s because the watershed contains only 31% low-to-moderate income (LMI) residents and the area is predominantly white. Under the County’s current policy…

“Socially vulnerable” areas with higher percentages of minorities and LMI residents get priority, even if they have less severe flooding.

Damage No Longer a Factor in Allocation

For instance, in five major storms since 2000 (Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey and Imelda), the San Jacinto Watershed had the eighth largest number of damaged structures. It also ranked fourth in the percentage of the population affected by flooding (see below).

When looking at flood incidents as a % of population, the San Jacinto has fourth highest % in Harris County.

Clearly, Hunting and Halls Bayous need all the help they can get. So do Greens and the San Jacinto Watershed. But the San Jac is getting little. Despite the percentage of residents who have flooded. Not to mention that 40% of all businesses in the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce also flooded.

If I hear County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Commissioner Rodney Ellis or Commissioner Adrian Garcia talk about “worst first” one more time, I’m going to send them “GET REAL” cards. What rationale do they offer for ignoring the watershed with the deepest flooding – the San Jacinto?

worst first
Feet above flood stage at 33 gages on misc. bayous in Harris County during Harvey.

Here’s what that 20+ feet of floodwater looked like.

San Jacinto West Fork at I-69 during Harvey

If Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Ellis and Commissioner Garcia want to see “social vulnerability,” I challenge them to visit Kingwood Village Estates, a complex 1.2 miles from the San Jacinto West Fork that caters to seniors.

Residents trying to escape as Harvey's floodwaters rose
Twelve seniors ages 65 to 95 from Kingwood Village Estates died as a result of Harvey.

I doubt Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia will take me up on that challenge. So, in the meantime, we need to accelerate flood-mitigation spending – across the board. HCFCD spent just $38 million in the first quarter in the entire county. That’s very close to the spending rate before the 2018 flood bond.

We need to determine the reasons new projects are not starting in a timely way. We’re only 25% of the way through the flood bond. We have plenty of pressing projects waiting.

Policies, procedures, practices and people that subject anyone anywhere to higher-than-necessary flood risk longer than necessary need to change. More on that in a future post.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/22/23

2062 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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

HCFCD Updates Show Continuing Bond Slowdown

A Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) year-end spending report shows a continuing bond slowdown. The most recent spending update to Commissioners Court reflects all activity through the end of 2022.

The big news to report is that there’s not much news to report.

The December update showed that the San Jacinto Watershed received only $76.6 thousand during the month, ranking it 15th among all Harris County watersheds. HCFCD has only spent 2.5% of all bond money spent to date in the entire county.

A separate Biannual Update shows that the paltry progress is NOT the result of available funds. The San Jacinto has about $167 million in committed funding, but has received less than $30 million from the bond so far.

But before we dig deeper into the San Jacinto, let’s look at the continuing bond slowdown in Harris County as a whole.

December Overview

Compared to November 2022’s update, the December 2022 update shows that HCFCD:

  • Has spent a total of $1.177 billion to date, up from $1.150 billion at the end of November, a $27 million increase.
  • Bought out 27 homes countywide.
  • Secured another $30 million in funding ($1.734 billion up from $1.704).
  • Saw no change budgeted active capital construction projects ($0.00, likely a reporting mistake).
  • Saw no change in budgeted active maintenance projects ($0.00, likely another reporting mistake).
  • Awarded just one construction project worth $7 million.
  • Saw its schedule performance index dip below 1.0 for 11 months in a row. (1.0 means on-schedule).
  • Completed another 0.3% of the bond, bringing the percent completed up to 24.1% with 43.3% of the time elapsed.
  • Still has NO active construction projects in the lone Republican-led precinct. All 18 are split among three precincts with Democratic commissioners.

Reporting Mistakes

Regarding those goose eggs under “active projects,” it appears that someone just picked up the active projects pages from November and changed the dates to December. However, the HCFCD website does show figures updated through January 2, 2023. Using those as the most current figures instead would mean:

  • The total budgeted for active maintenance projects FELL from $50.6 million to $37.2 million, a decrease of $13.4 million.
  • Likewise, the total budgeted for active capital improvement construction projects FELL from $239.8 million to $223.5 million, a decrease of $16.3 million.

I’m not sure which is worse. Zeros, decreases, or errors?

Continuing, Prolonged Slowdown

Another major concern is the continuing lag in the Schedule Performance Index (SPI). This is a measure of on-schedule performance. Temporary decreases can often happen between projects. However, HCFCD has fallen behind schedule and stayed behind for 11 months in a row. The last time it reported an SPI of 1.0 was in January of 2022.

At the current rate of spending, it will take HCFCD more than 20 years to finish the bond.

Slow performance means we all live with flood risk longer than necessary and pay higher flood-insurance premiums than necessary.

For all of last year, HCFCD averaged between $20 and $23 million per month in spending.

Compiled from HCFCD monthly updates.

Under previous leadership, HCFCD averaged $35 million per month and the rate was climbing, not falling.

Spending By Watershed During December

The table below shows spending in all 23 Harris County watersheds plus countywide spending for the month of December 2022 (in the “Difference” column). HCFCD reported a decrease in Countywide spending with no explanation. The District also shows NO spending at all in three watersheds.

Compiled from HCFCD Bond Updates from November and December of 2022.

The San Jacinto Watershed is the county’s largest. Floods have damaged more structures in the San Jacinto than in all but seven other watersheds. The damage total includes five major storms since 2000 – Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey, Imelda.

Yet the San Jacinto has received only 2.5% of total flood-bond spending through 2022, ranking it #15 on that scale.

To date the San Jacinto has received only 13% of the $223,256,195 allocated to it in the bond. Compare that to 79% for the Brays Watershed and 75% for the Greens.

Commissioners Court Agenda Also Shows Slowdown

HCFCD has only 11 items on the Commissioners Court agenda for Tuesday, February 21. Contrast that with engineering which has 108.

And few of HCFCD’s requests involved new flood-mitigation work.

  • Four items transitioned projects to HCFCD’s maintenance program.
  • Four items involved contract changes.
  • One involved a permit for a MUD doing environmental enhancement work.
  • One would let Pasadena build recreational facilities on HCFCD property.
  • One would reimburse Union Pacific for a preliminary engineering study that UP was doing to relieve repetitive flooding along Halls Bayou adjacent to its railroad tracks.

Bi-Annual Bond Update

For additional information on the progress of the bond, see this Bi-Annual Update issued by HCFCD in January. It contains dozens of spending breakdowns. Especially interesting are the funding-gap calculations on page 11. See table below.

From HCFCD’s Jan. 2023 2018 Biannual Report.

Note that the table above shows different “actual spending to date” figures than the monthly updates farther above.

Regardless, these figures show that lack of funding is NOT responsible for the slow progress in the San Jacinto Watershed. The San Jacinto has $167 million dollars in committed funding. We’re just not spending the money.

Political priorities, not funding availbility, are the reason for the continuing bond slowdown – at least in the San Jacinto watershed. Spring Creek residents are way behind, too.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/19/23

2000 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.

All You Need to Know About Flooding Before You Vote

Before you vote this year, review these two graphs and a map. They should tell you everything you need to know about flooding and flood mitigation in the Lake Houston Area. They should also motivate you to vote if you are on the sidelines.

Highest Flooding

The first graph shows “feet above flood stage” during Hurricane Harvey at numerous gages on different watersheds around Harris county. It shows how high floodwater got AFTER it came “out of banks.”

The San Jacinto West Fork at US59 had THE highest flooding in Harris County during Harvey.

Lowest Funding

The second shows the amount of flood-mitigation dollars spent in each Harris County watershed on right-of-way acquisition and construction for flood-mitigation in the first half of this year. Those activities help mitigate flooding as opposed to studies which frequently never get acted upon.

The reversal is stunning.

Data obtained via FOIA Request. San Jacinto, the county’s largest watershed, received only $200,000. Only Cedar Bayou received less at $160,000.

Worst Last

The San Jacinto Watershed moves from the high side of the flooding graph to the low side of the funding graph.

But why the first six months of this year? I’ve talked ad nauseam about spending trends going back decades. This window shows us current priorities. Especially during an election year when you would think the County Judge would try to appeal to as many people as possible.

Regardless of how you feel about the equity prioritization framework, you would think that in a ten-year bond program, areas like Lake Houston would start seeing some real benefit by now. Narrowing down the range of spending helps provide better insight into the priorities of County Judge Lina Hidalgo. She’s the deciding vote on Commissioners Court.

How to Punish The Opposition

People are saying, “OK, I’ve waited patiently. When will I see some benefit from the 2018 flood bond?” That was more than four years ago already.

Unfortunately, the answer is “no time soon.” The map below shows current active Flood-Control capital-improvement construction projects and how the three Democrats on Commissioners Court have used their majority to punish Republican-leaning areas.

Maintenance projects are shown in orange. And capital-improvement projects appear purple.

Flood Control has 20 active construction projects in the capital-improvement category. Of those:

  • Republican Jack Cagle’s Precinct 4 has one.
  • Republican Tom Ramsey’s Precinct 3 has one.
  • Democrats Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia split the other 18 among themselves.
  • Not one is in Lake Houston Area.

And Judge Lina Hidalgo allows it.

From HCFCD.org

The only way for people in Precincts 3 and 4 to right this wrong is to replace Judge Hidalgo who is on the ballot running against Republican Alexandra Mealer.

If Hidalgo and Garcia are re-elected, we have four more years of political punishment to look forward to.

So, please vote on or before November 8.

To review your ballot choices, go to HarrisVotes.com and study who and what will be on the ballot in your area this year. Yesterday’s polls show the two candidates for judge essentially tied within the margin of error. Heavy turnout in the Lake Houston Area could swing this election.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/26/22

1884 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.

The Real Inequities in Flood-Mitigation Funding

Data obtained via a FOIA Request shows that the watersheds where three top Harris County Democrats live are consuming 25% of flood-bond funding. Meanwhile, those Democrats are starving their Republican opponents and supporters alike of flood-mitigation money.

Harris County Flood Control’s website also shows there are currently no active capital-improvement construction projects in Kingwood, Humble, Huffman, Spring, Atascocita or Crosby. Yet half of all active construction project dollars are going to just three watersheds where the three top Democrat leaders live.

Largest Watershed Among Least Funded

Harris County’s largest watershed – the 215-square-mile San Jacinto – ranks #18 out of 23 watersheds in flood-mitigation funding per square mile under Lina Hidalgo’s administration. That’s according to data obtained from Harris County via a FOIA Request that shows funding through the third quarter of 2022. Neighboring watersheds in the Republican-leaning far northeast part of the county are similarly starved for funding.

Watershed Map of Harris County

Consistent Funding Bias

San Jacinto-watershed residents are not alone. Spring, Jackson and Luce watersheds comprise most of the rest of the northeast portion of the county. They are among the least funded watersheds under Hidalgo whether you measure “total flood-mitigation funding” or “funding per square mile.”

The San Jacinto received only $37 million during Hidalgo’s administration. Spring received $10.1 million. Jackson received just $2.7 million. And Luce received a minuscule $1 million.

These watersheds respectively rank:

  • #12, #18, #20 and #23 in total flood-mitigation funding
  • #18, #19, #21 and #23 in funding per square mile.

Backyard Fringe Benefits

Contrast that with the following totals under Hidalgo in three other watersheds:

  • Buffalo Bayou (91.7 square miles) is less than half the size of the San Jacinto Watershed. It received more – $39.5 million. That’s where County Judge Lina Hidalgo lives. It ranks #12 in total post-Harvey funding.
  • White Oak Bayou ranks #6 in total post-Harvey funding at $94 million. It’s half the size of the San Jacinto (111 sq. mi), but received 2.5X more flood-mitigation funding. Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia lives there.
  • Brays Bayou ranks #1 in total post-Harvey funding at $171 million – more than 8 times as much as the San Jacinto. Yet it’s only a little more than half the size (114.2 square miles). That’s where Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis lives.

Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis spent $305 million in the three watersheds where they live. That’s six times more than the $51 million spent for the San Jacinto, Spring, Jackson and Luce Watersheds.

Buffalo, White Oak and Brays watersheds are all in the lead for flood-tunnels, too. Those could add billions more to the backyard benefits received by Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia!

Funding-Per-Square Mile Comparison

Now, let’s compare what the watersheds above have received in funding per square mile under Hidalgo:

  • Brays = $1.5 million
  • White Oak = $845 thousand
  • Buffalo = $431 thousand
  • San Jacinto = $172 thousand
  • Spring = $169 thousand
  • Jackson = $104 thousand
  • Luce = $45 thousand

The first three above comprise 246 square miles and received $305 million under Hidalgo to date. The bottom four comprise 323 square miles and received $51 million.

So under Hidalgo, Brays, White Oak and Buffalo averaged $1.2 million per square mile. Meanwhile, the Republican-leaning San Jacinto, Spring, Jackson and Luce watersheds averaged only $158 thousand per square mile! That’s about one eighth as much.

Notice a trend? I thought the three Democrats were trying to help the poor with their equity plan. Were they really just trying to punish political opponents through funding inequities? Looking out for themselves all along? Or both?

Parts of the San Jacinto and Spring Creek watersheds experienced water more than 20 feet above flood stage during Harvey while parts of Brays and White Oak didn’t even come out of their banks.

No Active Capital Improvement Projects in Lake Houston Area

And to think! Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia conned dozens of members of the Northeast Action Collective into requesting Commissioners Court to shift money from Kingwood to Halls Bayou. They said Kingwood was getting all the money! It hasn’t and isn’t.

At the moment, Harris County Flood Control shows NO active capital improvement construction projects in Kingwood, Huffman, Crosby, Humble, Atascocita or Spring.

Screen capture from HCFCD.org on 10/20/22. Capital improvement projects have purple markers. Orange = maintenance projects.

Yet HCFCD is spending $224 million elsewhere in the county on active construction. That includes another $71 million in Brays and $36 million in White Oak for another $107 million total. Almost HALF of the active construction projects in the entire county are going to the watersheds where Ellis and Garcia live!

And that’s in addition to the $305 million that White Oak, Brays and Buffalo already received under Hidalgo.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to spend $412 million protecting your own homes while Low-to-Moderate Income residents elsewhere flood. Now I know why the three pretend Kingwood is getting ALL the money. It’s a diversionary tactic.

Out of $1.65 billion flood-bond dollars spent to date, the watersheds where Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia live have consumed 25%.

More news to follow as I continue to analyze the latest spending data through the third quarter of 2022.

For the complete response provided by Harris County to my FOIA Request, click here.

This summary worksheet combines funding with other factors such as population, area, damage, etc.

What You Can Do

We have a chance to do something about these inequities starting in a few days. Early voting starts on October 24. You can find polling places here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on October 20, 2022 and updated 10/21 to include spreadsheets and improve clarity.

1878 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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

San Jacinto Flood Planning Group Releases Draft Recommendations

The Texas Water Development Board’s Region 6 San Jacinto Flood Planning Group has released the first draft of its recommendations. You can download the full 295-page Volume One document here (executive summary and all chapters). But the vast majority of the document focuses on methodology and research design. For convenience, I’ve extracted Chapter 5, the 35-pages that discuss recommendations, and summarized them below.

The draft recommendations include:

  • Almost $200 million of additional studies, analysis, models and mapping
  • $27.9 billion in projects.

The projects spread throughout the entire watershed. But here, I’ll focus on those in the northern portion of Harris and the southern portion of Montgomery Counties for brevity.

Halls Bayou

The Flood Planning Group recommends five projects in Halls Bayou totaling $99.65 million, all in collaboration with Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD). They include:

  • Channel conveyance Improvements on several tributaries
  • Stormwater detention improvements near Hardy West
  • Stormwater detention and channel conveyance improvements along the main stem.

These projects had a positive 1.46 Benefit/Cost Ratio PLUS additional community benefits hard to quantify. They would remove the floodplain from more than 3,000 structures and benefit more than 9,300 people. See pages 5-14 through 5-16.

White Oak Bayou

The Flood Planning Group recommends five channel improvement and detention basin projects for $120 million along White Oak Bayou. The flood planning group determined a benefit/cost ratio of .80 for these projects, meaning costs exceeded benefits. Regardless, they feel there are many community benefits that cannot be quantified. They include removing flood risk from seven miles of roads. See pages 5-15 through 5/18.

Greens Bayou

Greens Bayou would receive $120 million of improvements (construction costs only). They include projects in Fountainview Sections 1 & 2, Castlewood Sections 3 & 4, North Forest, Mid-Reach Greens, Parkland Estates, and Humble Road Place.

A bypass channel under the railroad that parallels US 59 could reduce upstream water surface elevations during extreme events. And a mitigation basin downstream would absorb any adverse impacts in Parkland Estates and Humble Road Place from the bypass channel.

The BCR for all Greens Bayou improvements equals 2.13, meaning benefits double costs. More than 20,000 individuals and 2,000 structures would benefit. See pages 5-18 through 5-20.

San Jacinto River

The Flood Planning Group recommends numerous projects associated with the East and West Forks of the San Jacinto River and their tributaries. It based these recommendations on the San Jacinto River Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan and a 2018 LiDAR study. See pages 5-21 through 5-31.

Caney Creek

Recommendations include channelizing part of Caney Creek and offsetting that with two dry-dam detention basins: one at FM1097 and the other at SH105. Together, they would store more than 40,000 acre feet of stormwater. That’s enough to hold a foot of stormwater falling across 62.5 square miles! Channelization would occur near the confluence of Caney Creek with the East Fork. That’s near Lake Houston and East End Parks. The projects would remove 42 miles of roadway and 2,422 structures from the 1% annual chance floodplain.

East Fork

A 48-ft tall concrete dam would create a 1.60-mile-long earthen impoundment that captures runoff from Winters Bayou. The dry dam would have five reinforced 10×10 concrete culverts and twin 300′ backup spillways. It would cover almost 2,500 acres and hold 45,000 acre feet of floodwater. That’s enough to hold a foot of stormwater falling over 28.8 square miles.

Lake Creek

Lake Creek would receive some channelization and two dry-dam detention basins holding 37,250 acre feet of storage, enough to hold a foot of stormwater falling over 58 square miles.

Peach Creek

Recommendations also call for partial channelization and two dry-dam detention basins along Peach Creek.

  • The Walker Detention basin would occupy 1,200 acres, hold 36,000 acre feet of stormwater, and cost $200 million.
  • The SH105 Detention basin would occupy 3,000 acres, hold 36,000 acre feet, and cost $400 million.
  • The total 72,000 acre feet of capacity would hold a foot of stormwater falling over 112.5 square miles.
Spring Creek

This project would channelize 15.7 miles of stream at I-45 and through the Woodlands. It would also create two detention basins on Birch and Walnut Creek tributaries to help reduce flood risk downstream. Together, the projects would create more than 35,000 acre feet of floodwater storage capacity, enough to hold a foot of rain falling over 54.8 square miles. The report did not break out the costs.

West Fork

The Flood Planning Group recommends widening and channelizing 5.7 miles of the West Fork near Highway 242. They would create 12,400 acre feet of mitigation storage by widening the river to 750 feet and creating a 2-foot bench above the stream bed. That would involve shaving down the floodplain to 2 feet above the waterline.

Farther downstream, in the Kingwood Area, they would also increase conveyance by widening a 5-mile-long stretch of the West Fork with 3,500-foot wide of benching. This project would require 923 acre-feet of mitigation storage

That would increase total floodwater storage in both locations by 13,423 feet – enough to hold a foot of rain falling across 20.9 square miles.

Is It Enough?

If all these detention basins get built, they could hold a foot of stormwater falling over 337.5 square miles upstream from Kingwood. That’s a lot. In conjunction with other strategies such as dredging and adding more floodgates to the Lake Houston dam, they should help reduce flood risk in the Lake Houston Area … if they aren’t negated elsewhere.

Other portions of the recommendations stress the need for additional strategies. They include but are not limited to:

  • A regional approach to flood mitigation
  • Floodplain preservation
  • Natural solutions
  • Minimum building setbacks
  • More stringent building codes
  • Better drainage regulations
  • Uniform regulations across the watershed
  • Adoption of standards for determining “no adverse impact”

Also note, that these recommendations would take decades to implement and that many would need to be implemented in a specific order. For instance, the State would need to build detention upstream before widening channels downstream. One helps mitigate the other. Without that, you could help people upstream, but hurt people downstream. That flies in the face of HCFCD principles.

To see the locations of all these streams and how much water they conveyed during Harvey, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/8/22

1805 Days since Hurricane Harvey

1985 Upper San Jacinto Flood Control Study Prophetic, But Largely Unheeded

This morning, I came across a 1985 study by Wayne Smith and Associates for the Texas Water Development Board and the San Jacinto River Authority. It’s called the San Jacinto Upper Watershed Drainage Improvement and Flood Control Planning Study.

For an engineering study, it’s exceptionally easy to understand and the recommendations were prophetic. It almost reads like a primer for flood control.

Recommendations of specific projects aside, the principal recommendations are as valid today as they were then. Had only someone acted on them.

Make sure you at least read Chapter 5: Conclusions and Chapter 6: Examination and Recommendation of Basic Design Criteria for Watershed. Together, they total just five pages.

Purpose of Upper San Jacinto Study

The Upper San Jacinto study had four main goals:

  • Develop a comprehensive stormwater drainage plan
  • Recommend specific improvements
  • Evaluate/compare alternatives
  • Provide drainage authorities with information necessary to control flooding.

Problems of Rapid Development in Flat Areas

The study begins with a discussion of the problems of rapid development in flat areas. The Upper San Jacinto Watershed covers 1200 square miles. It includes all of Montgomery County and parts of Walker, Grimes, Waller, San Jacinto, and Liberty Counties. For the purposes of this study, the Harris/Montgomery County line formed the southernmost boundary.

Seven major streams comprise the watershed: the West Fork, Lake Creek, Spring Creek, East Fork, Caney Creek, Peach Creek, Luce Bayou and Tarkington Bayou.

The topography changes from rolling hills in the north and west to flat coastal plains in the south and east. The lack of slope in the southern and eastern regions seriously affects the ability of streams to drain stormwater.

The authors warned that as development would move northward, hydraulic “improvements” would alter natural stream patterns by increasing flow velocities and reducing ponding.

Without sufficient retention, development can accelerate runoff, leading to faster, higher peaks that contribute to flooding.

Even before urban development, they said, channels in the Upper San Jacinto Watershed did not have adequate capacity to transport runoff from large storms.

In 1985, at the time of the report, less than 5% of the land area in the watershed was developed. The Woodlands was relatively new and still building out. The report warned that because of development, increases in impervious cover “will require a more efficient drainage system to collect and transport runoff.”

The report lauded the type of development in The Woodlands, where, “discharges are no higher today than they were years ago in the undeveloped stages.” However, the report also cautioned that “…with most of the current development in the southern and eastern extremities of Montgomery County, watershed flooding problems may be greatly enhanced by urbanization.”

The report even prophesied ever greater amounts of subsidence moving north with urbanization.

The chapter which discussed planning said, “Right of way and reservoir land acquisition should occur while the land is open and available.” Sadly, with the exception of Lake Conroe, which had already been built, none of that happened.

Benefit/Cost Ratios of Regional Detention in Undeveloped Areas

The last advice sounds so simple, one wonders why no one acted on it. However, as I read through the economic analyses of alternatives (reservoirs, channel improvements, etc.), the reason became blindingly clear.

So few people lived in undeveloped areas in the Upper San Jacinto Watershed in 1985 that the annual flood damages are minuscule. For instance, there were only 39 structures in four Lake Creek floodplain areas that the authors examined. Annual damages totaled only $9,600. That made the Benefit/Cost Ratios (BCRs) for the various mitigation alternatives that they developed come out to less than .001 in some cases and .09 at most. Benefits equal costs at 1.0. So FEMA usually demands BCRs exceed 1.

But compare the cost of a reservoir then and now. In 1985, the authors estimated the total cost of a Walnut Creek reservoir (a tributary to Spring Creek) to be only $41,000,000. Today, the cost would be $132 million – more than 3X. But it would take many more homes out of the floodplain. So the BCR today could be 1.04 making the project doable (see page 44)…although much more expensive and much to late to help those who flooded recently.

It’s instructive to compare the project costs in the 1985 plan to those in the San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Study released last December. Reliance on the BCR in this case seems to dis-incentivize future planning and cost reduction. There’s a major opportunity for improvement.

To get around this problem, the Harris County Flood Control District started its Frontier Program. The program buys up land for regional detention ponds (those that serve multiple developments), and then resells detention capacity back to developers for future use. Because regional detention is usually more efficient than developers building individual detention ponds on their own, it can actually lower developers’ costs while protecting the public and conserving money long term.

Most High-Level Recommendations Still Valid

Page 43 of the 1985 report makes six high-level recommendations (apart from specific projects) that are as valid today as they were then.

  1. Create a central agency to control, monitor, remedy and finance flood control for the entire watershed.
  2. Control development within the 100-year floodplain and prohibit it in the floodway with laws and regulations.
  3. Establish minimum building slab elevations in flood-prone areas.
  4. Limit fill in the floodplain.
  5. Develop procedures to follow when allowing floodplain development, i.e., not obstructing 100-year floods.
  6. Develop specific criteria, procedures and requirements for downstream impact analysis to compare Development A with Development B, and to analyze their combined effects.

Regular readers of this site have heard many of these recommendations before. The surprise, if there is one, is that we haven’t adopted them all already or that we haven’t adopted them consistently. Even where recommendations have been adopted, they are enforced inconsistently.

For future reference, the 1985 report can also be found on the reports page under the SJRA tab.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/19/2021

1482 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 731 since Imelda

Comments Due to TCEQ on Sand-Mining BMPs by August 19

A couple weeks ago, I posted about rules governing the application of sand mining best management practices (BMPs). Now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is accepting public comments on the BMPs themselves. Think of the difference this way: how/when to enforce guidelines vs the guidelines themselves.

More than 90 people responded to the enforcement question. Thank you. The TCEQ left so many “outs,” it was doubtful whether sand mines would ever have had to follow any of the BMPs.

Comments Coming Due on BMPs, Not Just Rules Governing Them

Now it’s time to consider the content of the BMPs themselves and provide public comment.

We have more time this time – until August 19. So I will publish a series of posts about different aspects of the BMPs that I believe could be improved.

Here is a draft of the 24-page document listing all BMPs that the TCEQ is considering.

Today, I will simply give you an overview of the major categories of recommendations. In coming days, I will discuss major areas of concern. These will be things where, in my opinion, the sand mines in the San Jacinto watershed fall short of ideal practices in ways that directly contribute to flooding.

Some Caveats

Having said that, let me also qualify that last statement three ways:

  1. Not all sand mines are bad actors, but some are.
  2. We need sand to make concrete.
  3. Sediment comes from both man-made and natural sources. While massive amounts of sand clogged our river after Harvey, it’s unclear what proportion of that came from sand mines.

It’s easy to see that floodwaters eroded stockpiles, breached levees, and swept sediment downstream. It’s also easy to see how suboptimal sand mining practices contributed to those issues.

Sand mining increased the width of the exposed sediment adjacent to the river by an average of 33X.

USGS calculations, photographs, and first responder reports during Harvey also indicate that the velocity of the river was sufficient to transport not just sand, but large chunks of gravel.

However, it’s not clear how much suboptimal sand mining practices contributed to blockages, such as the East and West Fork Mouth Bars, Sand Island, and the giant side bar that blocked the Kingwood Diversion Ditch. Some likely also came from erosion of the river bed itself as well as upstream developers with suboptimal practices of their own.

It will take someone smarter than me to figure that how much came from where.

The Public Policy Question

It is clear, however, that we’re investing $222 million in dredging to eliminate sediment blockages that contribute to flooding. And many sand mines have shown, in my opinion, a callous disregard for the cleanup costs they externalize to the public sector. One is even currently being sued by the Texas Attorney General.

Scope of BMPs Being Proposed

The BMPs being considered by the TCEQ have to do with:

  • Vegetative and Structural Controls to help reduce erosion
  • Pre-Mining site evaluation, drainage studies and site preparation
  • Mining activities, such as dredging, processing, maintenance, and the handling of petroleum products
  • Post-Mining site stabilization, debris removal, and property grading
  • Requirements for a final stabilization report.

I will discuss each of these in coming days before the deadline. I will also show photos that illustrate how current practices fall short of BMPs and contribute to sedimentation.

Sand mine pumping wastewater directly into San Jacinto West Fork
Another sand mine discharging wastewater directly into the West Fork.

Two things ARE clear, however. We can and must do better if we want to reduce:

  • Financial hemorrhaging
  • Flooding from man-made blockages that clog our rivers.

How to Make a Public Comment

Submit written comments on BMPs to Macayla.Coleman@Tceq.Texas.gov with the subject line “BMPs Guidance Document” before August 19, 2021.

More details to follow in the coming days.

Posted By Bob Rehak on 7/8/2021

1440 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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

San Jacinto River Watershed Master Drainage Plan Meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

Harris County Flood Control District, Montgomery County, City of Houston, and San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA) will host a virtual public meeting on August 13, 2020. Purpose: to provide information about work to date in the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan (SJMDP) and give you a chance to provide input.  

Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the "wet marks" several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom.
Light pole near River Bend in North Shore as Harvey receded. Note the “wet marks” several feet up on pole. Photo by Jim Balcom. Water was so high that rescue boats had to dodge electrical wires.

About the Study and Its Goals

The study began in April 2019. Its goal: to reduce flood risks to people and property throughout the San Jacinto River regional watershed by identifying future flood mitigation projects for the near- and long-term. The SJMDP study area covers nearly 3,000 square miles in seven different counties and includes approximately 535 miles of stream.

The SJMDP team has updated and integrated hydraulic and hydrologic models for all the major streams in the watershed. This provides the technical basis for identifying vulnerabilities. It also allows the team to estimate impacts to existing infrastructure from future growth.

Meeting Details

Community engagement is an important component of the Bond Program. Feedback from residents helps “ground truth” models, assumptions and plans. So please attend the virtual meeting, ask questions, and volunteer feedback.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

Join online at PublicInput.com/SanJacMasterPlan

Or by phone at 855-925-2801 with Meeting Code: 9742 

You can register now, download a reminder for your calendar, submit questions, and sign up for future updates on this important study.

The meeting will begin with a brief presentation to share project updates, followed by a moderated Q&A session with Flood Control District team members. Residents will be able to submit questions and comments throughout the presentation. Any comments not addressed during the Q&A session will receive a response after the event. 

A recorded version of the meeting will be available on the Flood Control District’s website and YouTube channel after the event.

Funding for Study

A Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Planning Program funds 75% of the study. The four local partners contribute equally to the rest.

For More Information

For questions, please contact the Flood Control District at 346-286-4152, or complete the online comment form. Comments may also be mailed to the Harris County Flood Control District, 9900 Northwest Freeway, Houston, Texas 77092, Attn: San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan. For more information about the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan, visit www.sanjacstudy.org.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/12/2020

1079 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Union Pacific Almost Done Removing Last Remnants of Old Railroad Bridge

Replacement of the old Union Pacific Bridge across the San Jacinto West Fork is nearing completion.

Less than a month ago, crews constructing the new railroad bridge still had to remove the supports for the old bridge. See below the old four-post steel-frame structures between the new cement supports.

Photo taken on January 20, 2020 shows old supports still in place between new concrete supports.

By 2/13/2020, however, only one of the old supports remained. See photo below.

Photo taken on 2/13/2020 shows only one of the old supports remains.

Reason for New Bridge

Union Pacific started reconstructing the bridge after Harvey. Trees swept downstream by the flood caught on the old supports and backed water up.

Trees caught in Union Pacific Railroad Bridge supports during Hurricane Harvey.

The result: the tracks were destroyed. UP had to reroute northbound rail traffic out of Houston for months as they literally built a new bridge around the old one.

Harvey knocked out the Union Pacific Railroad bridge over the San Jacinto River near I-69.

The concrete supports for the new bridge are spaced much farther apart. Thus, they should allow trees to pass through in a flood and eliminate backwater effects.

Photo taken 2/13/2020, the same time as the first shot above. This is from the other side of the bridge.

Other Sign Job is Nearing Completion

Notice in the picture above that crews have already started removing the temporary bridge for cranes on the north side of the river.

All of this is good news from flood remediation and mitigation perspectives. It is yet one more sign that life is finally starting to return to normal after Harvey. The bridge should also help the community deal better with the next major storm.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/17/2020

902 Days since Hurricane Harvey