Tag Archive for: TWDB

Flood Digest: Flooding, Planning and More

Below is a digest of seven flood-related items in the news lately.

Dubai Floods 

On April 18, 2024, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates saw the heaviest flooding in 75 years. That’s as far back as their records go. Dubai began data collection efforts in 1949. The floods followed several cloud-seeding flights. They probably did not cause the heavy rain, but many believe they contributed to it. Highways, the airport and large parts of the city were under water.

“By the end of Tuesday, more than 142 millimeters (5.59 inches) of rainfall had soaked Dubai over 24 hours. An average year sees 94.7 millimeters (3.73 inches) of rain at Dubai International Airport,” said the AP. Wave after wave of thunderstorms from a strong low-pressure system triggered heavy rains in neighboring Oman that killed 19 people.

Sally Geiss, a former Kingwood resident, sent me a link to a dramatic collection of videos of the flooding on NotTheBee.com.

Regional Flood Planning Group Recommendations

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has approved amendments to the first-ever regional flood plans. They recommend additional solutions to reduce the risk and impact of flooding across the state. The amendments bring the total estimated cost of flood-risk-reduction solutions for all 15 planning regions to more than $54 billion.

Significantly, 30 of the flood-mitigation projects could provide water-supply solutions if implemented.

All of the flood-risk-reduction solutions recommended in the amended regional flood plans should be included in the 2024 State Flood Plan. That will make them eligible for funding through the State’s Flood Infrastructure Fund.

San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group 

The San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group – Region 6 is currently underway to solicit a technical consultant for the second planning cycle. 

Harris County will advertise a request for qualifications (RFQ) within the coming weeks. The RFQ selection and process will follow standard Harris County procurement procedures.

Interested? The flood planning group provided this link to monitor opportunities:
https://purchasing.harriscountytx.gov/Services/Online-Solicitation-Opportunities

Harris County Purchasing

County Judge Lina Hidalgo held a press conference last week in which she blasted Harris County purchasing procedures. She wants to change them. According to Hidalgo, RFQs for Flood Control, Engineering and the Toll Road Authority are approved without bidding or documentation.

In virtually all cases, Purchasing rubber stamps the recommendations of Commissioners, according to Hidalgo. And she says that 93% of those approved contributed heavily to commissioners.

Here’s a link to her press conference video.

Lina Hidalgo Press Conference on Purchasing

She starts about 15-20 minutes into the video, and there’s a Spanish translation at the end. So it’s not as long as it looks.

Hidalgo based her allegations on a series of audit reports of the purchasing department, which were previously publicized by the Houston Chronicle.

Hidalgo never mentioned her own legal troubles re: the Elevate Strategies contract.

Kingwood Open House

Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey’s office is hosting a Kingwood Open House on Thursday, April 25, 2024 between 6:30 and 8 PM at the Kingwood High School, 2701 Kingwood Drive.

The focus will be on infrastructure improvements and include representatives from Precinct 3, City of Houston, San Jacinto River Authority, and Harris County Flood Control District.

The Woodlands MUD Elections 

In Texas, Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs) have the legal authority to partner with other governmental agencies such as the Texas Water Development Board and Harris County Flood Control District for flood-mitigation projects.

Early voting for The Woodlands Municipal Utility District directors begins on April 22 at the Shenandoah Municipal Complex.

In preparation, The Woodlands Township Future Group will sponsor an informative talk by Robert Leilich, Director of the Board of The Woodlands MUD #1 and Erich M Peterson, PE, General Manager of the Woodlands Water Agency. 

Their topic: “All You wanted to Know about Municipal Utility Districts.”

Date: Monday, April 22, 2024

Time: 7 pm to 8 pm

Please copy the link below and paste in a browser to join the presentation via Zoom:

https://us06web.zoom.us/j/82866382552?pwd=IB2JnUwSD96Tq68oZLygYaNPRTbWT4.1

 Passcode: 346862

The discussion of Municipal Utility Districts will cover:

What is a MUD?

  • What services do MUDs provide The Woodlands?
  • Who determines and directs the activities of a MUD?
  • What is The Woodlands Water Agency (also known as WoodlandsWater) and what is its relationship to MUDs in The Woodlands?

Emergency Habitability Repairs

The City of Houston Planning Department publishes a weekly Permit Activity Report. I usually scan it for development projects in the Lake Houston Area. But in the last few weeks, I have noticed something else that’s highly interesting.

There’s an extremely high correlation between “emergency habitability repairs” and proximity to drainage ditches and bayous with a reputation for flooding, such as Greens Bayou.

In one of the previous reports, I found that 90% of the emergency repairs happened in apartment complexes right on the banks of Greens or within a block of it. 

This should underscore the risk of living close to waterways. Even though the permit applications may not have immediately followed a flood, they may have resulted from problems, such as mold that build up after floods. 

I intend to follow this trend and report more when I have more data.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/18/24

2424 Days since Hurricane Harvey

January 2024 Weather Much Cooler, Wetter than Normal in Houston Area

According to Dr. Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist in the Surface Water Division at the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), January 2024 weather was much cooler and wetter than normal in the Houston area, but the same was not true across the state.

Wentzel issues monthly reports that summarize weather, rainfall (or lack thereof), and water supplies across Texas. His latest report, issued today, covers conditions from the end of December 2023 to the end of January 2024.

Key Stats

According to Wentzel, January was cooler than normal for most of Texas and wetter than normal for about half the state.

At the end of January, 23 percent of the state was in drought, down 16 percentage points since the end of December and the lowest percentage since June 2023.

Statewide, storage in our water supply reservoirs is about 73 percent of capacity, up almost four percentage points since the end of December, but still almost 10 percentage points below normal for the time of year.

Wentzel expects conditions to continue improving over the next few months. But he also says, we have a long way to go to be drought-free statewide.

Summary of key points for Jan. ’24, from TWDB video by Dr. Mark Wentzel

Houston Area Was 2 to 4 Degrees F Cooler, 150-300% Wetter Than Normal

Wentzel provided these two maps from NOAA. They show temperature and precipitation variations statewide relative to what is considered normal for January.

Source: TWDB

From a water supply perspective, reds, oranges, and yellows mean trouble on both maps. The Houston area was 2 to 4 degrees F cooler than normal and 150% to 300% wetter. However, parts of West Texas were above normal for temperature and below normal for precipitation – the opposite of SE Texas.

Overall, January temperatures were well below normal for most of the state. In fact…

January 2024 was the coldest January for Texas since 2007 and the second coldest since 1988.

Dr. Mark Wentzel, Hydrologist TWDB

Precipitation in January was above average for about half the state.

Overall, we had the wettest January since 2007 and the 10th wettest since 1895.

Dr. Mark Wentzel, Hydrologist TWDB

Even so, all of West Texas and parts of the Panhandle, Central Texas, and the lower Rio Grande Valley were drier than normal.

Drought Becomes Less Severe

Cooler and wetter conditions than average for large areas of the state led to improved drought conditions in the last month.

From US Drought Monitor

This Drought Monitor map shows conditions as of January 30. Twenty-three percent of the state is in drought with the tan, orange, and red colors, down 16 percentage points from the end of December.

That’s the smallest percentage of the state impacted by drought since June 2023 and the fourth consecutive month that drought has decreased.

Water Supply Up, But Still Below Normal

January also brought welcome relief to some of Texas’ water supply reservoirs. During the month of January, statewide supplies increased by almost four percentage points, the largest increase in a single month since October 2018.

Most of that increase came in the northeast quarter of the state, where most reservoirs are now back to normal for this time of year.

However, statewide, supplies are about 10 percentage points below normal for the time of year. And conditions are much worse in the south and west.

Drought Forecast Through End of April

What can we expect over the next few months? Here’s the latest seasonal drought outlook from the National Weather Service for conditions through the end of April.

NOAA’s drought predictions for entire country

El Niño conditions, warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the eastern Equatorial Pacific, are in place and expected to moderate temperatures. They will also add moisture to Texas for the rest of the winter.

Unfortunately, improvements aren’t expected to be enough to reduce drought in West Texas or eliminate drought in Central and East Texas.

Looking a little farther out, May and June are typically two of the wettest months for Texas, regardless of El Niño status, giving us a chance for additional improvements before the full onset of summer, says Wentzel

Posted by Bob Rehak on 2/14/24 based on information from Dr. Mark Wentzel – Hydrologist, TWDB

2360 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Differences in Ways County, State Propose Ranking Flood Projects

The Texas Water Development Board is seeking public comment on its plan to allocate $375 million in funding from the State’s flood infrastructure fund for the 2024-25 state fiscal year.

That prompted me to compare the TWDB and Harris County plans for ranking flood projects. The differences remind me of how the scoring systems favor certain projects in some areas and not others.

Harris County and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) use distinctly different priorities when considering which flood-mitigation projects to fund.

The biggest differences have to do with the weights given to severity of flooding, protection of infrastructure, social vulnerability and maintenance costs.

The state also uses “benefit/cost ratios” much like the federal government. The county, however, uses a measure called “project efficiency,” which is related but slightly different.

Differences in Ranking Projects

Here is the most recent prioritization framework that Harris County adopted in 2022 and again in 2023. And here is the draft “intended use plan” for the State of Texas 2024-25 Flood Infrastructure Fund.

Let’s look more closely at each plan and then examine their differences.

Harris County Prioritization Framework

Harris County examines:

  • Project Efficiency…
    • Using People Benefitted
    • Using Structures Benefitted
  • Existing Conditions
  • Social Vulnerability Index
  • Long Term Maintenance Costs
  • Environmental Impacts
  • Potential for Multiple Benefits

Each project is assigned a score for each criterion below ranging from 0 to 10. A score of “10” indicates the project fully met the criterion and a score of “0” indicates that it did not.

Summary of ranking matrix from page 4 of Harris County Framework. For explanations of scoring on each measure, see full document.

Proposed TWDB Matrix

The TWDB scoring matrix measures more factors and gives them different weights.

For larger, high res version and detailed explanation, see full plan.

The first thing you notice is that the table above is much wider and deeper than the County’s matrix. That’s because it lists evaluation criteria for different categories. And criteria sometimes change depending on the category.

Comparison of Differences

Social Vulnerability

Harris County gives 20% of all projects’ weights to social vulnerability. But the TWDB only gives it 5% weight. TWDB also uses social vulnerability as a tie breaker (see page 22).

Equity

Harris County has organized its flood-mitigation priorities since 2019 around equity. The proposed TWDB plan does not mention the word.

Efficiency

Harris County measures the efficiency of removing people and structures from the 100-year floodplain. The County defines efficiency as the cost of the project divided by the number of people or structures benefited. It gives them 45% weight within the final score.

TWDB also measures the number of people and structures removed from the 100-year floodplain. But unlike the county, it factors in critical facilities, the number of low water crossings, and miles of roads removed from the 100-year floodplain. Combined, they represent 55% of the weight. TWDB does not weigh cost against these measures at this point in its scoring matrix. However, it separately gives 2.5% weight to benefit/cost ratios.

Flood Risk

Harris County does not directly incorporate flood risk in its evaluations. It uses a proxy called “Existing Conditions” and gives it 20% weight. Existing Conditions measures the level of service provided by a detention basin or a channel. For instance, one with a 2-year level of service floods in a 2-year storm. One with a 25-year level of service floods in a 25-year storm, etc.

TWDB does not directly measure flood risk either. Rather it measures the number of structures, people, critical facilities, low-water crossings and road miles inside the 100-year floodplain. It’s a measure of what is “at risk.” These measures collectively add up to 100% of the score for a flood-management evaluation and 60% of the score for a flood-management strategy.

Severity

Harris County gives no weight to the severity of flooding. TWDB does. TWDB measures both the average depth of flooding in a 100-year storm and the percentage of a community’s population exposed to a 100-year flood. Together, they can account for 10% of a project’s total score.

Critical Facilities

Harris County does not differentiate among structures removed from a 100-year floodplain. But TWDB recognizes critical facilities. Such facilities could include sewage and water treatment plants; bridges; schools; hospitals; police and fire stations; and more. These affect entire communities, not just individuals.

Maintenance Costs

Harris County projects maintenance costs and gives them 5% of the weight. TWDB does NOT consider costs associated with current or future operations and maintenance activities.

No Right or Wrong Way

Neither the TWDB plan, nor the County’s plan is right or wrong. Their weights reflect the needs of different people and different organizations in different places. For instance, the state is not involved in maintenance, but maintenance historically has consumed as much as 50% of Harris County Flood Control District’s budget. So it makes sense for the county to prioritize low maintenance costs.

However, I would observe that Harris County could borrow some ideas from the state, such as incorporating measures for severity of flooding, protection of life, and protection of critical facilities. The areas that had the deepest flooding and the highest loss of life during Harvey have received little flood-mitigation assistance from Harris County compared to poor areas.

What happens when 240,000 cubic feet per second, 20-foot-high floodwaters tear through your home.
4000 Students at Kingwood High School
When sewage-contaminated floodwater invaded Kingwood High School to the third floor, 4,000 students had to study in shifts at another high school an hour away for a year.

What Do You Think?

TWDB seeks public comment on its proposed plan by January 1, 2024. What do you think? Based on your flood experience, do you think TWDB could do something better? Let them know.

Their plan includes more information than shown above. For instance, it also includes information on eligibility, minimum standards, program timeline, and financial assistance categories.

If you wish to comment email FIF@twdb.texas.gov and specify in the subject line “FIF IUP Comments.” Should you have any questions, please contact the TWDB by emailing the same address.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/11/23

2295 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TWDB to Consider $50 Million Grant for Lake Houston Gates

Save the date. On December 7, 2023, the Texas Water Development Board will consider a $50 million grant to the City of Houston for structural improvements to the Lake Houston Dam. The improvements will extend the life of the dam and enable rapid lowering of lake levels in advance of a flood.

The project, led by outgoing Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin and Chief Recovery Officer Stephen Costello, will benefit thousands of residential properties in the surrounding area.

Make sure the next mayor supports it. Get out and vote. Better yet, take your neighbors with you!

Background

The $50 million grant will complement funds from other sources including FEMA. The addition of new tainter gates will enable Lake Houston to shed water faster before and during storms, reducing the risk of flooding.

Until now, pre-releasing water has been risky. The old gates on the Lake Houston dam can release only 10,000 cubic feet per second. As a result, to significantly lower the lake, releases must start far in advance of a storm. But storms can veer away during that extended time. That increases the chances that the City could waste water.

After several years of study, the City has found that the optimal option would be to add tainter gates to the eastern, earthen portion of the dam. But the cost increased significantly compared to the crest gates initially favored.

Proposed location for new tainter gates
Proposed location for new tainter gates.

Earlier this year, the Legislature set aside more funds for the new tainter gates and specifically directed the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to provide those funds. The TWDB’s executive administrator has recommended authorizing the funds. The Board just needs to approve them.

TWDB Board Meeting In Houston

The TWDB board will consider the approval at a rare Houston meeting at the Harris County Flood Control District in early December.

Date/Time:
Thursday, December 07, 2023; 9:30 AM
Location:
In person at 7522 Prairie Oak Drive
Michael Talbott Pavilion, Harris County Flood Control District Service Center
Houston, TX 77086

To view the webinar online, you must register for details.

Visitors who wish to address the Board should complete a visitor registration card and attend the meeting in person. The Texas Open Meetings Act prohibits visitor participation by telephone only. The visitor registration card is available and should be completed and submitted by e-mail to Customer Service no later than 8:00 a.m. on December 7, 2023, or in person at the registration desk.

Here is the full agenda. The $50 million grant for more gates is #14. Here is the backup information.

New, higher capacity gates were one of the three primary recommendations made by the Lake Houston Area Task Force after Harvey to mitigate flooding in the area. If all goes according to plan, construction could start in mid-2026, according to Costello.

Will Next Houston Mayor Support the Project?

Large infrastructure projects like this depend on unwavering political support. Completion of this project could take until the NEXT mayoral election. In the meantime, make sure we elect a mayor who will support the Gates Project until then. Keep it moving forward.

In that regard, John Whitmire has already demonstrated his support. If you haven’t yet voted, make sure you do. Take your neighbors, too. And then walk around your block and knock on some doors. Keeping this project will depend on turnout in the current runoff election.

So far, Acres Homes has had eight times more early voters than Huffman. And fewer than 4,000 people have voted in Kingwood.

As of 12/1/2023 according to Harris Votes.

The last day for early voting is December 5th. Polls are open from 7 am to 7 pm except for Sunday when they open at noon. Your last chance to vote is on Election Day, December 9th. For complete election information, visit Harris Votes.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/1/2023

2285 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TWDB Wants Your Input on Nature-Based Flood-Mitigation Solutions

Reprinted with minor edits from an article posted by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) on 9/11/2023 – Flooding is the most common and deadly disaster in the state. It has plagued Texans for generations, costing billions in property damage—and worse, loss of lives. So, flood mitigation is at the top of the list when it comes to addressing the most challenging water issues across the 269,000 square miles of Texas.

2018 NOAA Study Revealed Rainfall Assumptions Inadequate

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a study in 2018 revealing that rainfall values in some parts of Texas previously classified as 100-year events are now categorized as much more frequent 25-year events.

Varied topography and proximity to the Gulf of Mexico have always played a significant role in the state’s flood events. So has the population in Texas; it surpassed 30 million last year. according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Recent exponential growth, coupled with the already complex landscape, necessitates more forward-thinking flood planning and coordination. For instance…

We need to consider how natural features in new developments and infrastructure projects can work to our benefit to reduce flood risks.

TWDB

Participate in Online Survey

To help address flood issues across the state, TWDB is conducting an online survey now through September 29. Purpose: to collect input on the use of nature-based solutions to mitigate flood risk. Responses will help develop a guidance manual for communities seeking to implement these projects.

Nature-based solutions are broad, ranging from detention and retention ponds to preservation of natural features, such as floodplains and wetlands, or may even include roadside ditches with nature-based components. Sometimes, projects designed to improve water quality or intended to provide other environmental benefits can also work to mitigate flooding.

“The work that we’re doing is from a lens of flood mitigation. But really, there are likely greater benefits for water quality, environmental enhancement, and even for public recreation and enjoyment,” said Saul Nuccitelli, the TWDB’s Director of Flood Science and Community Assistance. “We’re looking to try to integrate and connect those project benefits and encourage folks who are doing flood work to seek out ways to incorporate nature-based components into their projects.”

Examples of Nature-Based Solutions

Nature-based solutions often include community benefits:

Nature-based solutions can often provide benefits to the community while serving as flood-mitigation strategies. The Humble-Kingwood area has numerous examples of flood-mitigation solutions that improve quality of life. For example, the 100+ mile Kingwood trail network, East End Park, Creekwood Nature Preserve, River Grove Park, and the Spring Creek Nature Trail are hugely popular community amenities that reduce flood risk.

188-acre East End Park attracts more than 100,000 visitors per year. It contains 5 miles of trails weaving through meadows, forests and wetlands that reduce flood risk while enhancing quality of life for people and animals.

Goal of Survey: ID Sustainable Building Blocks for Growth

The TWDB’s survey will capture examples of projects and programs using nature-based solutions with flood mitigation benefits. TWDB wants to learn about solutions in the varying ecoregions across Texas.

The goal of the guidance manual is to make practical case studies of projects, incentive program concepts, and regulatory templates available to community officials, decision-makers, and other practitioners. Many are interested in nature-based solutions as value-added alternatives to traditional flood infrastructure.  

“If you find ways to incorporate nature-based solutions, it doesn’t mean people need to stay out of it all the time,” said Nuccitelli. “For example, you may have an area that’s wetland mitigation or wetland banking, so you may want to minimize how much traffic goes through it or what goes on there, but to the extent that you can include recreational activities associated with a project, urban economic benefit and utilizing nature can be somewhat synergistic.”

Reducing Runoff up to 5X

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, when 10 to 20 percent of a watershed is covered by impervious surfaces like roads or parking lots, runoff doubles. If impervious surfaces cover 100 percent of a watershed, the runoff is five times that of a forested area, which significantly increases the potential for flooding.

Incorporating nature-based solutions into a new project could potentially help manage runoff from future growth. For example, identifying and preserving healthy stands of trees or wetlands to utilize those existing natural features as amenities, such as a pocket park or an area of trees next to homes.

Data Will Ultimately Help Build/Fund Community Resources

By developing a guidance manual, the TWDB aims to

1) Share data and information about the benefits of nature-based solutions that could then empower communities to adopt them

2) Provide tools, research, case studies, incentive program concepts, and example ordinances—anything that a community may use as a resource if it’s interested in pursuing these solutions

3) Share details about funding opportunities and grant applications for these types of projects.

“That would be a big success if communities could take what we’re developing within the guidance manual to further encourage or enhance nature-based solutions,” said Nuccitelli.

Once the survey responses are compiled and the guidance manual is developed, the TWDB plans to release the draft in the summer of 2024 for public input.

For More Information

To learn more about nature-based solutions for flood mitigation in Texas, visit the TWDB website. To take the survey, click here. It takes about 15 minutes, but is a very thought-provoking.

See more TWDB articles about flood mitigation posted in  Flood.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/13/2023 based on a TWDB article

2206 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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

Lauder Basin Phase II on Greens Bayou Under Construction

The long-awaited Lauder Basin Phase II on Greens Bayou is now under construction. In May of last year, the Texas Water Development Board announced a $2.2 million grant to expand the basin.

Lauder Basin Phase II
HCFCD is expanding the basin into the old Castlewood Subdivision east of Aldine Westfield Road.

Then in September, HCFCD announced that construction would be starting “soon.” Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) estimated sometime in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Construction Photos Taken 5/7/23

A visit to the job site earlier this week showed that construction is now well underway. See the photos below.

Looking NW. Phase II of the Lauder Basin under construction. Greens Bayou is in upper right. Small creek in foreground is a tributary.

Looking West. Greens Bayou flows toward camera position from upper right to lower right.
Still looking west, but from closer position reveals that HCFCD is excavating area closest to Greens first.
Looking West from farther away reveals proximity of Phase II with two ponds built during Phase I. See diagram below.

Eventually, Phase 2 should have several compartments with water-quality plantings to help filter out pollutants, and a small stream connecting the ponds. This presentation is a bit dated, but shows HCFCD’s plans for the basin as they existed in 2020.

Artists rendering of Phases I and II of Lauder Basin. Plans for Phase II have reportedly changed slightly.

Project Scope

Together, Phases I and II should provide more than 1,200 acre-feet of stormwater storage. HCFCD designed them to fill up during storms to help reduce the risk of Greens from flooding local homes, businesses and schools. After a flood, the basins release excess water slowly when the channel can safely accept it.

Phase II (651 acre feet) will actually provide more stormwater storage than Phase I (588 acre feet).

HCFCD estimates total Phase II construction costs at $32 million and predicts construction could take 2.5 years.

Spending Comparison with Other Watersheds

Greens Bayou has received more than a quarter billion dollars of projects such as these since 2000. That’s more than any other watershed in Harris County with the exception of Brays Bayou – where Commissioner Rodney Ellis lives.

Data obtained from HCFCD by FOIA request. Includes all spending from 1/1/2000 through end of Q1 2023.

Greens Bayou is one of the few watersheds where HCFCD spending did not plummet last quarter. Even as spending decreased in 15 watersheds, it rose in Greens Bayou by almost $4.8 million. To put that in perspective, it increased 11 times more than the watershed with the second largest increase, White Oak, at $431,126.

Here are the actual numbers.

Data obtained from HCFCD via FOIA requests.

No doubt, the activity you see in the photos above had a lot to do with Greens’ ranking. So, does construction on Garners Bayou, a tributary of Greens farther downstream.

Stay tuned for more news as construction progresses.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/12/23

2082 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Ins and Outs of Texas Flood Infrastructure Funding

Alan Black, P.E., formerly Director of Operations at Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD), is now Vice President at Quiddity Engineering responsible for helping public agencies secure local, state and federal partnership funding. 

While at HCFCD, Black oversaw planning, design and construction of all projects and managed applications to State and Federal agencies for flood-mitigation funding, bringing in more than $1 billion since Hurricane Harvey.  Since leaving HCFCD, Black helps clients understand the labyrinth of funding opportunities and develop a long term, proactive strategy to secure funds. His comments below provide insights into Texas’ multi-year funding process for the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) and how to improve it.


Alan Black, VP at Quiddity Engineering and former Director of Operations at HCFCD

More Projects than Money

Rehak: So, you saw the three billion dollar list of projects that HCFCD submitted to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for Flood Infrastructure Funding?

Black: Yes. We started developing that when I was still at Flood Control. That list was submitted to the San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group for inclusion in the State Flood Plan. It includes everything on the radar for Flood Control that they would like to be eligible for State funds at some point in the future. The list includes Flood Management Evaluations, Strategies and Projects. 

The labels can be a bit confusing, but Flood Management Projects (FMP’s) include design/construction; Evaluations include engineering studies, and strategies are things like flood warning systems. FMP’s involve the biggest dollars, but it takes a lot of upfront work to get there since TWDB requires a benefit-cost ratio (BCR). 

Calculation of the BCR is no small task, so there aren’t a whole lot of construction projects on the Harris County list; many got relegated to FME’s because the feasibility studies didn’t have enough information yet.

It’s hard pulling together lists like that because of the level of detail required, the short time allotted, and the politics involved. Commissioners’ Court members, for instance, might say, “There aren’t enough projects in my precinct!” 

Importance of Being in Flood Plan

Black: Even though state funding dollars aren’t available at this instant, you want every single project you’re contemplating to be on that list.

These projects will compete for whatever the state appropriates this year. And right now, that could be $400 to $700 million for the whole state depending on which bill you look at.

Houston Stronger has been advocating for $5 billion, but will consider themselves lucky if legislators appropriate $1 billion. 

Rehak: Where did this all this start?

Black: After Harvey, voters approved a constitutional amendment that created the FIF, which the legislators can replenish periodically.

In 2019, the legislature appropriated $770 million out of its economic stabilization fund, – the rainy-day fund – to get things started. 

The legislature is now modifying the flood-infrastructure fund rules so that dollars can only be spent on projects in the state flood plan.Alan Black

Need for More Frequent Plan Updates

Black: The flood plan is to be updated every five years. So, think about that for a second. If in the next five years you want to apply for FIF funding, the only way to be eligible is if you’re already in that plan. 

Many have already urged the San Jacinto regional flood-planning group to establish more frequent updates – say once a year – because HCFCD by itself is constantly developing new initiatives.

Method for Prioritizing Projects is Changing

Rehak: With so many projects, how will they be prioritized? 

Black: For now, look at the first round of applications on the TWDB website under the “flood intended use plan.”  TWDB spelled out the scoring criteria. They received 285 submittals and ranked them using those criteria. Then they invited the top projects to submit final applications that used up the amount of money available.

Rehak: The benefit/cost ratio seems to be a sticking point for a lot of people. Tell me more about that.

Black: Buried in the original plan was a statement that said a benefit/cost ratio greater than one is “generally preferred.” At the time, we interpreted that as a green light. We thought, “Hallelujah! Somebody finally gets it. They’re not going to make go/no-go decisions based purely on a BCR.” 

So, we intentionally submitted several projects with low BCRs because we thought we had a rare opening to get them funded. Unfortunately, TWDB rejected four of our applications – three in State Representative Armando Walle’s district alone – because of their low BCR. 

Possible Change In Benefit/Cost Ratio Requirements

Rehak: Are people trying to change the rules for future funding?

Black: Yes. This session, Senator Creighton filed SB 2524 to prohibit the TWDB from requiring a benefit/cost ratio on applications.

How Memorandum of Understanding Requirements Complicate Projects

Black: Also, currently, TWDB requires “memorandums-of-understanding” (MOU) between jurisdictions for FIF projects. Say one MUD has a project that benefits the entire Cypress Creek watershed. Right now, that MUD must enter into an MOU with every other MUD in the entire watershed!  Senator Creighton’s bill would remove that requirement. 

New Ranking Criteria Not Yet Finalized

Black: To be fair, TWDB has stated they plan to adjust how they award future funding based on lessons learned.  For example, to rank the projects in the State Flood Plan, the TWDB recently published draft ranking criteria and invited public comment.

TWDB has stated they don’t know yet how they will use that, but first and foremost, things will be narrowed down simply by who submits applications. If the state flood plan has 2,000 projects but only 300 submit full applications, that just filtered out 1700.

When New Funding Could Become Available

Rehak: When could we see flood infrastructure funding for projects on Flood Control’s list? 

Alan Black: Fairly quickly, I hope. Fiscal Year 2024 for the state begins September 1, 2023. They’re likely already working on their draft future intended use plan. So ideally, they roll out the application window late this year or early next and start that process. It takes a couple of months to put the applications together, evaluate them, score them, and invite final applications. Actual money maybe starts flowing this time next year.

Benefit of Two-Step Applications

Rehak: Why the two-step process? 

Alan Black: Two steps actually benefit local agencies because of the effort it takes to finish the final application. Abridged initial applications let you invest smaller amounts of time, money and resources. Why make people fill out full applications if TWDB knows it won’t have enough money to cover all of the projects?

Rehak: TWDB offers both loans and grants. Why?

Loans vs. Grants and the Local Funding Requirement

Black: Everybody wants grants because loans have to be paid back, but flood projects don’t generate revenue like water projects do. And the TWDB share of grant funding ends up the opposite of the way the Feds work. The Feds will say, look, you are going to have to have some local skin in the game, but we’ll cover 75% –  80% of the project.

The best grant percentage TWDB gave any Flood Control District project was 35%. All the rest had to come from local funds and they had to be truly local. 

For example, FEMA lets you use HUD Community Development Block Grant funds to offset local match requirements. But TWDB won’t. 

That’s going to greatly impact the number of applications in the future. People will say, “Oh, wait a minute, you’re only going to grant me 20% of my project? Well, I don’t have the other 80%. That’s why I was applying.” I hope they change that. 

Barriers to Cooperation Among Jurisdictions

Rehak: There were many projects in the Region Six San Jacinto flood plan outside Harris County that affect flooding inside Harris County. Is Harris working with other counties? 

Alan Black: The San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group represents eleven counties. But the Harris list comes from agencies within Harris boundaries. There was a tremendous outreach effort to other counties and municipalities. But many of them just never put two and two together. When I joined Quiddity, I asked one of our clients why they didn’t submit a project to the state flood plan. They said, “We didn’t even know about it.”

Fortunately, we got their project into the plan. But many smaller agencies just don’t realize the ramifications of not having projects in the plan. Getting their attention will be an uphill battle for several years. 

Rehak: Why isn’t Harris County cooperating more with other counties? 

Black: To be fair, they are somewhat.  But first, there has recently been some reluctance at Commissioners Court to spend Harris dollars outside of the County. 

Second, when Harris projects benefit other areas, we have to enter into an MOU with the adjacent agency or jurisdiction. It’s too complicated. People have other things to do. They have other, higher priorities closer to home. They just don’t have the time or the resources. 

In a perfect world, it would be great if the development of the San Jacinto Regional Flood Plan included every single agency in the region, but getting them all together at the same table at the same time is too big of a lift. 

Flood Infrastructure Funding “Only a Start”

Rehak: Will we ever have enough money to fill all our needs? 

Black: Let’s just say for the sake of argument, the legislature appropriates $400 million. That’s across the whole state. Now, let’s assume they have a $30 billion plan. That $30 billion could easily be spent in Harris County alone and still not meet half the needs.

Pulling together this state flood plan is a great start, but we WILL need other sources of funding.

At Quiddity, I preach being proactive with funding pursuits. Pick the project you want to apply for a grant for in 2 or 3 years and start developing the information now!

Black’s Guiding Principles for Funding Applications

Black: And understand my three guiding principles for funding. 

  • You have to spend some money to make money. 
  • There’s no such thing as free money. 
  • And your project will go slower with federal funds.

Guest Post by Alan Black, VP at Quiddity Engineering on 4/7/23

2077 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TWDB Needs Feedback on Ranking Method for State Flood Plan

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is soliciting feedback on its proposed scoring matrix to rank efforts for the state’s first flood plan. Each region has submitted proposed projects. The scoring matrix will help rank order them statewide. And the deadline is April Fools’ Day.

TWDB has provided several spreadsheets that show how the criteria and weights would affect ranking of sample projects. But understand that TWDB is only soliciting comments on scoring criteria and their weights at this time, not the rankings of the limited sample. All this is DRAFT data, not final recommendations.

39 Factors in Three Different Categories and Three Groups

TWDB has proposed weighing the relative merits of 39 factors that span three categories with benefits in three more groups:

  • Flood Management Evaluations (Studies)
  • Flood Mitigation Projects
  • Flood Management Strategies

TWDB uses three types of factors:

  • Flood risk
  • Risk reduction
  • Other related factors

“Other” includes such factors as cost and environmental benefits.

The 39 factors include:

  1. Emergency Need (Y/N)
  2. Estimated number of structures at 100yr flood risk
  3. Residential structures at 100-year flood risk
  4. Estimated Population at 100-year flood risk
  5. Critical facilities at 100-year flood risk (#)
  6. Number of low water crossings at flood risk (#)
  7. Estimated number of road closures (#)
  8. Estimated length of roads at 100-year flood risk (Miles)
  9. Estimated farm & ranch land at 100-year flood risk (acres)
  10. Number of structures with reduced 100yr (1% annual chance) Floodplain
  11. Number of structures removed from 100yr (1% annual chance) Floodplain
  12. Percent of structures removed from 100yr (1% annual chance) Floodplain (Calculated by TWDB from reported data)
  13. Residential structures removed from 100yr (1% annual chance) Floodplain
  14. Estimated Population removed from 100yr (1% annual chance) Floodplain
  15. Critical facilities removed from 100yr (1% annual chance) Floodplain (#)
  16. Number of low water crossings removed from 100yr (1% annual chance) Floodplain (#)
  17. Estimated reduction in road closure occurrences
  18. Estimated length of roads removed from 100yr floodplain (Miles)
  19. Estimated farm & ranch land removed from 100yr floodplain (acres)
  20. Cost per structure removed from 100-year floodplain
  21. Percent Nature-based Solution (by cost)
  22. Benefit-Cost Ratio
  23. Water Supply Benefit (Y/N)
  24. Severity – Pre-Project Average Depth of Flooding (100-year)
  25. Severity – Community Need (% Population)
  26. Flood Risk Reduction
  27. Flood Damage Reduction
  28. Critical Facilities Damage Reduction
  29. Life and Safety
  30. Water Supply
  31. Social Vulnerability
  32. Nature-Based Solution
  33. Multiple Benefits
  34. Operations and Maintenance Costs
  35. Admin, Regulatory Obstacles
  36. Environmental Benefit
  37. Environmental Impact
  38. Mobility
  39. Regional

Factors (in Risk, Risk Reduction and Other groups) may receive weight in one, two or all three main categories (Evaluations, Projects, Strategies).

Intent: Consistency Across All Regions Statewide

The intent of the TWDB ranking method for the state flood plan is to provide a consistent approach to be used across all Texas regions. The goal: to systematically address the flood hazards with most population, properties and critical facilities at risk in the state during a 1% annual chance flood.

TWDB bases all risk on 1% annual chance/100-year flood estimates.

Areas with widely varying measurements such as population will have answers normalized. Basically, this means adjusting widely varying scales to a common scale (such as 0 to 1) to facilitate comparison.

More Background, Sample Data, Providing Feedback

All relevant ranking workbooks, documents, and the link to the online survey tool are available on the State Flood Planning webpage.

Provide your feedback on this page. It’s a four-question survey about the:

  • Plan in general
  • Evaluations
  • Projects
  • Strategies.

The deadline to submit feedback is Saturday, April 1, 2023.

Importance of Feedback

We have seen how seriously the weights given to such rankings can skew priorities. Consider, for instance, the Equity Prioritization Framework adopted after the fact by a Harris County Judge and two commissioners for proposed 2018 Flood Bond Projects (unrelated to these projects).

So, if you have reservations with the TWDB scoring system, register your complaints NOW. My biggest concerns are that it’s hard to understand. It also contains broken links and typos that get in the way of understanding.

But understanding is critical. Many of the flood-reduction projects needed on the periphery of Harris County will need be addressed by state money. That’s because 10 of our 23 watersheds originate outside the County. I guess that would fall under #39 Regional. But…

The proposed scoring matrix gives ZERO weight to Regional benefits.

That’s kind of strange for a regional plan designed to encourage solutions that cross jurisdictions. Scoring matrix penalizes people on the periphery of large urban areas like Harris County.

watersheds in Harris and surrounding counties

I’ve already sent my feedback on that one.

Inconsistencies? TWDB refers to FMS as Flood Management Strategy on its spreadsheet and Flood Management Solution in introductory text.

Another example: In its spreadsheets, footnotes describing the listing of criteria do not correspond in all cases to the criteria listed. Nor does a link work to a supposed explanation of the criteria.

And there’s no description that I could find of how all these categories, measurements and groups fit together.

Finally, it’s not clear how they will treat areas that have a 50% annual chance of flooding (2-year flood). We’ve seen in highly urbanized areas that – after spending hundreds of millions of dollars in some watersheds – the best we can do achieve in some areas is a 25-year level of service. Achieving better would require buying out thousands of homes. What will happen in such cases?

Please make the effort to provide public feedback.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/20/2023

2029 Days since Harris County

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 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.

How Current Drought Compares to 2011

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) recently produced a fascinating short video that puts the current drought in historical perspective by comparing rainfall, temperature, and water supplies to 2011. The text and visuals below are adapted from Dr. Mark Wentzel’s presentation. Wentzel serves as a hydrologist for the TWDB.

Wentzel’s charts depict statewide averages. The Houston region has had significantly more rainfall. So look at Wentzel’s data for trends happening around us. I’ll show Houston data at the end of this post.

Comparison to 2011 Drought

Wentzel says that June was warmer and drier than normal for much of the state, the fourth consecutive month with those conditions. At the end of June, drought conditions covered 86 percent of the state, up eight percentage points from the end of May. Storage in our water supply reservoirs is at 75 percent of capacity, ten percentage points below normal for this time of year. So, Texas is in a significant drought, the worst since 2011, but not worse than 2011.

Highlights of Wentzel video

Statewide Precipitation Averages

The State average rainfall from January to June of this year: 7.8 inches, about 60 percent of normal. Bad as that may be, it’s better than in 2011 when we received less than six inches in the first half of the year, only about 40 percent of normal.

Statewide Texas precipitation averages

Comparison to 2011 Temperatures

On the next chart, Wentzel shows monthly average temperatures across the entire state for both 2022 in orange and 2011 in red. Black dots show the 20th century average for comparison. He shows maximum and minimum temperature records in gray. The gold line represents January to June of this year.

Statewide Texas temperature averages

Temperatures have been above average five out of six months. That additional heat has certainly contributed to drought, but monthly temperatures in the first half of 2011 were even hotter for four of those six months.

In 2011, the real heat came in June, July, and August when we set maximum temperature records each month.

Dr. Mark Wentzel, TWDB

Temperatures the rest of the summer and 2022 are expected to be warmer than average, but not to exceed 2011 temperatures.

Percent of State in Drought

Low rainfall and high temperatures during the first half of 2022 have brought significant drought to Texas. The U.S. Drought Monitor map for conditions as of June 28 shows 86 percent of the state impacted by drought, up eight percentage points from the end of May. More of the state is experiencing drought at the end of June this year than for any June since 2011, when 96 percent of the state was in drought.

Effect on Water Supply

Statewide, our water supply reservoirs are being impacted by the current drought, but not as significantly as in 2011. The dark line on this chart shows how storage this year compares to minimum, maximum, and median values for the day of the year from data going back to 1990. Lighter lines show how we did in 2021 and 2020. The red line shows how we did in 2011.

Texas statewide totals expressed as percent of full capacity

We began 2022 with water supply storage more than two percentage points lower than normal for the time of year. By the end of June, we’ve fallen to about ten percentage points lower than normal.

In 2011, water supply began the year closer to normal, but fell farther and faster than in 2022. By the end of June, storage was about one and a half percentage points less than this year. In the second half of 2022, Wentzel expects additional storage declines, but not as severe as in 2011 when the State reached 30-year lows by mid-October.

Bottom Line for State

We are in a significant drought, even if it’s not as bad as 2011. But the real test won’t come this summer or even this year. Our water supply systems are designed to withstand a multi-year event. Will 2022 lead to a multi-year event? It’s too early to tell, says Wentzel. “But it’s never too early to conserve water and manage demand.”

Houston

The charts below comes from the National Weather Service Climate site and depicts conditions at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

The top half of the first shows temperatures. It depicts highs in red, average ranges in green, and lows in light blue for ever day of the year. The dark blue lines show actual temperature observations year to date.

The bottom half shows actual precipitation compared to the average. You can see that for part of the year, we were actually above normal. But starting around June 1, we fell behind.

The last chart shows temperatures in July to date. The dark blue lines show actual temps compared to highs, the normal range, and lows for every date. The three stars indicate records or ties.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/15/22 based on information from TWDB, NWS and Dr. Mark Wentzel

1781 Days since Hurricane Harvey