Tag Archive for: TWDB

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.”


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

TWDB grants HCFCD $2,208,906 to Expand Lauder Basin

Last month, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved a $2,208,906 grant from the State’s Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) to the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) for expansion of the Lauder Stormwater Detention Basin.

The detention basin will eventually hold 1,260 acre-feet of stormwater in Aldine along Greens Bayou. The project will help reduce repetitive flooding in that area. It is one of dozens of such projects under construction in the watershed.

Map showing phases and location of Lauder basin.

The 86th Texas Legislature created the Flood Infrastructure Fund with voter approval through a constitutional amendment in 2019. The fund helps develop drainage, flood mitigation, and flood control projects. State Senator Brandon Creighton sponsored the bill that created the fund.

About Phase 2 of Lauder Project

This particular TWDB grant will help enable Phase 2 of the Lauder Stormwater Detention Basin project (Bond ID C-34).

“We are extremely thankful for this funding and for the support of the Texas Water Development Board to improve flood resilience for residents in the Greens Bayou Watershed,” said Tina Petersen, Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director.

HCFCD finished Phase 1 of the Lauder Stormwater Detention Basin project in the fall of 2021. Phase 2 will provide additional stormwater detention in the former Castlewood development. Homes built there have been bought out.

HCFCD estimates the total cost of Phase 2 will be approximately $20.5 million. The additional capacity in Phase 2 will hold excess stormwater during heavy rain events and then release it slowly back to the channel when the threat of flooding has passed.

Phase 2 will be broken into two compartments.

  • Compartment 1 will bid later this month. Construction will start later this year and finish in 2024.
  • Compartment 2 (which TWDB is funding) is currently will be in design until 2023. Construction will begin in April 2024 and complete in early 2025.

Photos of Areas Involved

Phase 1 included a wet-bottom stormwater detention basin, with a permanent pool and features designed to improve stormwater quality.

Lauder Detention Basin on Greens Bayou as of 10/12/2021
Lauder Detention Basin Phase 1 on Greens Bayou (right) as of 10/12/2021. Looking SSW toward Lauder Road.

Phase 2 will be a dry-bottom stormwater detention basin with opportunities for recreational development by other entities. It will be in the wooded area (top center) of the photo below.

HCFCD will construct Phase 2 of the HCFCD Lauder Detention Basin in the wooded area (top center) along Greens Bayou (upper right). Looking northwest toward Greenspoint area.

Garcia Lauds Lauder Progress

“Reducing chronic flooding has been my main priority since taking office. This Lauder Stormwater Detention Basin project represents the kind of progress residents expect and need to see, and we are grateful for the Texas Water Development Board’s support in making this critical project possible,” said Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. 

“Making Harris County businesses and homeowners safer from flood events requires a commitment to make smart investments, like the TWDB’s. If we want to see our community thrive, we have to ensure families and companies can confidently grow in areas where their businesses and homes are free from flood fears,” he continued.

Relief from Repetitive Flooding

TWDB Chairwoman Brooke Paup said, “We’re proud to provide grant funding for this much-needed project, which has been a team effort, and to partner with our good friends at the Harris County Flood Control District. The TWDB works diligently to help communities across the state, but it’s especially fulfilling to be a partner in helping an area see some relief after experiencing repetitive flooding.”

Absorbs a Foot of Rain Falling Over 2 Square Miles

The two basin phases will hold at least 1,260 acre-feet, or 391 million gallons, of excess stormwater that might otherwise flood homes and businesses.

To visualize an acre foot, think of a football field with a foot of water on it. Now imagine that water extending upwards 1260 feet!

Another way to think about that is to visualize water spreading out horizontally. 1260 acre feet would would be a little less than two square miles. (A square mile comprises 640 acres.) So the two basins would hold a foot of rain falling over two square miles!

Looking at the Atlas 14 Rainfall Probability table below, the two phases would hold a 24-hour, 25-year rain falling over 2 square miles.

atlas 14 rainfall probabilities
Atlas 14 rainfall probabilities for northern Harris County

Flood-Risk Reduction Status

But the service area for the basins is bigger than 2 square miles. So the ponds won’t be enough by themselves to provide protection in a 25-year flood. That’s when other Greens Bayou projects will help. Together, the projects in the Greens Bayou Mid-Reach Program, when all are complete, should protect residents in a ten-year rain. See 10-year column in table above.

The two phases of the Lauder basin by themselves should reduce the risk of flooding for more than 4,500 structures in the 100-year floodplain. Learn more about the Lauder Basin at www.hcfcd.org/C34.

Overall, the flood bond allocated $280 million for Greens Bayou improvements. So far, HCFCD has spent $104 million in bond funds on those projects. So 63% the planned budget remains.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/10/22

1715 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Equity Myth Buster: “Rich Neighborhoods Get All the Flood-Mitigation Funding”

A myth being promulgated in Harris County Commissioners Court and certain low-to-moderate income (LMI) watersheds these days goes something like this:

  • The FEMA Benefit/Cost Ratio (used to rank grant applications for flood-mitigation projects) favors high-dollar homes.
  • That disadvantages less affluent, inner-city neighborhoods compared to more affluent suburbs.
  • Therefore, less affluent neighborhoods get no help and the more affluent neighborhoods get it all.

This post busts that myth. But it won’t stop activists from demanding more “equity.”

If you look at all flood-mitigation spending in Harris County since 2000, on average, less affluent watersheds already receive 4.7X more partner funding per watershed than their more affluent counterparts.

Analysis of data obtained via FOIA request

Myth Ignores Other Factors, Frequently Leaps to Wrong Conclusions

Like much of political discourse these days, the myth focuses on a narrow sliver of truth, ignores other factors, and frequently leaps to the wrong conclusions.

An analysis of Harris County Flood Control District data going back to the start of this century shows how far off the myth can be.

There are dozens of different ways to slice and dice the data. I’ve looked at most of them and validated “dollars invested” with aerial photography.

Today, I focus on partner grants because they represent such a huge percentage of the flood-bond budget and because there is so much misinformation floating around about them.

And I will look at partner funding from the standpoint of outcomes, not just processes (as in the myth).

Methodology for Analysis

For this analysis I obtained Harris County Flood Control District spending data between 1/1/2000 and 9/31/2021 via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. I requested the data by watershed, decade, pre-/Post Harvey, source of funding (local vs. partner), and type of activity (i.e., engineering, right-of-way acquisition, construction and more). I cross-referenced this with other data such as flood-damaged structures, population, population density, and percentage of low-to-moderate income (LMI) residents.

When considering grants, the percentage of LMI residents in a watershed takes on special significance. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants often require high percentages of LMI residents in the area under consideration.

In the charts below, you will see references to watersheds with LMI populations above and below 50%. Above 50% means more than half the residents in the watershed have an income LESS THAN the average for the region. Below 50% means more than half the residents earn more than the regional average.

Harris County has 23 watersheds. Eight have LMI percentages above 50% (less affluent). Fifteen have LMI percentages below 50% (more affluent).

When reviewing the charts below, pay particular attention to the italicized words: Total, Partner, and On Average. They represent three different ways to look at the same question: Do housing values disadvantage an area when applying for grants?

For this analysis, I focused only on the long term, since decisions on more than a billion dollars in flood-bond grants are still outstanding.

FOIA Analysis Contradicts the Popular Myth

One of the first things you notice when you look at watersheds above and below 50% LMI, is that the eight least affluent watersheds have gotten more than 60% of all dollars actually spent on flood mitigation since 2000.

Less affluent watersheds, despite being half as numerous, received 60% of all dollars since 2000.

Because the allegation was that partnership grants favored affluent areas, I then analyzed whether partner dollars went mostly to affluent or less-affluent watersheds. The answer is less affluent…overwhelmingly.

More than 70% of all partner dollars in the last 22 years went to the eight less-affluent watersheds.

The last observation by itself is telling. But because of the widely different number of watersheds in each group, I also wanted to calculate the average partner dollars per watershed in each group. This blows the “rich neighborhoods get all the grants” argument to pieces. Less affluent watersheds got, on average, 4.7X more.

Dividing the total partner dollars by the number of watersheds in each group shows that less affluent watersheds average 4.7X more than affluent ones.

This busts the myth. But digging even deeper into the data reveals two things: wide variation between sources of funding and within LMI groupings.

USACE Funding Skews Partner Totals

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) accounts for much of the partner funding. USACE has provided significant funding for projects in the Sims, Brays, White Oak, Hunting, and Greens Bayou watersheds. The Clear Creek watershed will also soon see work on a new USACE project. USACE has completed its planning process and proved positive benefits to national economic development. That made projects worthy of Federal investment. 

Halls Bayou: Digging Deeper

The Halls Bayou watershed also went through the USACE planning process, but the results did not show enough flood-damage-reduction benefits to outweigh the costs of the proposed projects. Thus, the Halls Bayou watershed currently has no USACE-funded projects.

Despite that, Halls has received more partner funding than 16 other watersheds since 2000. Only two watersheds in the affluent group of 15 received more partner funding. See the table below.

Total and partner spending by watershed since 2000 arranged in order of highest to lowest LMI percentages.

USACE also evaluated the more affluent Buffalo Bayou; results showed that costs outweighed the flood-damage-reduction benefits there.

Despite Halls having the highest percentage of LMI residents in Harris County, Halls has received more total funding and 2.5X more partner funding than Buffalo Bayou in the more affluent group.

FEMA Considers More than Home Values, Not All Grants Come From FEMA

While it’s true that FEMA considers housing values as a factor in benefit/cost ratios, benefit/cost ratios (BCRs) also consider factors such as:

  • The number of structures damaged
  • Threats to infrastructure
  • Proximity to employment centers
  • Need for economic revitalization
  • Percentage of low-to-moderate income residents in an area
  • Number of structures that can be removed from the floodplain by a project.

And not all grants come from FEMA. For instance:

So don’t settle for soundbites. They often mislead.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/30/2021

1584 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TWDB To Vote on Accepting $63.6 million in FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants

In its October 7, 2021, board meeting, Texas Water Development Board members will vote on whether to accept $63.6 million in FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants. The federal funding comes with some strings attached: a $10.23 million local match.

For this round of funding, the TWDB selected 19 sub-applications from local government entities. After screening, FEMA eliminated 6 and identified 13 “for further review.”

Here’s a summary from the TWDB of what they will vote on.

From TWDB Agenda for October 7, 2021

What are Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants?

FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program provides competitive grants to local governments for projects that reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA chooses recipients in part based on cost-effectiveness (benefit/cost ratio).

Often, local governments, such as cities or counties, bundle individual applications as MoCo did to buy out Tammy and Ronnie Gunnel’s home and dozens of others as we saw in yesterday’s post. That home flooded 13 times in 11 years and cost NFIP at least three quarters of a million dollars.

In a sense, most of these grants are designed to cut FEMA’s losses.

Summary of Each Local Application

Attachment B to the agenda gives a rundown on each of the projects under consideration. See below.

Harris County Drainage Project in Bear Creek Village

Bear Creek Village is located on the west side of the Addicks reservoir near Highway 6. This is an $11.3 million project of which the federal government would pay $8.5 million.

The Harris County project would mitigate 1,421 structures. The current storm sewer system is designed for a 3-year event and is inadequate to collect and drain extreme event runoff. The proposed drainage improvements are intended to provide an additional flow path, so that excess storm water is contained within street right-of-way to an outfall. The project will incorporate a combination of channel construction, street regrading, and enhancement of outfalls. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.09.

Harris County Flood Control District Single-Family Home Acquisitions

Total cost = $16.7 million with federal government paying $14.7 million.

Harris County Flood District seeks to mitigate 61 structures: 23 Severe Repetitive Loss structures, 17 Repetitive Loss structures, and 21 at risk of continual future flooding. HCFCD would acquire and demolish structures, then convert the land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.09.

Harris County Flood Control District Commercial Acquisition

This is a $3.7 million buyout with the federal government picking up the whole tab.

Harris County Flood Control District wants to buy out a hotel on the east freeway with a severe repetitive loss history. HCFCD would demolish the property and convert the land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.84. The grant application notes that since 1979, FEMA has paid out $8 million in NFIP claims on this property.

City of Houston Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $1.5 million (all paid by federal government) to elevate 5 severe-repetitive-loss homes ($300,000 each). All would be elevated at least 2 feet above the 500-year floodplain. That would hopefully reduce or eliminate future NFIP claims. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.1.

Jersey Village Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $4.9 million with federal government covering $400,000.

Jersey Village seeks elevate 16 structures: 10 are Severe Repetitive Loss, five Repetitive Loss and one at risk of continual future flooding. Elevation will raise structures one-foot above Base Flood Elevation per the City’s freeboard requirements. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.32.

Montgomery County Single-Family-Home Acquisition and Demolition

Total Cost = $12.6 million with federal share of $12.4 million.

Montgomery County seeks to mitigate 40 flood prone structures (31 Severe Repetitive Loss and 9 Repetitive Loss structures) by acquisition, demolition, and the conversion of land to open green space. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.36.

Tammy Gunnels’ Home in Porter is an example of a Severe Repetitive Loss Home. It flooded like this 13 times in 11 years and was bought out yesterday as part of another Montgomery County grant. Before the buyout, it cost FEMA more than 3 times its fair market value and would have continued flooding had nothing been done.
Pearland Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $500,000, all covered by federal government.

The City of Pearland seeks to mitigate two Severe Repetitive Loss structures by elevation one-foot above the Base Flood Elevation per the City’s freeboard requirements. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 1.08.

Taylor Lake Village Single-Family-Home Elevation Project

Total Cost $2.77 million with federal government covering $2.75 million.

Taylor Lake Village wants to elevate eight Severe Repetitive Loss structures and one Repetitive Loss structure one foot above the 100-year flood level. The project has a positive Benefit-Cost Ratio of 3.1.

In each of the projects above, the owners have all voluntarily committed to the elevation or demolition of the structures.

Recommendation of TWDB Staff

The Executive Administrator of the TWDB recommends that his board approve all these grants. This program meets the agency’s objectives of providing financial assistance to communities to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk of flood damage and to become more flood resilient.

Meeting Details

The Board meeting will be held on Thursday, October 7, at 9:30 a.m. via GoToWebinar  If you wish to address the Board, please fill out the visitor registration form and send it to Cheryl.Arredondo@twdb.texas.gov no later than 8:00 a.m. on October 7. For more information, please visit the TWDB’s website.

Posted By Bob Rehak on October 7, 2021

1495 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

Improved TexasFlood.org Website Shows Spread of Floodwaters and Inundated Buildings by Gage Height

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has reorganized the sea of flood-related information and redesigned the TexasFlood.org website to provide a more user-friendly resource for Texans who want to increase their flood awareness and preparedness.

Given the deadly nature of flood events and the rapid timeframe in which they can occur, remaining flood-ready is essential.

One Feature Shows Flood Spread and Inundated Buildings by Gage Height

TexasFlood.org provides fundamental information on emergency preparation for and recovery from flood events, as well as web tools to better understand flood risk, in a format that is easy to access and easy to understand.

One of the most useful new features is an interactive map that shows the spread of floodwaters based on the gage height.

Select a gage and a height and see instantly how far the floodwaters will spread. This shows spread based on the USGS Gage at FM1485 and the East fork.

I selected the height of the highest gage reading during the May floods this year at FM1485 and the East Fork. Then I zoomed in and found that 36 structures were in danger of being inundated. You can even see their locations!

Information like this is not only useful when considering purchasing a building, but also when considering whether to evacuate.

Other Useful Features

TexasFlood.org also features resources and tools that allow users to:

  • Review lake levels and river heights
  • Check current precipitation totals and weather conditions
  • Evaluate potential flood risk
  • See the impacts of different hypothetical flooding scenarios
  • Identify and connect with their local floodplain administrator
  • Learn the primary types of flooding and basics of flood insurance

The website highlights the reasons why emergency preparedness is vital to proper flood preparedness, including the importance of floodproofing and awareness of second-order damages after a flood event.

One-Stop Information Shop

The TWDB has gathered important information from other local, state, and federal entities to provide the most relevant information for Texans in one convenient online location. Hurricane season runs through November 30 each year. And historically speaking, 80% of the storms for this year are still in front of us. Just today, the National Hurricane Center highlighted another area of concern in the Atlantic, bringing the active total to three.

So TWDB encourages all Texans to check out the revamped TexasFlood.org. Learn how to pack a flood kit, download resources to prepare family, review individual flood risk, plan an evacuation route, and more.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/7/2021 based on a press release by TWDB

1439 Days since Hurricane Harvey

TWDB Approves $10.1 Million to Widen, Deepen Taylor Gully

At its first May board meeting this morning, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved a $10.1 million loan to the City of Houston to widen and deepen Taylor Gully.

Removing 400 Homes from Harm’s Way

The project should help alleviate flooding in Kingwood subdivisions such as Elm Grove, North Kingwood Forest, Mills Branch and Woodstream Forest. Residents in each village experienced disastrous flooding, not once, but twice in 2019. Widening and deepening the gully will increase its conveyance and take more than 400 homes out of harm’s way.

Connected Issues

However, the increased conveyance could also create the need for more more detention capacity to reduce the risk of flooding elsewhere.

This graph of Brays Bayou during the last century shows how runoff accelerates with development. Instead of floodwaters being stored in wetlands and forests, storm drains rush the water to the bayou. That results in higher, faster rises during storms.

Rapid upstream development has put pressure that never existed before on downstream homes. That development decreases the time of accumulation for floodwaters. Without more detention ponds to hold some water back, widening, deepening Taylor Gully could solve a problem in one place and create a problem in another. It could result in faster, higher flood peaks downstream.

Woodridge Village Could Be Part of Taylor Gully Solution

The logical place to put the extra floodwater detention would be on the Woodridge Village property that Harris County just acquired from Perry Homes. Currently, the property is about 40% short of the detention pond capacity needed to absorb a 100-year rainfall under new Atlas-14 requirements. And it has more than 170 acres available to meet that need.

Woodridge Village and headwaters of Taylor Gully (upper left) as they existed in January of 2020

The City loan which will be matched by money from the Harris County Flood Bond and, hopefully the federal government, can be used to address both conveyance and detention issues.

Delicate Dance Between Political, Project Leaders

Thanks to the TWDB, the bulk of construction money is now committed to the project through the City of Houston. That means the lead partner on this project, HCFCD, can tell its engineering contractor to accelerate planning.

Development of such projects is often like a dance between political and project leadership. Neither side can get out of step with the other for long.

At this hour, many details have yet to be worked out on the engineering and cost estimating side. But some of the political and funding clouds are parting enough to see a clear path to completion. However, one thing is perfectly clear.

As watersheds develop, it’s important to set aside room for detention pond capacity. Once a watershed is fully developed, homes and businesses must be bought out to create those ponds.

The buyouts increase the time and cost of projects exponentially.

For the minutes of today’s TWDB board meeting, click here and view Item #6.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/6/2021

1346 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 595 since Imelda