Tag Archive for: White Oak Bayou

San Jacinto Flood Planning Group Releases Draft Recommendations

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

The draft recommendations include:

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

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

Halls Bayou

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

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

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

White Oak Bayou

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

Greens Bayou

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

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

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

San Jacinto River

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

Caney Creek

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

East Fork

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

Lake Creek

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

Peach Creek

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

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

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

West Fork

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

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

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

Is It Enough?

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Bob Rehak on 8/8/22

1805 Days since Hurricane Harvey

White Oak Bayou: What A Half Billion Dollars Looks Like

Since 2000, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) and its partners have spent more than a half billion dollars to reduce flooding in the White Oak Bayou watershed. And they aren’t done yet. Before the flood bond is complete, they will have spent at least $575 million to create detention basins, widen channels and make other improvements.

On 7/19/2022, I flew up White Oak Bayou in a helicopter with Bill Calligari and Ken Williams, two fellow members from the Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force. Our goal: to learn what the money bought.

This is the second of four posts. The first covered Greens Bayou. The next two will cover Hunting and Halls Bayous.

White Oak Bayou by the Numbers

White Oak Bayou is Harris County’s sixth largest watershed but its third most populous. 51% of its residents qualify as Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI). It’s our fourth most densely populated watershed (people/square mile). Not surprisingly it had the third most damage in 5 major storms since 2000 (Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey, Imelda). The storms damaged 25,739 structures. Look at some of the photos below of structures crowding the bayou and you will understand why.

White Oak Bayou from the Air

White Oak Bayou flows southeast from its headwaters northwest of FM 1960 to its confluence with Buffalo Bayou near downtown Houston. The watershed comprises 111 square miles, with 146 miles of open streams. They include:

  • White Oak Bayou
  • Little White Oak Bayou
  • Brickhouse Gully
  • Cole Creek
  • Vogel Creek

Our helicopter started the White Oak leg of our flight near the Heights north of downtown. From there, we flew upstream. This is what the Heights looks like from the air – a study in population density which correlates highly with flood damage.

White Oak drains most of the Heights. Note the density of development. In 2010, the watershed census was 433,250. But by 2020, it had increased to 464,933.

The lower section of the bayou needs repairs according to HCFCD. The Army Corps straightened, widened and partially concreted lower White Oak upstream approximately to West Tidwell Road between 1964 and 1971. See below.

Looking south toward downtown from over Ella and TC Jester. Most of this segment of the bayou was finished years ago and requires only repairs now.
Looking W, upstream from over West 34th and TC Jester.

HCFCD now maintains White Oak and has observed a number of locations where concrete is approaching the end of its useful life.

Looking upstream from over Garapan Street just north of Tidwell at bank and concrete repairs. (Arbor Oaks buyout area is in upper right. See end of post.)

16 Other Projects in Works

HCFCD currently lists 16 other projects in the White Oak watershed.

Some projects are still being studied. Some are complete or nearly so. As of June 8, 2022, HCFCD was working out a contractor issue on the largest project, which will delay the originally scheduled completion this summer.

Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project

The largest project is the White Oak Bayou Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project. This $124 million project will substantially reduce flooding risks along White Oak Bayou. It started in 1998 in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with the Flood Control District designated as the lead. The two segments of the project are fully funded to completion.

Upstream segment of Federal Project.

Limits of downstream segment of Federal Project

They include:

  • Construction of approximately 15.4 miles of channel conveyance improvements along the bayou from FM 1960 to Cole Creek near West Tidwell in the two segments above.
  • Excavation of six stormwater detention basins to hold almost one billion gallons of stormwater. That’s enough to hold a foot of rain falling across almost 5 square miles.
  • Construction of the Jersey Village Bypass Channel
Stretch of improvements upstream from Alabonson Road.

Upon completion, HCFCD estimates that most parts of the project area will see water surface elevation reductions of 0.1 to 1.8 feet for a 1 percent annual chance (100-year) flooding event.

Looking S. White Oak Bayou Detention Basin near West Little York and Hollister.
Looking S toward White Oak Bayou near Fairbanks North Houston Rd. Basin completed in 2021
A smaller detention basin opposite the one above skirts the south side of White Oak at Fairbanks North Houston (bottom right).
Channel improvements and greenbelt trail still under construction.
Looking west at White Oak where it crosses under Beltway 8. Note bridge improvements and vegetated detention ponds on left on both sides of bayou.

Many smaller detention ponds like those above now line both sides of the bayou and its tributaries from upstream to down.

Arbor Oaks Subdivision Buyout

Since 2003, HCFCD has bought out more than 200 homes in the Arbor Oaks subdivision. It is still buying more on either side of Vogel Creek to build a 431 acre-foot stormwater detention basin and restore the floodplain. That would hold a foot of rain falling over 2/3rds of a square mile.

Acquisition costs in such densely populated neighborhoods can easily exceed construction costs.

This part of the White Oak story dramatizes how costly, difficult and time-consuming it can be to buy out and mitigate areas built in floodplains.

Note the large areas with streets marked, but few or no homes on them. They were bought out and this area will become another large detention basin. Image courtesy of Apple Maps.

Here’s what part of it looks like from a few hundred feet up.

Lower part of Arbor Oaks area on bottom left. Bridge is on West Little York. Looking SE toward downtown.
Looking SE at floodplain south of Little York near Arbor Oaks. Note aging concrete along White Oak Bayou on right.

Many Other Projects

There are so many other projects underway on White Oak that I scarcely have room to mention them. See my previous post that discusses conversion of the Inwood Golf Course to a series of 12 connected detention ponds. It will hold 1200 acre feet. That’s a foot of rain falling over 2 square miles.

Then there’s the Woodland Trails Detention project downstream from Fairbanks N. Houston Road. It’s budgeted at $63.5 million. But it’s still in right-of-way acquisition.

And then there’s the North Canal near downtown. HCFCD and the City of Houston are working to finalize an interlocal agreement. Grant funding calls for completion of the first phase of the project by May 2023.

Finally, don’t forget the detention basins and channel conveyance improvements on tributaries, such as Little White Oak Bayou and Brickhouse Gully.

They all add up to more than a half billion dollars…and counting! Water needs somewhere to go during a storm. If we don’t leave a floodplain for floodwaters to safely expand, they will wind up in peoples’ living rooms.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 7/20/2022

1786 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Where Flood-Bond Spending Is Going, When New Flood Maps Will Be Released

On the Harris County Commissioner’s Court agenda for today are two Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) “transmittals.” One will update commissioners on flood-bond spending to date. The other will update commissioners on the progress of new flood maps (the MAAPnext program). They are items 269 and 270 on today’s agenda.

Transmittals are reports by departments. Commissioners don’t usually discuss them unless one of the commissioners wishes to make comments for some reason. So, I’m calling them to your attention here.

Flood-Mitigation Spending Through Third Quarter Reaches $865 Million

About half of the $865 million spent on flood mitigation since voters passed the bond in 2018 has come from bond funds. The rest has come from grants and local partnerships. See pie chart below on left.

The left pie chart underscores the importance of partnership funding.

The map below shows where flood-bond spending has occurred.

Flood-mitigation spending by watershed since approval of flood-bond in 2018.

The winner in the $weep$take$: HCFCD spent almost $154 million on Brays Bayou.

Other leading watersheds (rounded to nearest million) in flood-bond spending included:

  • $81 million in Addicks Reservoir
  • $76 million on Greens Bayou
  • $76 million on Cypress Creek
  • $50 million on Little Cypress Creek
  • $46 million on White Oak Bayou
  • $32 million on Clear Creek

With a few exceptions, this spending reflects the influence of the Harris County Flood-Bond Equity Prioritization Framework implemented in 2019. That framework gives highest priority to low- to middle-income watersheds with a high social-vulnerability index. Thus, tiny Halls Bayou has received more assistance than the largest watershed in the county – the San Jacinto River. And Brays Bayou has received almost 11 times more assistance than Buffalo Bayou.

Two notable exceptions are:

  • Vince Bayou which is almost totally inside the City of Pasadena and is therefore primarily Pasadena’s responsibility.
  • Little Cypress Creek which is part of HCFCD’s experimental Frontier Program. The Frontier Program aims to prevent future flooding by buying up land on the cheap before it’s developed. HCFCD then sells detention basin capacity to developers to help make back its investment.

Other Insights Gained from Report

  • Most projects are ahead of schedule and on budget. Good news!
  • More than half of buyouts have been completed and enough funding apparently remains to complete the rest.
  • Progress continues on the $124 million FEDERAL Flood Damage Reduction project on White Oak Bayou, where six stormwater detention basins will hold almost a billion gallons of stormwater. That’s equivalent to about a foot of stormwater falling over almost 5 square miles.
  • No actual projects in the Kingwood Area have begun construction yet. However, the Excavation and Removal Project on Woodridge Village could soon begin.

Additional maps in the full report show:

  • Dollars funded to date by watershed (Note, for instance, another $47 million in funding already committed to Brays).
  • Active Maintenance projects
  • Active Capital projects

Also, a massive GANNT chart shows the stages of every project in every watershed and county-wide projects.

Check out the full report here.

Controversy over Previous Version of Report

An earlier version of this report generated some controversy. People in some watersheds didn’t believe the reported expenditures. Members of the Northeast Action Collective questioned whether any projects had started in their watersheds. They demanded immediate cancellation of projects in Kingwood and transfer of Kingwood’s funds, so that projects in Halls and Greens Bayou could start immediately.

That’s, in part, why I wrote “How to Find and Verify Flood-Related Information: Part I.” Flood-mitigation projects are hard to spot from the ground. Construction almost always happens out of sight behind tall fences and dense tree lines. After construction, the projects are often disguised as parks. For those who doubt, I recommend confirming the existence of projects from the air.

I haven’t confirmed every project in the county, but I have spot-checked many. And I have yet to find discrepancies between what HCFCD reports and what I can see from the air.

C-25, a Halls Bayou Detention pond now under construction by HCFCD
C-25, a Halls Bayou Detention pond now under construction by HCFCD. The bayou runs through the trees in the foreground.
flood detention basin
New basin at Hopper and US59 on a tributary of Halls Bayou.
Lauder Detention Basin on Greens Bayou as of 10/12/2021
Lauder Detention Basin on Greens Bayou as of 10/12/2021. Phase One of a two-phase project is nearly complete.
Cutten Road detention basin on Greens Bayou continues its relentless expansion.
Phase 2 Aldine Westfield Basin
Phase 1 of the Greens Bayou Aldine-Westfield Basin on left is complete. Phase 2 on right is now beginning.

For more information that includes watershed spending data before the flood-bond, check out the funding page.

MAAPnext Effort About to Be Turned Over to FEMA

Harris County Flood Control (HCFCD) estimates it has completed 86% of its part of the flood-map updates. HCFCD will deliver drafts of the new maps to FEMA in January for review and kick off a campaign of public meetings at the same time. The public will see draft maps in February. A public comment period of 90 days will follow. And FEMA hopes to release preliminary flood insurance insurance rate maps by mid-year next year.

I have had a peek at the new maps and reports. And I must say, the effort should result in a dramatic leap forward in flood-risk understanding. Individualized reports will inform homeowners of their flood risks from a variety of different sources, including street flooding. The prototype of the website is very user friendly.

After receiving preliminary maps from HCFCD, it typically takes FEMA another 18-24 months to release final, official flood maps. That gives affected property owners time to comment and appeal. The process looks like this.

MAAPnext milestones as of the end of 2021.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/30/2021

1554 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Six Low-Income Watersheds Receive More Funding than 15 Higher Income Watersheds Combined

Third of an eight-part series on flood-mitigation funding in Harris County

Some people and their representatives in low-to-moderate-income (LMI) watersheds have complained that they get “no” flood-mitigation funding and that the money is all going to richer watersheds. Allegedly, that’s because home values are higher there and thus favor higher benefit/cost ratios (a sort of systemic racial discrimination). But is that true? Do higher home values in a neighborhood really translate into “projects funded”? No. The allegation ignores many other factors that enter into funding, such as damage and population density. Density is two to three times higher in low-income neighborhoods and that influences damage totals. When you look at funding outcomes as opposed to a sliver of the mitigation process, low-income neighborhoods get far more money. Here’s how it breaks down.

Where Money is Really Going

Recently, I obtained flood-mitigation funding data for every watershed in Harris County via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It sheds new light on this subject.

In addition to the quartile comparisons I did in earlier posts, I also compared the top quartile (six watersheds) to the rest with one exception in each group noted in previous posts and the footnote below.* The data showed that six watersheds with the highest percentages of LMI residents (meaning low income) have received 56.8% of HCFCD spending out of the 21 remaining watersheds since 2000.

Harris County Flood Control District data obtained via FOIA request.

A second pattern also clearly emerged from the data. Long before “equity” guidelines were put in place, HCFCD spending closely tracked flood damage. It still does. And the most damage occurred in lower-income watersheds.

In this post, I will examine both trends by looking at six watersheds with the highest percentages of LMI residents. They include Brays, Greens, Sims, Halls, Hunting and White Oak Bayous. 

As a group, they:

  • Comprise 30.9% of the square miles in the county
  • Received 56.8% of total spending – $1.52 billion of the $2.6 billion spent by HCFCD since 2000.

That’s more than 15 higher income watersheds combined.

Dollars Flow to Damage

But if you stopped there, you could conclude that these six watersheds were getting more than 2-3X their fair share of funding. However, also consider that they had 144,754 out of the 222,739 structures damaged in Harris County during Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day and Harvey floods.

One thing is certain: these six watersheds have not been at the “back of the bus.” They received more than $1.5 billion out of $2.6 billion invested by HCFCD since 2000. 

The data DISPROVES discrimination on an income or racial basis. Money is not going disproportionately to rich neighborhoods. Far from it. It’s going disproportionately to poor and minority neighborhoods. However, that is also where the most flood damage occurred. Let’s take a closer look at each of the six low-income watersheds.

Brays Bayou:
  • Received 19% of total spending since 2000, but represents just 6% of the county’s area.
  • Received more than half a billion dollars since 2000, the most of any watershed, and about one-fifth of all flood-mitigation spending in 23 watersheds in 21 years.
  • Received the second most funding since Harvey ($130,685,844.43).
  • Got 4 times the average and 7 times the median of flood-mitigation funding for all watersheds.

It certainly seems like an outsized injection of flood-mitigation funds. But the improvements also protect some major infrastructure and employment centers including the Texas Medical Center. See this photo essay taken from the air.

Also consider that Brays had the most damage in four major storms (Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, Harvey) – 32,194 structures flooded. 

Brays has the fifth highest percentage of low-to-moderate income residents (58%).

HCFCD construction is on-going in this watershed.

Greens Bayou:

Commissioners Ellis and Garcia often cite Greens Bayou as a “back-of-the-bus” watershed. They also say, that if the County doesn’t fix it, “we’ll have blood on our hands.” 

Greens received the 3rd most dollars since 2000 and the 2nd most since Harvey. That’s 11% and 14% of all HCFCD spending respectively during those two time periods. Only in Harris County politics can you call second place out of 23 “back of the bus.” 

But Greens also had the second most damage in four major storms (28,815 structures). 

Greens Bayou has the sixth highest percentage of LMI residents in the county (57%).

HCFCD construction is also on-going in this watershed.

Halls Bayou:

Mr. Ellis and Mr. Garcia also consider Halls Bayou funding to be “back of the bus.” It comprises only about 2.4% of the county but received almost 5% of total spending since 2000. It also received:

  • The fourth most funding per capita ($841.77)
  • The third most funding per square mile ($3,031,912)
  • The eighth most funding since 2000 ($128 million).

Residents still believe they received “nothing,” but I photographed eight large detention ponds recently completed or under construction. Four are right next to US 59.

Halls has the highest percentage of LMI residents (71%) in Harris County.

HCFCD construction is on-going in this watershed.

Sims Bayou:

Sims Bayou runs through the southern part of the county. It:

  • Ranks as the 8th largest watershed.
  • Received the 6th most funding since 2000 ($165,013,368)
  • Has the 7th largest population (310,537)
  • Has the 5th highest population density (3755 per sq. mi.)
  • Had the 6th most damage (18,122 structures)

Sounds proportional and it is. 

However, these calculations do not include $254 million, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent on Sims between 1990 and 2015 (by itself) for a major flood-reduction project. The Corps’ contribution to Sims Bayou alone was almost 10% of all HCFCD spending since 2000 ($2.68 billion).

If you add the Federal contribution to HCFCD’s funding, Sims would have ranked second on the list of flood-mitigation dollars received since 2000. Only Brays received more.

Sims has the third highest percentage of LMI residents (65%).

Hunting Bayou

Hunting Bayou is one of the county’s smaller watersheds. It comprises 31 square miles or 1.7% of the county’s land mass. That ranks it as the 19th largest bayou out of 23. And it has the 14th largest population (78,213). Yet, since 2000, it has:

  • Had the seventh most damage (15,728 structures)
  • Received the third most dollars per capita since 2000 ($952.18)
  • Received the fourth most dollars per square mile ($2,402,908)

Hunting Bayou has the second highest percentage of LMI residents (69%).

HCFCD construction is on-going in this watershed.

White Oak

White Oak Bayou is the sixth largest watershed in Harris County. Yet it received 13% of the flood-mitigation funding since 2000 – $349 million, the second highest total of any watershed. It also ranked second in dollars received per square mile – $3.14 million.

But also consider that it had the third highest number of damaged structures – 24,989 in Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day and Harvey floods combined.

51% of the residents in White Oak qualify as low-to-moderate income. 

HCFCD construction is on-going in this watershed.

Damage-to-Dollar Rankings

“Damaged structures” and funding received had the highest correlation of any relationship I tested. For math majors, the coefficient was .86. That’s high. A perfect correlation would be 1.0. For the less technically inclined, see the table below.

Contrary to the “rich-watersheds-get-all-the-money” narrative, flood-mitigation funding, data shows that HCFCD is putting the most money in the hardest hit watersheds.Dollars flow to damage.

Many projects in these lower income watersheds are still under construction or preparing for it. And major storms have not yet tested many recently constructed improvements. Regardless, their residents are safer than they otherwise would be. And they can take some comfort in knowing that the system is working for them, not against them. 

For more information, see: 

Posted by Bob Rehak, based on information compiled from a FOIA request and Federal Briefings

1394 days since Harvey 

*Omits Vince Bayou in low-income group because it is entirely within the City of Pasadena, which has responsibility for it. Includes White Oak Bayou instead. Also omits Little Cypress, which has a very small population and is an experiment by HCFCD in preventing future flooding.

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.