Tag Archive for: Worst First

Chronicle, ReduceFlooding endorse Mealer over Hidalgo

The Houston Chronicle has endorsed Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer for County Judge over incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo. I won’t recap the lengthy Chronicle article here; you should read it firsthand. But I will expand on it, especially vis-a-vis flood control, which the Chronicle touched only lightly.

Let me start by saying that after watching four year’s of Hidalgo’s missteps in flood mitigation, I support Mealer, too. It comes down to concerns about Hidalgo and the promise I see in Mealer. Let’s discuss Hidalgo first.

Hidalgo Slights Area With Worst Flooding

The person in the driver’s seat has a huge influence on where flood-mitigation money goes. And more than half of all flood-bond money spent to date has gone to Brays, Greens, White Oak, Halls, and Hunting Bayous. Those five have received more than $550 million from the flood bond through May. That’s more than half of all bond money. See below.

Flood Bond Spending through May 2022. Data obtained from HCFCD via a FOIA Request.

Here’s how that looks in a graph. Keep in mind that the San Jacinto watershed is the largest in the county.

The San Jacinto also had the highest flooding in the county during Harvey – more than 20 feet above flood stage.

worst first
Chart showing feet above flood stage at 33 gages on misc. bayous in Harris County during Harvey, including the 5 LMI watersheds listed above.

And as a result, the San Jacinto was among the most heavily damaged.

Flood-loss heat map during Harvey. From MAAPnext.org.

So, you would think this would get Judge Hidalgo’s attention. Instead, she brags about her equity prioritization framework. She claims it gives preference to the “worst first.” The only thing is, she doesn’t define “worst” the way most people would. She ignores severity of flooding and damaged structures.

Hidalgo’s Definition of Worst

Hidalgo’s formula measures Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) residents, the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index, and population in an area. But many of those densely populated neighborhoods are crowded with apartments. So …

People who live above ground level and don’t flood get prioritized over people who live at ground level and do flood.

But Hidalgo can’t even tell how many residents in a watershed live with different degrees of flood risk. So, Hidalgo’s “worst first” mantra is clever but misleading. It intends to deceive.

While rewarding her core constituents with mitigation projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the entire Lake Houston Area has only $2,000 of capital-improvement flood-bond construction projects underway.

Compare that to the half billion dollars you saw above. She’s proud of that disparity. Watch the video interview embedded in the Chronicle article.

Meltdown at Universal Services

Flood-control spending is just one of the county’s “disaster areas.” Consider the County’s IT department, Universal Services, which is in meltdown. The reason you see five-month-old data above is that the county has gone through a disastrous change in its IT systems.

The department has been dogged by incompetence since Hidalgo appointed Rick Noriega to take over. He has no IT background and has pushed out people who do. The managers of every group beneath him have turned over.

Employees complain Universal Services now hires new people for their political affiliation, not professional qualifications.

The incompetence is widespread, according to multiple sources. Things have gotten so bad that many qualified staff are burning out from having to shoulder more and more of the workload. And they are quitting.

As a result, accurate, timely information is rare. And yet, Hidalgo keeps bragging about “transparency.”

Lacking Leadership, Direction on $750 Million Flood-Mitigation Allocation

Universal Services is not alone. See the org chart below.

Changes under Hidalgo. Red X’s represent changes in leadership. Green boxes represent new departments.

The Community Services Department has had three different leadership changes under Hidalgo.

So whom did she choose to develop a plan for spending $750 million in Harvey flood-mitigation funds? Community Services, not Flood Control!

Community Services may be knowledgeable about disaster relief. That’s about helping individuals recover from past floods. But flood mitigation is about lessening the severity of future floods. One requires social workers; the other requires engineers, like they have in Harris County Flood Control.

The Texas General Land Office (GLO) administers those flood-mitigation funds for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The GLO signaled its intention to allocate $750 million to Harris County on August 23, 2021, but Community Services hasn’t even started compiling a list of potential projects yet.

They are still waiting on “direction from leadership,” according to an internal memo obtained by ReduceFlooding. In 14 months, Community Services has only defined a “process” for determining the list.

Community Services has, however, determined that it wants to spend almost a hundred million of the $750 million on planning and administrative costs.

From CSD Planning Meeting Presentation for the $750 million.

Meanwhile, H-GAC which covers a much larger area and includes many more governmental entities received notification of a $488 million allocation – also on 8/23/21. Yet H-GAC has already submitted its project list, received approval, and is working with sub-recipients to secure and validate bids.

Brain Drain Continues

Some of the departments shown above have been gutted. For instance, Engineering lost 4-5 layers of management. They don’t even have a disaster relief capability anymore.

Also, their “Fix Flooding First” program lost its leader and has reported no progress in months. Fix Flooding First was especially important to people on the periphery of the county. Its objective was to get neighboring areas that drain into Harris County to adopt minimum drainage standards.

What you see in the org chart above is the wholesale replacement of highly credentialed professionals by political cronies. And often, the cronies have no experience or qualifications.

Many managers under Hidalgo have described the environment as “chaotic.”

And then there’s Elections Administration. Hidalgo hired a political activist who had never run an election. She missed key deadlines and lost 10,000 votes. So, Hidalgo replaced her … just weeks before early voting starts for the upcoming election.

Management Mayhem Under Hidalgo

In my opinion, Hidalgo’s biggest problem is that she’s just a bad manager. She:

  • Doesn’t attract and retain top talent
  • Pushes out those who disagree
  • Hires people based on political affiliation, not qualifications
  • Doesn’t value experience and institutional knowledge
  • Blatantly discriminates against Republican-leaning precincts.

Hidalgo repeatedly says that she’s proud of what most would consider screw-ups.

Hidalgo never “owns” her problems. She just waves them away. In my opinion, another four years of Hidalgo would leave the county in disastrous and unrecoverable shape.

County spending is up. Crime is up. Taxes are up. And virtually all the flood-mitigation money promised to the Lake Houston Area has so far gone elsewhere.

About Alexandra del Moral Mealer

Mealer comes to the job with much more life and leadership experience than Hidalgo did. She has a way of confronting the truth head on.

You would expect that from a West-Point-educated Army Captain who commanded a bomb squad in Afghanistan. Mealer understands:

  • The necessity of accurate intel
  • That peoples’ lives and livelihoods depend on the decisions she makes.
Alex Mealer
Alex Mealer spent days touring the Lake Houston area to understand local flooding issues first hand. Hidalgo has not.

Mealer also has MBA and JD degrees from Harvard. She was a VP at Wells Fargo where she helped put together billion-dollar oil-and-gas deals before deciding to run for County Judge. In flooding as with law enforcement…

Mealer’s focus is making sure the county spends money wisely.

Straight Talk Vs. the Flood-Control Fairy Tale

Before this campaign, Mealer acquired a wealth of knowledge about how the county works. And she has surrounded herself with experts on various subjects.

The Chronicle described her as a data wonk. In my opinion, that’s what the county needs: someone grounded in reality. In one commissioner’s court meeting after another, Hidalgo, Garcia and Ellis, have spun a flood-control fairly tale.

It goes something like this. “Flood control has ignored poor neighborhoods. Rich ones like Kingwood get all the flood-mitigation money.” Why? They point to institutional racism!

If we had a judge who knew where her money was actually going, she could have challenged this myth. The reality is that LMI neighborhoods have consistently received the lion’s share of flood-mitigation funding going back decades.

By ignoring reality and blaming flooding on racism, Hidalgo has divided people. Worse, she has diverted attention AWAY FROM the REAL causes of flooding.

Laser Focus on Results that Benefit All

I have discussed flooding issues with Mealer a dozen times since the primary last spring. In my opinion, she is laser focused on accurately diagnosing problems. National and state issues over which she has no control do not distract Mealer.

Mealer is determined to provide a safe and secure community with well-maintained public infrastructure that support growth and opportunity for all.

Accurately diagnosing problems is the key to fixing them quickly and cost effectively.

I, for one, don’t plan to support Hidalgo. She continually says she needs more money when she doesn’t know where billions of flood-mitigation dollars have gone. Nor does she seem eager to deploy another $750 million already in her hip pocket. I’m voting for Mealer.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/16/22

1874 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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

How Do You Define “Worst First”?

In the rush to mitigate flooding after Hurricane Harvey, most people agreed that we should attack the areas with the worst flooding first. While almost everyone agreed with the “worst first” mantra, no one defined it – until after the flood bond passed.

Alternative Ways to Define “Worst First”

How would you define the “worst” flooding? The area with the:

  • Most flooded homes?
  • Most frequent flooding?
  • Most damage in dollar terms?
  • Largest population living in a 100-year floodplain?
  • Most low-to-moderate income residents who can least afford to fix their homes?
  • Largest minority populations?
  • Highest Social Vulnerability Index (SVI)?
  • Most damage to infrastructure (bridges, hospitals, grocery stores, schools, sewage treatment plants, etc.)?
  • Highest water above the tops of banks in a widespread storm like Harvey?

You could make valid arguments for each. And people have – almost from the day the flood bond passed – as they fought for more funding for their watersheds.

Least Considered Alternative

But the one I have heard talked about the least is the last one: highest water above tops of banks. Surely, the depth of a flood must count for something. It affects the ability to evacuate and rescue people. It puts lives at risk. Can destroy infrastructure. Spread sewage. Increase erosion. Even cause rivers to migrate. And sweep whole apartment buildings into rivers.

Yesterday, as I reviewed a doctoral thesis from a student at the Colorado School of Mines, I saw a graph that compared the height of the Harvey flood at the San Jacinto West Fork and US59 to other rivers/streams in the region. The West Fork flood towered above the others. So it made me wonder. How did the flood at that location compare to other streams and bayous in Harris County?

How to Determine “Feet Above Flood Stage”

There’s an easy way to find out. The Harris County Flood Warning System contains all the pertinent information.

  1. Go to the home page.
  2. Click on a gage.
  3. Click on the “For more information” link in the pop-up box.
  4. On the new page (dedicated to historical information about that gage), click on the stream elevation tab.
  5. Note the “flooding likely” elevation. This roughly coincides with the top of bank, though banks can vary slightly.
  6. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and note the elevation of the flood at that location during Hurricane Harvey.
  7. Subtract the “flooding likely” level from the Harvey level, to determine the feet above flood stage in Harvey.
  8. Click on the drop-down box with the gage information to compare the same stats for additional gages.

North Harris County Had Highest Floods

This morning, I compiled the data for 33 gages. The chart below shows what I found. Of the gages I sampled, the four highest floods all occurred in the upper San Jacinto River Basin: West Fork at 59, Spring Creek at 45, Cypress Creek at Cypresswood, and West Fork at 99. Also note the preponderance of high water along Greens Bayou at numerous locations.

Data compiled from Harris County Flood Warning System using the technique described above.

Limitations of Measure

“Feet above Flood Stage” by itself won’t tell you which area had the worst flooding during Harvey. It’s just one measure. You must consider other factors, too, such as those listed above.

But this chart sure makes it hard to ignore the fact that something is happening in north Harris County to exacerbate flooding. I’ve chronicled many of those things in the pages of this website: sand mining, development, rapid growth, impervious cover, loss of wetlands, lack of detention ponds, lax regulation/enforcement and more.

One must also acknowledge the role that topography plays in a chart, such as this. A narrow floodplain with steep banks can force water higher. A wider floodplain through a flat area allows water to spread out, lowering the height of floodwaters.

Variations in rainfall across an area can also skew results.

And finally, I didn’t click on every gage in the region. There are hundreds. You wouldn’t have been able to read the chart because the type would have been so small. So investigate on your own and let me know what you find.

Need for Active Discussion/Debate in Upcoming Elections

The Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force just voted to change the way “worst first” is calculated – again! The highest correlation between funding and all of the other factors I have evaluated is now with low-to-moderate-income population. It’s not with damaged structures, dollar damage, watershed size, or population density.

If you want to ensure that outlying areas get their fair share of flood mitigation dollars in the future, you need to demand them when you go to the polls this fall.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/29/2022

1673 Days since Hurricane Harvey

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