The Flood Czar’s Committee

Who Are They and What Are They Doing?

Dec. 29, 2017

(Update 1.17.18: The meeting of the Redevelopment and Drainage Task Force scheduled for today, Jan. 17, has been cancelled due to weather. The meeting of the Houston-Galveston Area Council Regional Flood Management Council also scheduled for today also has been cancelled.)

(Update 1.2.18: Link to 2017 roster of the members of the Harris County Flood Control District Task Force has been fixed.)

 

The flood czar for the City of Houston now has someone to answer his phone. “This is Sallie,” she says. He also has a committee. This committee has met six times already.

Who is on this committee and what are they doing?

There are 48 members of the committee, including the flood czar himself, Steve Costello, whose technical title is chief resilience officer. The committee members were selected by Costello. Costello, a civil engineer, former city council member, and former mayoral candidate, was appointed to his position by Mayor Sylvester Turner after the Tax Day flood of 2016.

Most recently Costello was in the news when the Chronicle reported on Dec. 20 that his engineering firm, Costello Inc., engineered the development of residential subdivisions in the flood pools behind Barker and Addicks dams – even after finding, in a report commissioned by Harris County, that thousands of those homes were at risk of flooding from the reservoirs.

A representative of another engineering firm involved in the development of homes in the Barker reservoir flood pool is also on Costello’s task force. Lee Lennard is president and chief executive officer of that firm, Brown and Gay, now BGE.

The official name of Costello’s committee is the Redevelopment and Drainage Task Force. Its task, according to an email from Sallie Alcorn, who now answers the flood czar’s phone in his office at city hall, is:

“To ensure the City of Houston’s design standards are conducive to responsible development which does not negatively impact drainage, and

“To empower the City of Houston to effectively and consistently apply and enforce drainage-related development rules.”

Looking downstream at downtown Houston from the Shepherd footbridge over Buffalo Bayou. Photo on Aug. 28, 2017 by Jim Olive

But What They Are Really Talking About?

Task force discussions have focused on three topics: detention, fill, and drainage right-of-way, according to a member of the task force, which is weighted towards developers and real estate interests. (See below.) The results of these discussions are to be forwarded as recommendations to the City administration and to the city Legal Department.

Read the rest of this post.

In Harvey’s wake, Dutch have much to teach Houston

Cooperating with Nature, Making Room for the River

By Tony Freemantle, the Houston Chronicle

Dec. 22, 2017

The philosophy that has defined water management in the Netherlands for the last 30 years or so is markedly different from the “brute force” protection paradigm that ruled after the 1953 flood. This softer approach is reflected in the language that is now used when the Dutch talk about flood protection — spatial planning, resiliency, Building with Nature, Room for the River, Living With Water.

In 1993 and 1995, the threat of river flooding forced the mandatory evacuation of 250,000 residents. This, and the collective acceptance that global climate change will mean increased river flows and an ongoing threat in the future, prompted the government to embark on a program dubbed Room for the River, a 20-year project that would cost $2.73 billion.

“With Room for the River, I think the interesting thing is that after, say, 800 years of only strengthening and hiking dikes as the solution, we said maybe it’s wiser to cooperate with nature,” said Hans Brouwer, a senior rivers expert with the Room for the River program.

Read the rest of this report in the Houston Chronicle.

See also our own reporting on Room for the River.

Buffalo Bayou looking upstream from a high bank in Memorial Park. Photo by Jim Olive on Oct. 13, 2017

‘The bayou’s alive’: ignoring it could kill Houston

 By Tom Dart in Houston, The Guardian, UK

Dec. 20, 2017

Buffalo bayou’s waters flow east for more than 50 miles from fast-vanishing western prairieland, through Houston’s centre and out to its heavily industrial ship channel.

Long before the city’s tangle of freeways were built, the bayou’s existence helped draw settlers in the 19th century. But after thousands of homes flooded this August as Hurricane Harvey ravaged the city, proximity to water is increasingly seen as a liability.

….

“Previous generations understood that you came here to make money and that was it,” says Susan Chadwick, executive director of Save Buffalo Bayou, a local advocacy group.

The notion that Houston could be pretty as well as practical came relatively recently to a city where a climate-controlled tunnel system links 95 blocks so that office workers need not venture outside. “People don’t come here for the nature experience – never did. It was not a hospitable place. It was a place you’d pave over,” she says.

Read the rest of this story in The Guardian.