Living in a Special Flood Hazard Area

Public Comment through March 5 on proposed changes to City floodplain regulations

And the Flood Czar’s Committee makes a Final Report

Feb. 19, 2018

The public has until March 5 to comment on proposed changes to Chapter 19, the section of the city code that regulates building in floodplains defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These are the so-called 100-year and 500-year flood hazard areas that few people seem to understand, including members of the Houston City Council who met last Monday to hear about the proposed changes.

Actually there was a lot city council members didn’t seem to understand, including who was on the Flood Czar’s Drainage and Redevelopment Committee, how long they had been meeting, and what they were talking about. The Flood Czar himself, Steve Costello, officially known as the Chief Resilience Officer, addressed members of the Transportation, Technology, and Infrastructure committee and the Regulation and Neighborhood Affairs committee. Remarkably, Costello appears untarnished by the Houston Chronicle report that he and his engineering company helped develop plans for subdivisions behind the reservoir of Barker dam that they had to know would flood.

The city’s director of Public Works and Engineering also addressed the council members and made a presentation about the proposed changes. Carol Ellinger Haddock was appointed as director last month after serving as acting director since July 2017. The previous director had served about two months. Other administrative positions remain unfilled.

City council members angrily objected to the brief period for public comment on the changes proposed by Haddock. The draft changes already had been reviewed for comment by developers and builders. The public comment period, initially set to end on Feb. 19, has been extended to March 5.

Read the rest of this post.

Proposed changes to City of Houston floodplain ordinance known as Chapter 19. Image COH.

SBB On the Radio

Understanding Flooding and Our Bayous

Hot News: Save Buffalo Bayou and Corps of Engineers Agree About Something

Feb. 6, 2018

Save Buffalo Bayou was on KPFT’s Open Journal on Monday evening. We had a lively discussion with hosts Duane Bradley and Sherri McGinty, who asked a lot of good questions about what Save Buffalo Bayou is doing now and how we are working to focus flood mitigation efforts on stopping stormwater before it enters our streams. Flooding begins on the land. Digging up and widening our bayous is outdated, costly, and only causes more flooding. Amazing development: Save Buffalo Bayou supports a Corps of Engineers project to study our regional Houston watershed, beginning with where raindrops fall and how we can slow them down to reduce our flooding. The faster the runoff from our homes, businesses, streets, parking lots and sidewalks, the higher peak flow in our natural drainage systems. Slow the flow. Citizens need to support this and contact their representatives. The project needs funding and the Corps by law cannot lobby. So who’s going to lobby?

Listen to this 19-minute radio discussion on 90.1



Buyouts: Best Practices for the Best Flood Response

Experts Gather in Houston for Public Discussion, Tuesday, Feb. 6


Feb. 5, 2018

Interested in how buying out hopelessly flood-prone buildings can help with our flooding problem?

Experts on this issue from across the country will be gathering in Houston tomorrow, Tuesday, Feb. 6, for a public discussion titled “Buyout Best Practices in the Wake of Harvey.”

The free public program is sponsored by the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium. The conference is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. at the BioScience Research Collaborative, 6500 Main Street in Houston. Though free, registration is required. Register here.

A house that flooded during Harvey in a neighborhood on Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Landrum Wise, Sept. 2017

According to a statement from the nonprofit Consortium, “there is a broader opportunity for buyouts to be a part of a comprehensive multi-purpose strategy for assuring more resilient and livable neighborhoods, through coordination with flood control infrastructure, parks, and housing.”

The discussion topics will include:

  • How to work with (and around) federal requirements
  • How to coordinate with different agencies
  • How to utilize buyouts as part of an overall neighborhood strategy
  • How to address housing issues
  • How to build community support

Experts on the panel are:

  • Dave Canaan, Mecklenburg County
  • Tom Chapman, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District
  • Molly O’Toole, PE, Molly O’Toole & Associates, LTD.
  • Gavin Smith, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Rachel Wider, New York State Homes and Community Renewal



Letter to the Editor: Corps Study of Rainfall and Drainage is Necessary

To Fix Our Problem We Need to Understand What It Is

Letter to the Editor published in the Houston Chronicle, Feb. 1, 2018

Photo by Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle staff


Flood patterns

Regarding “Enough flood studies!” (Page A12, Jan. 26), John Moody, chairman of the West Houston Association, wrote a letter complaining about a Corps of Engineers proposal to study flooding in the region.

It should be noted that the third reservoir in the Corps’ original 1940 plan was on White Oak Bayou, not Cypress Creek, as described by Moody. That nearly 80-year-old plan included a levee running next to Cypress Creek. A great deal has changed in 80 years.

The Corps’ proposal to study the overall pattern of rainfall and drainage in the region is an excellent and necessary project if we are to understand our problem, prioritize our solutions and get the most flood reduction benefit for our tax dollars. The study will analyze the impact of impervious surfaces – such as roofs, roads and driveways – and the usefulness of widespread individual actions to hold back and soak in rainwater. The Corps conducted such a study in New Orleans after Katrina.

The idea, proposed by the West Houston Association, of channelizing Buffalo Bayou to accommodate a massive, pre-development flow of 15,000 cubic feet per second is an absurd pipe dream. A flow above 4,100 cfs already floods property on the bayou. The executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District, Russ Poppe, has pointed out that merely purchasing the right-of-way on the banks would be prohibitively expensive, not to mention the cost of digging out the channel, mitigating the environmental damage to the waterway, and then continuously repairing the banks and dredging the sediment that will naturally fill in the artificially deepened river. Oh, then there’s the damage that would be caused by the massive flooding downstream from such a fast, powerful flow.

Focusing on bigger channels, faster flows and big engineering projects is outdated and counterproductive. Modern flood risk management emphasizes slowing the flow, spreading out and soaking in rainwater before it floods a stream – and staying out of the way.

The West Houston Association wants to develop more of west Houston, including the land surrounding Cypress Creek. That means adding more runoff to Cypress Creek and to our reservoirs on Buffalo Bayou. It means moving people into harm’s way.

Susan Chadwick, executive director, Save Buffalo Bayou

Read this letter in the Houston Chronicle.