Little-Known Task Force “Doesn’t Do Anything”
Future is Cloudy
March 10, 2020
(Updated March 11, 2020, with recent findings from Rice University on the superiority of Buffalo Bayou during floods due to its relatively natural form and condition.)
The purpose of the Harris County Flood Control Task Force, founded almost fifty years ago, was to “advise commissioners’ court on how the county flood control district was doing their job—from the citizens’ point of view,” recalls Frank Smith, an original member of the group and founding board president of Save Buffalo Bayou.
That seems like a good idea. People all over Harris County and beyond have been struggling with increasing, devastating flooding. How do we assess whether the agency responsible for protecting us is doing a good job?
But now the future of the citizens’ Flood Control Task Force is cloudy. And in fact, it appears that the task force hasn’t fulfilled its mission in some time. The task force is not listed as a task force or board on the website of Harris County Commissioners Court.
No one we spoke to could recall the task force ever advising commissioners’ court on how well the Harris County Flood Control District was doing its job.
The role and mission of the task force is currently under review, said Gabe Baker, Community Engagement Specialist for County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who asked for the review.
However, it seems that the task force has been under review since at least 2017, when the task force itself formed a working group to “improve communication with the public about Task Force goals and objectives, increase membership recruiting to fill current vacancies, and develop strategies to improve Task Force operations,” according to minutes of the July 24, 2017, meeting.
One of the ideas discussed, according to the minutes, was “an annual briefing for Harris County Commissioners on the Task Force and its activities.”
“They don’t do anything,” said one longtime member.
History of a Good Question
The task force was created in 1973 by Harris County Commissioners Court in the wake of a long and successful battle to prevent the Flood Control District and the Corps of Engineers from stripping and straightening Buffalo Bayou and lining it with concrete as they had done to White Oak and Brays bayous and numerous other once-forested meandering streams. Many of those smaller channelized streams haven’t been lined with concrete, though they were usually lined with concrete riprap or even buried in concrete pipes.