Parks, Flooding: Update on Past and Upcoming Meetings

Corps of Engineers Releases Long-Awaited Regional Watershed Assessment

June 19, 2021

The wonderful thing about this virtual world is that you can go to meetings anywhere, anytime, stay cool and collected, and save time and gas.

And we have plenty of meetings of regional and local councils and committees to attend, plus a new federal watershed report to read.

Parks Board Public Meeting June 22

After some prodding, the Houston Parks Board has graciously revealed the time and date of its next public meeting, which is Tuesday, June 22. They’ve even announced it on the Intertubes! Previously a board spokesperson claimed that notices for its rare public meetings were posted on the bulletin board outside City Hall as required by law. The catch was you sorta had to know there was an upcoming meeting to go downtown to try to find the notice. We never saw one posted.

We and many others think the Houston Parks Board (along with the private conservancies that run some of our major public parks) should be more accountable, more transparent, and more representative of the public, which is why we are telling you about this. Also, they’ve done some damaging things to Buffalo Bayou.

Apparently the board also posted a notice online for the last meeting, which was Sept. 22, 2020. But even though we receive regular emails from the very nice people on the parks board staff, we missed the notice about this, which was quietly posted on the Houston Parks Board website on Sept. 18, 2020.

No idea what happened at that meeting because there don’t seem to be any minutes available to the public, which would seem to be contrary to the Open Meetings Act.

This is all very confusing because there are two Houston parks boards, a public local government corporation, which is subject to the Open Meetings Act (see also here), and a private Houston Parks Board foundation, which is not.

The public face of the parks board is the private foundation, which hires the staff and runs the website and major projects, like Bayou Greenways. All twenty appointed members of the public parks board, nominated by the mayor and approved by city council, are also on the private foundation board, which has an additional fifteen members.

The public Houston Parks Board meets virtually on June 22 at 10 a.m. Here is information about how to register for the meeting and make comments. Note that you must register before noon on Monday, June 21.

Note that the Uptown Development Authority, which is now co-managing and providing funding for development of Memorial Park along with the private Memorial Park Conservancy, is also a local government corporation. The authority has regular meetings open to public comment. Notices and agendas are posted on the Uptown website. The meetings, which are now both virtual and in-person, are scheduled for the fourth Wednesday of the month at 3:30 p.m., though the last meeting was on the third Wednesday.

Related: Shocking Plan to Bulldoze, Reroute Buffalo Bayou. Historic Banks of Memorial Park to Be Radically Altered

Planning for Flooding

Here are some of the upcoming meetings and events:

San Jacinto Region, June 23 and 25

The executive committee of the recently formed San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group will meet virtually Wednesday, June 23, at 9 a.m. to vote on two new voting members of the group. These two positions represent the Upper Watershed and Environmental Interests.

Here is how to register for that meeting, which also allows public and written comments.

The executive committee will meet again on June 25. Here is how to register for that meeting. (Public notice here.)

There are fifteen regional flood planning groups in the state of Texas. They are charged by the Texas Water Development Board with developing regional plans to reduce flood risk. The draft plans are to be delivered to the state board by Aug. 1, 2022.

At the full meeting of the group on June 10, Chair Russ Poppe announced that there were twelve applications for the two positions, out of which the committee selected five candidates.

The group, which represents Region 6, may now have to find another member and new chair since Russ Poppe resigned as executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District effective July 2.

The group received a report from the technical committee, which had voted at its June 3 meeting to add a fifth member. Steve Costello, a voting member of the group, volunteered for the position and was accepted. Costello, former president of Costello Engineering, is the Chief Recovery Officer for the City of Houston (also formerly the City’s Chief Resilience Officer or Flood Czar and a former city council member). He is also a member of the Houston-Galveston Area Council Flood Management Committee.

The San Jacinto regional group has selected technical consultants headed by Freese and Nichols to assist the planning.

Related: In snubbing Houston and Harris County, GLO missed a chance to support nature-based flood solutions, by Amanda Fuller and Danielle Goshen, Houston Chronicle, June 18, 2021

Harris County

The Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force met virtually on May 27. Here is where you can watch a recording of that meeting.

The county describes the task force as a “multidisciplinary, community-driven body that Commissioners Court established to ensure Harris County develops and implements equitable flood resilience planning and projects that take into account community needs and priorities.”

Here are the current members of the task force. Here are the bylaws.

The task force holds public meetings though it is not subject to the Open Meetings Act. It is to hold meetings at least every other month, at least six times a year. The task force replaces the Harris County Flood Control Task Force that was founded nearly fifty years ago as a citizens’ advisory group in response to environmental concerns about flood control district practices. Ultimately dominated by developer and engineering interests, that task force lost its purpose.

Here is how you can sign up to join the mailing list for the new community task force.


Regional Watershed Assessment

The Galveston District of the US Army Corps of Engineers has released a draft of its controversial and long-awaited Metropolitan Houston Regional Watershed Assessment. Save Buffalo Bayou defended the original vision of the assessment, which was an analysis of where raindrops fall and how and where they flow. But the focus of the cooperative study changed since it was originally proposed in 2015 and funded in 2018.

Though we attended meetings about the watershed assessment throughout 2019, the new purpose remained unclear. Perhaps the 80-page draft of the watershed assessment and its numerous appendices will clarify matters.

Here is where you can find the Corps’ regional watershed assessment and related documents, including a link to make comments.

Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries, Development, Dams and Tunnels

The assessment was supposed to complement the Corps’ Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Resiliency Study. The highly controversial draft interim report for that study was released in October 2020 and met with widespread disapproval, prompting the Corps to reconsider flood tunnels to carry stormwater from the overburdened federal flood control dams on Buffalo Bayou in west Houston.

The Corps is under pressure to come up with a solution to the problem of too much stormwater flowing too fast into the federal dams. The reservoir flood pools, normally empty parks and playing fields, extend beyond government-owned land and into residential subdivisions developed in the known flood pools after the dams were built. During Harvey in 2017 this resulted in severe flooding immediately upstream and downstream of the dams, particularly after the dam floodgates were opened to prevent the potential overtopping of the dams, which could have caused a disastrous dam failure.

See also: Did Straightening Upper Buffalo Bayou Make Future Residents More Vulnerable to Flooding? And The Problem with Dams: If You Build Them, They Will Come

Numerous guidelines, including the City of Houston’s Resiliency Plan (pp. 92, 98, 153) and the Texas Water Development Board’s technical guidelines for the regional flood planning groups (p. 86), recommend considering the flooding impact of development in the upper watersheds and floodplains of Buffalo Bayou and other streams, including the San Jacinto River. However, development continues unabated, with little legal control.

Next Steps

The Corps’ next step for this Buffalo Bayou study is a Draft Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement, including a Tentatively Selected Plan, which will be available for public review and comment, according to the Corps’ timeline. (p. 5) No dates are specified.

In the meantime community groups and organizations upstream, including Houston Stronger, a developer/commercial organization in west Houston, continue to work on and discuss solutions. These include flood tunnels and excavating the Barker and Addicks reservoirs.

Long-time Existing Committee: Houston-Galveston Area Council Regional Flood Management Committee Meets July 21

The Houston-Galveston Area Council is one of a number of metropolitan planning councils set up by Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe in 1974. The local council represents thirteen counties, and along with transportation, natural resources, air quality, and other issues, it has a Regional Flood Management Committee, apparently established in 2006. Its purpose is to “assist and advise elected officials in their decision-making responsibilities by making recommendations on issues related to all aspects of flood management in the Gulf Coast Planning Region.”

Meetings are scheduled on the third Wednesday of the month from 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM in the months of January, April, July, and October. So it would seem the next meeting would be July 21.