A Draft Flood Plan for the Region
Key Finding: Lack of Information
Emphasis on Preparedness
How to Manage Development
Public Meeting in-person, Sept. 27, 5:30-7:30 pm. White Oak Conference Center, 7603 Antoine
Public Meeting virtual online, Sept. 29, 5:30-7:30 pm
Public Comment through Oct. 27
Sept. 26, 2022
Harris County does not have adequate information about where and how the county floods.
In fact, the entire watershed draining into the San Jacinto River does not have adequate information about flooding. This watershed includes Harris and parts or all of ten other counties from Galveston in the south to Huntsville in the north.
But the Harris County Flood Control District is working on it. (Back in 2017 the Army Corps of Engineers was going to work on it too and that work would have been done by now. But that project was changed.)
The lack of information is just one of the findings (p. 30) of a state-sponsored flood planning group which has been meeting and gathering information for nearly two years. The group of mostly citizen volunteers represent a variety of interests, including small business, agriculture, the environment, municipalities, water and electric utilities, the public, and more. Aided by public officials and the engineering firm Freese and Nichols, the group, known as the San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group or Region 6, recently released a massive draft report, which will be evaluated by the Texas Water Development Board, incorporated into a state flood plan, and sent to the state legislature in 2024 for possible funding. The state flood plan is to be updated every five years.
Managing Development. Being Prepared
The population of the San Jacinto region is expected to grow by one-third by 2050, and “one of the largest challenges” associated with this population increase, according to the report, is “determining how to manage development responsibly and continue to preserve the region’s natural resources.” (p. 24)
Increasing flood preparedness and improving flood management regulations and ordinances are also among the top priorities detailed in the report. (pp. 154 and 172)
The public can comment until Oct. 27 on the draft report, which is 302-pages long plus thousands of pages of appendices and maps and stuff. There are also two public meetings about the plan this week, one in-person Tuesday, Sept. 27, and the second virtual on Thursday, Sept. 29.
Big Bottom-Up Flood Planning Effort
The regional group is one of fifteen established by the state legislature in 2019. Based on the watersheds of the major rivers draining the state, the groups operate under the technical guidance of the Texas Water Development Board.
The purpose of the entire project is to “improve flood risk knowledge and propose solutions,” according to James Bronikowski, manager of regional flood planning for the state board. The ongoing effort is “intended to be a transparent process which relies on public input,” though based on the number of website responses and attendance at public meetings, public input appears to have been modest so far. (p. 295)
A Variety of Potential Flood Risk Reduction Actions, Nature-Based, Expanded Benefit
Of the fifteen watershed planning regions, San Jacinto is the second smallest region but the most densely populated, with twice the population density of any other region. Harris County has the most people at risk of major flooding. (p. 82) The 5,089-square mile region also includes some 3,173 square miles of farming, forestry, and ranch land, mostly forestry and ranching. (p. 56)
The draft report identifies 650 potential actions that could help reduce flood risk in the region. These are divided into three groups: 1. evaluations or studies, 2. strategies or plans, and 3. actual projects, both structural and non-structural, though sometimes the difference between strategies and projects is unclear. These “actions” are largely if not entirely existing projects planned by local municipalities, counties, or districts. The basis for assessing these actions included high need and existing risk to critical facilities, no adverse impact, quantifiable flood risk reduction, and regional benefit. (p. 32)
Incorporating nature-based practices in at least 90 percent of strategies and projects is a long-term (30-year) goal. (p. 30)
The report also expanded the traditional but controversial benefit-cost ratio, which tended to favor expensive properties. (p. 160) Projects and strategies can or should have other benefits like “public uplift, public education, low impact development features, and environmental benefits.” (p. 163)