Flood Plans, Studies, Committees Need Organization

Fundamental Recommendation: Create a Regional Coordinating Body

How We Are Doing and What We Should Do: Hold Water Where It Falls

Aug. 17, 2021

A major flood study by the US Army Corps of Engineers has concluded that our metropolitan region needs a coordinating body “across all levels of government,” including highway, railroad, and utility agencies, to “set priorities” and plan for flood protection. (pp. 75-76)

It also recommends holding rain where it falls, which is modern stormwater management. (See here,  here, and here pp. 32-33 and here. And also here.)

The report documents that the Harris County Flood Control District continues its environmentally destructive, outdated, and counterproductive policy of stripping and straightening local streams, which increases flooding. (pp. 57-59) These “channel rectification” and widening projects include 15 miles of Clear Creek and 15 miles of White Oak Bayou upstream of Loop 610 North.

The report is not the first call for an overall organizing body to address flooding. The Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium made the same recommendation in 2018, as the federal report notes. (p. 75)

Hold Water Where It Falls

Buffalo Bayou looking east from the Shepherd Bridge during Harvey, Aug. 28, 2017

The lengthy draft report, called the Metropolitan Houston Regional Watershed Assessment, recommends an emphasis on communicating flood risk, equitable distribution of flood protection, and a greater reliance on green and nature-based features, including pervious surfaces, and small-scale individual and neighborhood efforts to “reduce risk to downstream communities and broaden awareness of shared responsibility.” (p. 77)

The basic thrust of its recommended individual and neighborhood actions is to “hold water where it falls before it enters the bayous.” (Like we’ve been saying: Slow the Flow! Here are some basic tips and resources.)

The long-awaited draft federal report is some 250-pages long and highly technical. Released in mid-June, the main report initially seemed like nothing but a regurgitation of stuff everybody already knew.

However, in addition to the 80-page main report there are three appendices addressing existing flood risk management, climate change, and protection of cultural resources. And in sum the draft is a good summary of existing programs and makes some worthwhile observations and recommendations.

The final report is due Oct. 5. A representative of the Corps said there have been no comments on the draft report. The purpose of the study changed significantly since it was first proposed in 2015.  Initially described as an analysis of “where raindrops fall and how they flow across our roofs, yards, parking lots and streets, through our drainage systems and waterways and into Galveston Bay,” that focus apparently changed in part because the Harris County Flood Control District was doing its own study called MAAPNext, or the Modeling, Assessment and Awareness Project.

The Region, The Problem, the Studies

As defined by the Corps, the metropolitan Houston watershed region is the San Jacinto-Galveston Bay watershed, which is also the focus of the recently established San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group (Region 6) as defined by the Texas Water Development Board and similar to the Central Region as defined by the Texas General Land Office for its ongoing River Basin Flood Study.

Among other things, the report notes that Houston is “vulnerable to rainfall-related flooding and coastal surge flooding,” that these problems are getting worse with climate change, and that resources to respond to these problems are limited. (pp. 15-16)

And here are some of the related studies and plans mentioned (or not) by the report, along with some added information on local and regional organizations focused on flooding. We’ve asked the powers-that-be for clarification on some of these multiple, seemingly overlapping projects.

City of Houston

Living with Water

Resilient Houston

Redevelopment and Drainage Task Force Final Report (2018)

City of Houston Climate Impact Assessment

Harris County

Harris Thrives

Harris County Flood Control District Flood Bond Projects

Harris County Modeling, Assessment and Awareness Project (MaapNext)

Flood Tunnel Studies

Houston and Coastal Region

Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium reports

Gulf Houston Regional Conservation Plan

San Jacinto River Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan

            See also here and a presentation here.

Data gathering and public engagement project (still in development), Technical Committee, San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group (Region 6), Texas Water Development Board

            Data gathering map

            Public Input

Texas General Land Office (GLO) River Basin Flood Study, Central Region (ongoing), another data gathering project in support of the Texas Water Development Board’s flood planning effort

Texas Integrated Flooding Framework, Texas Water Development Board, another data gathering and planning project in partnership with the Corps of Engineers and the US Geological Survey

            Presentation at the US Army Corps of Engineers Summer Stakeholders Meeting, Aug. 11, 2021

Texas Flood Assessment 2019, Texas Water Development Board

Federal Studies

Galveston District, US Army Corps of Engineers:

Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Resiliency Study, draft interim report

Metropolitan Houston Regional Watershed Assessment, draft

US Geological Survey:

Interagency Flood Risk Management

Flood Decision Support Toolbox, Texas

Flood-Focused Public Organizations

City of Houston Resilience Office

Harris County Community Flood Resilience Task Force

Harris County Infrastructure Resilience Team

San Jacinto Regional Flood Planning Group, Region 6

Houston-Galveston Area Council Regional Flood Management Committee

Flood Information Clearing House Committee, Texas Water Development Board