02/10/17 11:00am

CITY LOSES LATEST APPEAL ON 2010 DRAINAGE FEE ELECTION City of Houston Public Works Project MapThis week the state’s Fourteenth Court of Appeals upheld a 2015 ruling calling for a new election on the ReBuild Houston drainage and road-fixup fee. As in another local case involving charter invalidation and large sums of collected assessment money, the city is mulling over further appeal options, though the case’s last trip to the Texas Supreme Court didn’t go in the city’s favor. The Chronicle‘s Katherine Driessen also writes that the fund’s future is now murky: the decision doesn’t stop the city from collecting the fee for now, since that collection was authorized through another city ordinance — it may, however, remove restrictions on how the money can be used. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Map of past, ongoing, and planned drainage and street projects: ReBuild Houston interactive map

01/24/17 10:15am

CITY HOPES TO CHOP A DECADE OR 2 OFF THE BRAYS BAYOU FLOOD CONTROL TIMELINE Flooding around The Halstead 4620 N Braeswood Blvd., Meyerland, Houston, 77096 At the current rate of federal funding trickling in for the completion of the Project Brays flood control project, the work could take another 20 years or so to complete, Mike Morris writes this week — noting that the Harris County Flood Control District originally expected about $50 million in federal reimbursement every year, but has been getting an average of $11 million annually in recent years. The city is now planning to speed the project up by asking to borrow $46 million from state-level funds to give to the county, potentially helping it meet or beat a 2021 completion deadline. And “yes,” says city flood czar Steve Costello, “the city is going to be taking [a] risk because we’re going to be waiting for the money, but we’re confident that this is the start of a long-term relationship and we think it’s going to work very well.” (If it does work well, the city may do the same thing for work on White Oak and Hunting bayous.) [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Tax Day flooding at Brays Bayou and 610: Chris Klesch

01/18/17 3:30pm

TONIGHT’S AREA FLOODING SYMPOSIUM CANCELLED BY AREA FLOODING January 18th Flooding at Main St. and Buffalo BayouThe free public Flooding and Storm Surge Symposium previously planned for this evening at the George R. Brown Convention Center is being postponed, on account of it’s flooding right now. The event would have included 2 panel discussions with flood-minded folks from a variety of public and private sectors and institutions, gathering to talk about the city’s flooding and storm surge issues and possible solutions; the Urban Design Committee of the Houston chapter of the AIA says the event will be rescheduled. [Houston AIA] Photo of this morning’s high water at Allen’s Landing: Christine Wilson

01/18/17 11:30am

January 18th Flooding at Main St. and Buffalo Bayou

Most of the grassy banks and walking paths usually visible east of Main St. are obscured in this morning’s footage from semi-regular Allen’s Landing correspondent Christine Wilson, who captured some shots of high water (and a few street lamps shakin’ it in the current). This morning’s heavy rain has overtopped roads in some of the usual spots (check out Transtar’s list of water-related road closures here) west and north of Downtown, and the National Weather service has just issued a flood warning for parts of the city through 4:15 this afternoon (with more rain expected later today). The confluence of White Oak and Buffalo bayous, receiving much of that water as it runs toward the bay, appears to have been swept clean of trash and baby ducks for the time being, though some larger waterfowl were still spotted hanging around upslope on the southern shore:

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Flood Season Now Open
01/13/17 12:30pm

CITY-WIDE DRAINAGE SWAT TEAM POSSIBLY BANKROLLED BY HEIGHTS WATERWORKS SALE Draft SWAT project mapMayor Turner announced plans for a dramatically monikered Storm Water Action Team at this week’s council meeting, along with 22 projects at the top the program’s initial list, based on metrics of urgency like frequency of 311 calls. The goal of the program is to deal with non-bayou-centric flooding issues like collapsed culverts and junk-clogged drainage ditches; flood czar Steve Costello said after the council meeting that the city wants to resolve the fixable issues at each site within 90 days of a site visit and initial drainage triage. Meagan Flynn writes this week that the $10 million currently budgeted for the program comes mostly from a one-time sale of city land; that land might well be the Heights Waterworks properties at W. 20th and Nicholson streets, which were sold to apartmenteer Alliance in mid-December for a reported $15.2 million. [Houston Press; previously on Swamplot] Draft map of 22 SWAT project locations: City of Houston SWAT program materials

01/05/17 12:45pm

JUST HOW MUCH FLOODING IS TOO MUCH FLOODING FOR HOUSTON? Flooding around The Halstead 4620 N Braeswood Blvd., Meyerland, Houston, 77096We pretty much know what we would have to do to stop most Houston flooding, writes Dylan Baddour as the calendar flips to 2017.  Potential paths to drier ground for the city include a multitude of complex region-wide tasks, including changes to waterways across the county, adding thousands of acres of detention space, and potentially addressing the cumulative impacts of seemingly minor small-scale building practices.  The cost of upgrading the whole system, including buyouts, bayou widenings, and utility rerouting, is estimated by the county flood control folks at around $27 billion — and that’s just to get protection up to so-called 100-year storm levels; Houston has had 8 such storms in the past 27 years, and the Tax Day flood was fueled by a much larger event. “What needs to be decided,” Baddour writes, “is how far taxpayers are willing to go. Cars don’t have airbags to absorb a hit from a train. Should Houston have a drainage system to contain a biblical storm? Where does the city draw the line?” City flood czar Steve Costello tells Baddour that the city has to do something, however, to avoid passing on a “potentially insurmountable problem” to future Houstonians. [Houston Chronicle] Photo of N. Braeswood Dr. at 610 on April 17, 2016: Chris Klesch

12/08/16 12:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: FURTHER READING INTO YOUR HOUSTON FLOOD AND FIRE CHANCES Jan 2017 FEMA Special Flood Hazard Zone classification changes“Every home is susceptible to flooding. There are not ANY non-flood areas. There are only homes that are more likely to flood and homes that are less likely to flood. The likelihood is expressed, on flood maps, by the single-year probability of being flooded (with some other factors). This does not properly describe the likelihood of being flooded during the course of a longer time period — of, say, a 30-year mortgage. Homes eligible for NFIP preferred flood rates can have up to just less than a 1 percent chance of flooding annually. These ‘preferred areas’ are what the public thinks of, euphemistically, as non-flood areas. Assuming a .009 probability (just less than 1 percent), a home has a 20 percent chance of flooding, at least once, over the course of a 30-year mortgage (look up binomial probability). An alternative way to think about it is that 1 in 5 homes, in preferred flood zones, will flood over the course of a 30-year mortgage. [In that case,] you are actually more likely to experience a flood than a house fire in a ‘preferred flood area.'” [Jardinero1, commenting on Where Houston Floods Outside the Flood ZonesImage of recent flood map revisions: FEMA RiskMap6

12/07/16 2:30pm

from Boomtown, Floodtown (Texas Tribune and ProPublica)
from Boomtown, Floodtown (Texas Tribune and ProPublica)

From some of the same folks who brought you those fun-with-worst-case-scenarios hurricane flood maps earlier this year —  Neena Satija and Kiah Collier of the Texas Tribune, and Al Shaw of ProPublica — comes a fresh set of animated maps of a few of Harris County’s most flooded and floodable places, along with a bit of investigation into how they got that way (and whether that might change any time soon). The new illustrated presentation shows off the spread of properties that took a dip during some of Harris County’s last few citywide submersion events (flooded properties from Tax Day 2016 are shown in yellow above, along with the Memorial Day 2015 flooded properties in orange).

Texas A&M Galveston researcher Sam Brody tells the authors that “more people die here than anywhere else from floods. More property per capita is lost here. And the problem’s getting worse.” In sorting through some of the whos, whats, and hows of Harris County’s flood infrastructure and chronically soggy residents, the article juxtaposes the recent flood damage data with the likes of FEMA-mapped 100- and 500-year flood zones (shown above), a visual tally of the land area developed last decade, and a view of what’s left of Houston’s coastal prairie (as of 2010):

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Harris High Water
10/07/16 10:30am

WAIT, DID THE 2008 RECESSION UP THE CHANCES OF A FUTURE HOUSTON CHEMICAL CATASTROPHE? Predicted Before and After Flood Map, 500 Year Flood EventRoy Scranton imagines “a wave of water sweeping toxic waste into playgrounds, shops and houses” in Magnolia Park in his op-ed this morning, written after touring the Ship Channel and speaking with the local A&M and Rice research teams pushing for variations on a series of region-scale coastal barriers to hunker down behind whenever the next gigantic hurricane hits the Houston region, in hopes of avoiding deadly flooding and catastrophic chemical spills. But the researchers tell Scranton that pushing for federal and state funding for a response is a slow endeavor; Jim Blackburn (a main player on the Rice team) tells Scranton that he’s “heard more than one person say our plan is to wait until the next hurricane comes, then depend on guilt money from Washington to fix the problem.” Scranton writes that the best chance for that guilt money so far might have been in 2008, when Hurricane Ike landed just 30 miles northeast of the zone that modelers say could have caused thousands of deaths and irreparable ecological devastation to the area, on September 13th — 2 days before the Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, pulling global attention and national funds to other issues as markets began to crash. [NY Times; previously on Swamplot] Model maps of potential storm surge flooding along the ship channel, with chemical storage marked in red: Texas Tribune

10/04/16 5:00pm

Jan 2017 FEMA Special Flood Hazard Zone classification changes

The areas in red above mark some of the new additions to the legally-gotta-buy-flood-insurance zones on FEMA’s recently revised flood maps. The agency’s interactive online viewer lets you mix-and-match a few data sets for Harris County (as well as Galveston, Fort Bend, and Wharton), compare the old mapped flood zone boundaries to proposed new ones, or look only at what would change — a FEMA spokesperson told Houston Public Media that about 8,000 properties have been added to the list in Harris County, while only about 400 were dropped.

Those acid-green highlights are areas that have been removed from the special flood hazard zone by the updated map (while blue shows areas that have just changed floodplain classification some other way. Bits of brown and yellow in other areas of the map show places added or removed (respectively) from the floodway. The updates above to the mandatory flood insurance zone (legally called the Special Flood Hazard Area) are set to go into effect in January, as shown above. Buffalo Bayou and its tributaries are pretty marked up:

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Flood Insurance Ebb and Flow
07/13/16 5:15pm

MIGHT WHITE OAK BAYOU DITCH ITS CONCRETE? white-oak-bayouThe Harris County Flood Control District is looking at removing the concrete lining from sections of the White Oak Bayou channel, writes Mihir Zaveri. The agency is conducting a study on redeveloping parts of the waterway along with the Memorial-Heights Redevelopment Authority (a.k.a. TIRZ 5); any future projects to come from the study would be within the TIRZ 5 boundaries, along sections of White Oak between roughly N. 610 and Houston St. Zaveri writes that the push “in part reflects the idea that waterways where flooding must be controlled don’t have to be eyesores, and in fact can become more natural settings for residents to bike, walk and gather. It follows decades-old conversations about how to shape waterways in a flood-prone region like Houston, where the rapidly growing population has increasingly come to demand improvements in quality of life.” With respect to balancing aesthetics against effective flood control practices, TIRZ 5 chairwoman Ann Lents tells Zaveri that “pretty is never going to trump functional . . . But because of new techniques, if we can find a way to do both better, I think that will be a great thing.” [Houston Chronicle] Photo of White Oak Bayou: Swamplot inbox

06/10/16 4:45pm

WHY THAT ONE HOME IN THE BRAZOS FLOOD ZONE DIDN’T FLOOD Meanwhile, in Abbeville: The giant water-filled tubes of California-based AquaDam are getting some love from a homeowner with property near last week’s mandatory evacuation zone south of Houston. Upon hearing the Brazos River Authority’s flood predictions, Randy Wagner says he drove to the company’s Louisiana headquarters to pick up the 400-ft.-long structure, and deployed it around his house in Rosharon: “I was the crazy guy,” Wagner told KHOU. “Everybody was kinda going by, laughing at me. But today they are really impressed . . . ” The dams are marketed most heavily for construction purposes, but also as a replacement for sandbag barricades in flood situations. Notable past deployments include the Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station in Blair, Nebraska where the dams successfully kept out 2 ft. of water from the nuclear plant during flooding in 2011 — until the AquaDam was accidentally popped. [KHOU, New York Times]

06/07/16 10:15am

THE ESTIMATED PRICETAG ON A STOP TO HOUSTON FLOODING Harris County Flood Control District channel mapAmid the latest round of area flooding last week, Dylan Baddour traces the roots of Houston’s massive publicly funded drainage projects, which have brought the total length of Harris County waterways up to 2,500 miles (many of those channels widened, lined with concrete, or dug from scratch). Baddour also talks with current county flood control district director Mike Talbott about what it would take to expand and refine the city’s outdated flood infrastructure (which is often locked into place by close surrounding development) up to modern expectations — namely, that the flow of water over land that would otherwise be totally submerged should be totally controlled. Baddour writes that Talbot “has a simple solution: allocate $26 billion, more than a fifth of the state’s 2015 budget, mostly to buy property adjacent to the waterways, bulldoze and expand the canals.” Rice University ecologist Ron Sass tells Baddour he’s surprised the city hasn’t been tearing down old houses to build new bayou channels: “We build freeways. I would think that a bayou would be as important to our infrastructure as a freeway.” [Houston Chronicle] Map of Harris County waterways: Harris County Flood Control District  

06/06/16 5:30pm

Flooding along FM 521, Brazoria County, TX 77515

Fort Bend County Boil Notice Area, June 6Residents of the Rio Brazos area near Cumings Rd. north of Rosharon are being advised as of this afternoon to boil their tap water until further notice, while the Fort Bend County Fresh Water Supply District 2 sorts out possible problems stemming from a flood-related loss of water pressure in the network. (The map included here has been added to the Fort Bend County emergency office’s Facebook page following a brief online outpouring of confusion as to what neighborhoods the warning was actually targeting.)

Meanwhile, TXDOT is still listing dozens of miles of roadways as covered by to high water as of this morning, with more closures expected as Brazos floodwaters drain southwest toward Angleton and Freeport. Here’s Brazoria County’s latest worst case scenario potential floodmap, with the county’s mandatory evacuation zones now stretching across more than 15 miles from roughly Brazos Bend State Park to the outskirts of Angleton:

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Water, Water Everywhere
06/06/16 2:00pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY FLOOD CONTROL ENTHUSIASTS KEEP EYEING PREVIOUSLY PAVED LOTS Flooded Home“This is a standard practice: to elevate [existing] commercial properties so they will drain off the property. It is very easy to do. The concern is that the city of Houston does not require new properties on old lots to detain water on the lot.  . . .  Elevated commercial properties that do not mitigate acre-foot-for-acre-foot will lead to water running off and flooding adjacent properties. It is a simple concept, but developer propaganda is strong. The most common myth promulgated by the developers is that if something was already concrete then a new property need not mitigate run-off. The fact is, any time a new development is built that does not mitigate run-off, it will force water onto its neighbor. [Flooding, commenting on Former Fiesta Site Preps for Teardown as Heights Dry Zone Petitioners Circle] Illustration: Lulu