WHAT’S ON THE TABLE IN HARRIS COUNTY’S FLOOD BOND MEGA VOTE, STARTING TOMORROW
Included in the flood control bond package county residents are about to start voting on: $1.2 billion for channel improvements, $401 million for detention basins, $242 million for floodplain land purchases, $184 million (coupled with $500 million in outside funding) for 3,600 home buyouts, $12.5 million for new floodplain mapping, and $1.25 million for a better flood warning system — according to totals the Chronicle’s Zach Despart summed up from the master list of 237 individual projects. Not included: money for a third reservoir, although $750,000 is on the table to help the Army Corps study the possibility of one. Taken together, the $2.5 billion proposal‘s price tag is more than 20 times the Harris County Flood Control District’s annual budget of $120 million. Voting wraps up on Saturday, August 25, the anniversary of Harvey’s arrival in Houston. [Houston Chronicle ($); full list (PDF); previously on Swamplot] Photo of flooding at Creech Elementary School, 4242 S. Mason Rd., Katy:: Breta Gatlin
Harris County and the trailblazing Buffalo Bayou Partnership will soon clear the way for a new trail segment on the south side of the bayou by demolishing the vacant 1119 Commerce Building warehouse along with portions of the inmate processing center to its east. Pictured above, 1119 Commerce St. spans the width between San Jacinto St. and the Fannin St. bridge at which the existing trail terminates. Harris County Flood Control district bought the building in 2010 as part of its efforts to smooth out that sharp oxbow where White Oak and Buffalo bayous meet and allow more water to flow through Downtown.
But a lot of that water ended up flowing through the building itself, dampening its below-street levels on at least 4 occasions since the county’s purchase. The year after a 2015 checkup found that the structure’s lower-level steel columns were “95 percent rusted,” the flood control district axed its lease with former tenant Quiznos in preparation to bring down the 94-year-old house, originally built for the Texas Packing Company.
After the trail takes over the lot occupied by the not-yet-demolished building, it’ll butt up next against the adjacent Harris County Inmate Processing Center at 1201 Commerce:
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE SLEEPY STREETS HARRIS COUNTY FLOOD BUYOUTS LEFT BEHIND
There is a community close to 290 and Windfern, on Cole Creek Dr. and another near Fairbanks and Hollister on Woodland West. Deep in the flood neighborhoods that were bought back by Harris County Flood [Control District] a while ago. All of the roads, utilities and everything are there. Just no homes or homeowners. Made a great place to take a post-lunch car nap when I worked close by. [bocepus, commenting on The Latest Wave of Harris County Home Buyouts, Mapped] Illustration: Lulu
Now that a second, $51 million round of FEMA funding for home buyouts has come through, here’s the map of where the latest government snatch-ups are planned, 294 total. As indicated by the red dots above, they’re all outside the Loop — with a good portion grouped in 3 distinct clusters along Cypress Creek (which drowned out previous flooding records along nearly its entire length during Harvey). Other hotspots include several along White Oak Bayou, as well as a Greens-Bayou-adjacent bunch off Beltway 8 just north of Aldine and a San Jacinto River-side group south of Hwy. 90, near Highlands.
The money Harris County Flood Control District expects to receive for these purchases supplements an earlier $25.6 million FEMA committed to it on June 4. That previous check (along with an $8.6 million match the Harris County Commissioners okayed in order to get it) will be spent on about 169 buyouts, mapped out below:
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Along the Bayous
The final page of the Harris County Flood Control District’s final report on Hurricane Harvey includes the map above, with orange indicating where bayous, rivers, creeks, and gullies set new high water marks between August 25 and 29. Aside from Sims Bayou and a handful of smaller waterways, every other liquid landmark in the county outdid itself along some portion during the storm. Several — such as Cypress Creek and Carpenters Bayou (shown in detail above) — set new flood records along their entire lengths.
Less distinguished are White Oak and Little White Oak bayous, which broke records along only tiny stretches near Buffalo Bayou:
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Watery Award Tour
HARRIS COUNTY OPTS TO SCHEDULE FLOOD BOND VOTE FOR HARVEY’S ANNIVERSARY
The Harris County Commissioners Court voted this morning to move forward with scheduling a multi-billion-dollar flood control bond referendum — to fund property buyouts, bayou widening, and other mitigation efforts — for August 25. “Why August 25?” Judge Ed Emmett asked the room — which included the Chronicle’s Mihir Zaveri — “It’s the 1-year anniversary of Harvey. It’s got a certain sex appeal to it.” Commissioner Rodney Ellis at first opposed the commemorative date, fearing voter turnout could be weak during the summer. “If it is one shot that we have, I just want to make sure we get it right,” he said. (If the referendum fails, the earliest the court could hold another one would be in May 2019.) He argued instead for a date during November’s mid-term elections but changed his mind “for the sake of unity” after an appeal from fellow Commissioner Steve Radack — putting a unanimous finishing touch on the back-and-forth. What’s now needed in order to get it on the calendar? Governor Greg Abbott’s sign-off, followed by a vote from Harris County making the date official. [Houston Chronicle; more] Photo of Buffalo Bayou flooded by Hurricane Harvey: Adam Brackman
THE MIND-BOGGLING UNDERGROUND MULTI-BAYOU TUNNEL DRAINAGE SYSTEM NOW PROPOSED FOR HARRIS COUNTY
The Harris County Flood Control District is considering digging the nation’s largest network of high-volume tunnels 100 to 200 ft. underground to drain stormwater from several waterways, including — write the Chronicle‘s Mike Morris and Mihir Zaveri — Buffalo Bayou, White Oak Bayou, Hunting Bayou, Greens Bayou, Halls Bayou, Clear Creek, and Cypress Creek. “The goal under the plan,” they report, “would be for those waterways to be able to keep a 100-year storm event within their banks.” Flood czar Steve Costello argues that despite the project’s enormity, the tunnels might actually be the cheapest way to bring the all the county’s major waterways up to 100-year capacity. Even if such a one-shot solution does cost less than a series of smaller mitigation efforts, the pricetag for the tunnels would still be in the billions, or “perhaps $100 million per mile,” Costello says. On Tuesday, the Commissioners Court is set to vote on whether to pursue a contract with Fugro USA Land — a global engineering firm — for a feasibility study of the proposed project that would cost around $400,000. [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo of Harvey flooding near UHD: Kelsie H. Dos Santos
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WATER BORDER PROS AND CONS “Abolishing arbitrarily-bounded entities with taxing powers like the HCFCD and instead creating entities that are specific to individual watersheds seems like it might make some sense. I do worry that certain areas, especially less affluent ones, would suffer from poor or corrupt leadership; and you can’t simply merge watersheds as the T.E.A. would merge school districts. However, that’d certainly be more democratic and accountable. That’s a trade-off which might be worth making.” [TheNiche, commenting on Group Petitions for 13-County Flood Planning] Watershed boundaries superimposed across Houston-area county boundaries: Galveston Bay Foundation and Houston Area Research Council’s Find Your Watershed map
CITY HOPES TO CHOP A DECADE OR 2 OFF THE BRAYS BAYOU FLOOD CONTROL TIMELINE 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