A Recap of the WHA 5th Annual Flood Control Forum

The West Houston Association held a virtual forum on August 4th, 2020 to discuss ongoing efforts to improve flood control infrastructure.

President and CEO of the West Houston Association, Alan Steinberg, welcomed everyone, including some of Houston’s elected officials who joined to recognize this important issue. Houston Council Members Amy Peck (District A) and David Robinson (At Large 2) were in attendance as well as representatives from CM Thomas’ office (District F), CM Greg Travis’ office (Districts G) and Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagel’s office (Precinct 4). He reminded the group of the 2018 community support for a $2.8B bond for Harris County flood control and drainage projects, setting up the speakers to provide updates on those efforts.

Before introducing the two speakers, moderator and WHA Flood Control Committee Chair, Tim Buscha, noted the importance of keeping the constituency educated on causes of flooding and how to be strong advocates for continued funding.

Russell “Russ” Poppe, P.E., Executive Director for the Harris County Flood Control District, started his presentation by stressing the importance of flood insurance.“ Just because you went through a flood of record doesn’t mean the next might not test the systems,” he said.

Moving onto bond updates, Poppe announced that 181 projects were in progress with only 37 left to initiate. The total anticipated funding is $4.9B, combining bond funds, partner funds, and $400M of additional projects added into the bond program through community input. “This represents a great start. This is more funding than we’ve ever had at our disposal,” Poppe said proudly.

Since 2018, over $300M has been awarded across 45 projects. With $37M currently bidding, Poppe said work is still moving forward, even with COVID-19 safety limitations. His update also included $447M in planned advertisements, $400M in active construction, and 100 additional staff, primarily field inspectors.

Through the bond buyout program supporting those with elevated flood risk, over 500 homes have been purchased, and more than 400 are in process.

An update on federal and state funding pursuits shows a total current project value of $872M, including a local match.

Poppe concluded by mentioning the Harris County Flood Control Task Force is being repurposed into a Community Resiliency Task Force to suit the county’s needs.

Kathleen Jackson, a registered professional engineer on the Texas Water Development Board, spoke about state-level support. Describing the proactive approach to creating the first-ever state flood plan, Jackson said, “Not only do we need to mitigate risk, we need to accommodate growth.” $20M in funding will be provided to 15 volunteer-led regional groups to help create the plan.

She reviewed the intended use for the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF), which includes flood protection planning for watersheds, matching funds for federal awards, protection measures like early warning systems, and general project planning and implementation.

“The better the data, the better the science…the better the science, the better the policy,” Jackson said as she explained the use of base-level engineering and LiDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) technology to provide more accurate flood maps.

Jackson also shared the Flood Information Clearinghouse, which is a great resource for small communities to find flood mitigation funding opportunities.

She finished her presentation with a call for collaboration, saying, “It’s about partnership…and neighbors working together to promote resiliency.”

During the question and answer portion, Poppe gave updates on some ongoing projects. The deep tunnel project is moving to the next phase of looking at potential routes and hydraulic systems. At the same time, the Cypress Creek Overflow is being managed by the Corps who will soon release a report.

The slide deck used by both presenters is available here as a resource for the public.

The next WHA event is the State Issues Forum with Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on September 30th, followed by the Federal Issues Forum with Congressman Dan Crenshaw on October 29th.

Special thanks to our sponsors:

Allen, Boone, Humphries, Robinson; BGE, Inc; Howard Hughes – Bridgeland; EHRA Engineering; IDS Engineering Group; LJA Engineering; Caldwell Communities; MetroNational; Twinwood; and CenterPoint Energy.