August 2018

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January 2018

Fire and Water: Harvey Ignites Efforts to Mitigate Flooding in West Houston

Hurricane Harvey-related floodwaters may have receded, but not before igniting a firestorm of discussion and proposals designed to improve the region’s resiliency to extreme weather events.

For decades, Houston mostly sidestepped the flooding issue. Dams needing maintenance. Development allowed using outdated floodplain maps. A lack of political and constituent willpower to pay for expensive flood mitigation infrastructure.

But a trillion gallons of water falling on the region in just four days has renewed momentum to find and fund answers to mitigating flooding. The destructive power of three massive floods in three years – and the post-Harvey swamping of Energy Corridor homes, businesses, livelihoods and lives – has fired up both grassroots citizen demands and elected official concerns about our infrastructure, development policies and emergency response plans.

“The people and businesses in the Energy Corridor are fighting to regain a sense of normalcy in Harvey’s aftermath,” says Clark Martinson, executive director of the Energy Corridor District. “What gives us hope is that we now have a more unified call to resolve Houston’s flooding issues.”

There are many groups mobilizing to make Houston more resilient to flooding. 

A stormwater and detention study launched by the Energy Corridor District (ECD) Board of Directors focused on the Addicks and Barker Reservoir zones – which took a devastating body blow following Harvey. The District’s board seeks a better understanding of the Buffalo Bayou floodplain cutting through the Energy Corridor. A riverine model was developed to evaluate the floodplain under several scenarios.

“Insight from the study might pave the way toward developing realistic flood mitigation solutions, such as improving floodwater conveyance along Buffalo Bayou,” explained Martinson.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Redevelopment and Drainage Task Force is taking a deep look at building regulations, right-of-way infringements that impede drainage and design criteria for redevelopment as the 100-year flood plain is redefined. David Hightower, ECD’s board president, serves on the task force, along with representatives from the Memorial Super Neighborhood, other neighborhood activists, city and county officials, engineers, architects, developers and non-profit representatives.

There is Harris County Judge Ed Emmett's 15-point flood plan covering a host of initiatives, including a proposal to construct a third reservoir northwest of Addicks (http://bit.ly/Emmett_plan).

The Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium (www.houstonconsortium.org) combines researchers from educational and research institutions to compile, analyze and share a rich array of scientifically-informed data about flooding risk and mitigation opportunities. Already, the consortium has put forth proposals they say could be implemented quickly to improve Houston’s emergency response and warning systems. 

Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) mobilized swiftly to acquire and process data about flooding’s environmental impacts, including storm-related spills, pollutants, water and quality, Superfund site impacts and power generation. Narrative summaries, maps and infographics in a Houston Endowment-funded story map can be found here. The idea is to create tools and resources to help Houston go beyond recovery to building flood detention capacity across the region.

Restoring natural systems to better handle large rainfalls is one of the goals of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) project. One concept: create a private sector market exchange designed to incentivize landowners to restore prairie, wetlands and other natural systems that help with drainage and detention.

Increasing floodwater storage capacity, improving conveyance along bayous and home buyouts are being called for by the West Houston Association. The group is pushing a comprehensive solution, estimated to cost $32 billion.

Other flood mitigation proposals are being developed by groups and agencies as diverse as the Urban Land Institute, Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC), Watershed Texas and the Bayou City Initiative, to FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the City of Houston and the Harris County Flood Control District.

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