How Harris County plans to prioritize flood-control projects

HOUSTON – Harris County officials reassured residents who are concerned over how flood-control projects are being prioritized and said that all the promised projects will be completed.

Matt Zeve, deputy executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District, said that 134 of the 237 projects that are part of the $2.5 billion bond measure approved by voters last year have been greenlighted by Harris County commissioners.

"We have 103 projects that we have not started. They're just lines on paper, and so the prioritization was to help us determine in a logical way the order of when we would begin," Zeve said.

The prioritization of the order for the products was a task the HCFCD received from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who said she is focused on transparency and intentionality.

"It could be a mystery. We could have Flood Control District ... come up with an order and not explain it, but we want to be transparent. We want to be thoughtful, and we want to be smart, and the smart way to order this list is to look at 'worst first' and to figure out what that means," Hidalgo told KPRC.

She said she is leaving it to the experts.

VIDEO: Zeve speaks about flood-control priorities

"We've tasked them at Commissioners Court ... tasked the Flood Control District with doing this as quickly as possible while doing it well, to let us know what resources they need from us at Commissioners Court to make sure that they can move this as well and as quickly as possible," Hidalgo said.

Officials are weighing the remaining 103 projects based on a project's ability to lower flooding risk for the most people, Zeve said. He said money for the projects coming in from partner agencies may also play a factor in the priority of the project.

"They've been studying this since (Hurricane) Harvey. They've convened several stakeholder meetings. They've been looking at processes throughout the country. Normally this isn't done for infrastructure projects. Normally, it's simply a matter of property values, and so they really want to be smart," Hidalgo said.

Zeve said that HCFCD engineers are looking at the county’s long history of flooding to determine which projects should be given priority. He said that, during Hurricane Harvey, some of the worst flooding happened in areas that do not have a long history of flooding. Engineers are balancing what happened during the historic 2017 storm with the history of flooding throughout the county, he said.

"Where are the parts of Harris County that are really the worst that have flooded 10, 15, 20 years?" Zeve said. "From a civil engineer perspective, we want to lower flood risk for the most people first."

Hidalgo said she is on the same page.

"Projects that would lift more people off the floodplain, for example. Projects that have an environmental benefit. Projects that are in watersheds that haven't seen a project in over 10 years," Hidalgo said.

The HCFCD wanted to make clear that the funding has been assigned. The projects have already been chosen after several stakeholder meetings. The only portion of the multibillion-dollar bond money that has not been assigned is $500 million in a contingency fund, Zeve said. He said that money will be used to address any issues that happen during the 10 years it will take to complete all 237 projects.

Residents were worried over the long wait for Project Brays, but Zeve clarified that certain projects have been delayed due to weather and the finding of unexpected utility lines, which will take a while to troubleshoot. He reaffirmed to residents that the prioritization discussion will not affect the timelines of existing projects, nor will they be reallocating funds.

"Projects that we've already started on won't be delayed," Zeve said.

Meyerland resident Tara Friedman said she hopes to see action soon.

"I want it done now. I'm sick of flooding," Friedman said.

"The Flood Control District as of today, we're at our current capacity on our projects that we can work on and move forward," Zeve said.

Once they are not operating at capacity, they will start on the other projects. The HCFCD's proposal was supposed to be presented in Tuesday's Commissioners Court meeting, but that item, Zeve said, has been taken off the agenda. The stakeholder meeting will be postponed.

For more information about projects and the status of each of them, go to HCFCD.org.

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