Flood mitigation: Report says Houston should be working faster

By Lea Wilson - Digital News Editor

HOUSTON - A report released Thursday by the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium calls for a faster shift in how the Houston area plans for and recovers from flooding and its consequences.

The organization

The organization is made up of local professionals and relevant agencies in areas that are pertinent to flooding, and helps provide community planning. Organizers say there are opportunities to reduce the effect flooding has on people’s lives.

This initial report, which members of the organization say is “based on current information from multiple local agencies and experts," draws a number of key conclusions on Addicks and Barker reservoirs, including the important considerations about the proposed “third reservoir” and flood mitigation tactics such as regulations, local drainage and buyouts.

“When the consortium was formed, its philanthropic funders intended to make Houston a more resilient city and ensure that all communities benefit from flood mitigation efforts,” said consortium project manager Christof Spieler. “We've brought together experts on flooding, the environment and urban planning, and together, we are presenting our conclusions thus far. We hope they are useful to decision-makers as the region figures out how to respond through funding, policies and projects.”

The report includes analysis on flood mitigation infrastructure, flood regulations, buyouts and public engagement.

Flood mitigation infrastructure

On flood mitigation infrastructure, the report highlights the need for publicly released information that proves or disproves the current conditions of the Addicks and Barker reservoir, pointing out that there is no substantive information released. It also calls for public transparency on risks and any required structural improvements that may be needed.

In addition, the "third reservoir," or the "Plan 5" reservoir defined by the Cypress Creek Overflow Study, the report shows, is primarily intended to mitigate development but is not designed to reduce flooding in the Buffalo Bayou, nor does it solve issues with the Addicks and Barker reservoir. The reservoir allows future development of the Katy Prairie, but that is land that generally soaks up a lot of storm water.

"The current proposal for that reservoir---really, the design goal of that study was to allow and mitigate the impact of new development rather than solving existing flooding issues in Buffalo Bayou, but we do think it's very valuable in that area to look at the possibility of a reservoir," said Consortium project manager Christof Spieler.

The report shows a new reservoir in northwest Harris County, "specifically designated to address the Cypress Creek watershed," would be successful and significantly help flooding in Cypress.

Regulations

The reports shows that current regulations are poorly understood and many are ineffective in addressing flooding. The report also shows that current detention regulations allow for new development that still increases downstream flooding.

"Natural ecosystems and agricultural areas absorb some water, hold some water through ponding and release the rest slowly. While current detention regulations limit the rate of water, the assumed conditions in these calculations overestimate pre-development runoff rate and thus underestimate the increase in runoff," the report summary states.

It also points out that regulations do not limit total runoff volume for new developments, which it says is critical in multi-day storms.

Buyouts

The report shows that buyouts studied alongside reservoirs allow for determining the most effective and cost-effective solutions. The study deemed this approach "proactive" in contrast to the current system, which only buys homes that are hopelessly deep in a floodplain, deeming this strategy "reactive."

"Benefits can include preventing future flood damage, providing land for better flood control infrastructure, new parks and open space, and improved housing stock," the report summary stated.

However, extensive buyouts without a coordinated housing plan would only hurt the affordable housing shortage that already exists in the area. The report indicates an extensive buyout strategy should be accompanied with a program to provide access and information for affordable housing. 

The report also analyzes the potential effect of flexible funding, saying that flexible funding from non-federal sources would allow more properties to be included in the buyout programs, while avoiding the "checkerboard effect."

"Federal funding comes with limitations while local funding can be flexible, addressing properties within a buyout area that don't meet federal requirements and offering compensation and relocation assistance that makes moving feasible for residents," stated the report.

Public engagement

The report also called for more transparency in the decision processes regarding these strategies to mitigating flood impacts, saying an educated public is fundamental to solving the issues.

Below are the details of the full report.


 

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