A Realistic Flood Policy
for Houston’s Future
“Harvey was the most significant tropical cyclone rainfall event in United States history, both in scope and peak rainfall amounts.”
– National Hurricane Center, January 25th, 2018
For Texans in the 2nd District, flooding is fresh on our minds, and we deserve leaders in Congress who are dedicated to finding the right policy solutions and ensuring they are implemented without further delay. We face two enormous challenges that have yet to be addressed in a timely manner: (1) providing relief to those affected by Hurricane Harvey, and (2) implementing the long-term solutions that will prevent future flooding.
As your future Congressman, I owe it to you to provide realistic solutions that I can fight for from the U.S. House of Representatives. Voters in the 2nd District deserve to know what I can do for you as a member of Congress.
Summary of Solutions
We need to upgrade Barker and Addicks and assess the feasibility of a third reservoir in Cypress without delay. We must build additional detention ponds along the tributaries leading into Lake Houston, dredge the San Jacinto River, and install ten tainter gates in Lake Houston. My role in Congress will be to exert pressure on the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to take action without delay. No multi-year studies. Action.
I will push for legislation that provides waivers for procedural conditions currently used by the USACE and the EPA. It will also be up to members of Congress to provide leadership necessary to force all local stake-holders (City, County, State, SJRA, HCFCD, ACE) into one room and decide who takes on what project and at what cost. Make a plan and take action.
As of March 9, 2018, more than $13.3 billion in federal funds have been provided directly to Texans, including FEMA grants to households, National Flood Insurance Program claims payments, and SBA disaster loans; and more than $362 million in Public Assistance funding from FEMA for state and local governments has been obligated. Additionally, Congress has appropriated over $100 billion towards hurricane relief and recovery. A portion of that money will be allocated to Texas for housing recovery, infrastructure, mitigation, and numerous other needs. I will work with local authorities to ensure this money is spent the right way and encourage different Federal agencies to coordinate this funding more efficiently.
As of June 22nd, The USACE has announced a series of bids for dredging the West Fork of the San Jacinto. We are hopeful that dredging – contracted for 1.8 million cubic yards within 270 days – will begin within weeks.
The San Jacinto River Authority has agreed to seasonal and temporary reduced water levels in Lake Conroe, during hurricane season. This should mitigate some flooding downstream in the Lake Houston area.
Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) is currently conducting dozens of Community Engagement events throughout the county to educated citizens on the upcoming $2.5 billion bond proposal for flood risk reduction projects. I encourage everyone to attend these events and cast your vote on August 25th. Find out more at https://www.hcfcd.org/bond-program.
Help Houston Rebuild
Fund volunteer organizations that aren’t waiting for government assistance. When I ran 100 miles across the district to shed a spotlight on Houstonians still recovering, I began a fund dedicated to vetted volunteer groups working every day in the Houston area to help our neighbors rebuild.
Buy-out programs. We must work with the County to expedite buy-outs from willing homeowners in the 100-year floodplain. This may require additional Federal money for the 3,000 plus homeowners that have inquired about buy-outs. This should be viewed as an investment, leading to less rebuilding costs in the future.
Allow for temporary waiver of conditions for government aid. In other words, empower FEMA to help homeowners who still haven’t received assistance. Many homeowners are eligible for a variety of forms of assistance, but the process is confusing and cuts across many agencies (FEMA, USDA, SBA, USHUD, etc.). Governor Abbott temporarily suspended dozens of state regulations to expedite assistance; the Federal government needs to do the same.
Do not allow Federal agencies to delay aid in order to be the “payer of last resort”. According to Reed Clay, the Governor’s Chief Operating Officer: “Families would recover faster if FEMA would develop a tiered IA structure that delivers grant funds to families based on damage assessments regardless of who else might be supporting the survivors. This needs to be regardless of insurance status.” I agree, and this will take federal-level pressure to implement.
Prevent Future Flooding
To mitigate flooding, we need a comprehensive regional flood plan. This plan, put simply, needs to accomplish THREE goals: (1) expand capacity to store excess water (reservoirs, detention ponds, etc.), (2) expand water flow capacity (dredging, additional tainter gates), and (3) update our development standards (raise the 100-year flood plain level, stricter detention pond standards).
Let’s go into some detail.
My district covers the areas of West Houston all the way up to Lake Houston. All of these areas have flooding issues but require different solutions.
Complete the repair and upgrade of Barker and Addicks. It will be up to the leadership in Congress, along with local authorities, to expedite and prioritize these projects. This is a federal issue because it involves a federal entity: The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). As a member of Congress, it would be my job to exert pressure on USACE to get the job done as quickly as possible. This project has begun but is moving too slowly. We need to hold the Army accountable and there is no one better to do that than a Navy SEAL.
Simultaneously, the engineering analysis on the Cypress Reservoir needs to begin. We were told that it would potentially take 3 years to “study” the project before beginning construction. This is unacceptable. The high-level studies have been done, and we now need to analyze the engineering and operational planning along with the Army Corps of Engineers. This needs to be funded and started immediately. Lives are at stake.
The flooding issue for the Lake Houston area is primarily a water flow capacity problem. We need solutions that increase water flow so that water can move rapidly to its final destination without getting backed up into resident’s homes. Any one of the below solutions will not be enough. All of them need to be implemented to meaningfully reduce flooding.
Begin dredging the San Jacinto River, both West and East Forks. As stated above, we are in the process of beginning dredging of the West Fork. We cannot forget the East Fork either! The costs of these projects can be mitigated by forming a public-private partnership with sand mining companies, who should be eager to improve their tarnished reputations after years of under-regulated mining north of Lake Houston that caused excess sand deposits to flow down into Lake Houston.
Build tainter gates in Lake Houston. Part of reducing flooding is improving water flow capacity. Right now, Lake Houston can only be emptied via a spill gate, which requires the Lake to rise to a certain level first. This can be improved upon by adding tainter gates which would allow operators to reduce the Lake level preemptively, and empty more rapidly.
Identify and build detention ponds along each tributary that empties into Lake Houston. This will reduce and mitigate the excessive water flows into Lake Houston that build up too rapidly for the Lake Houston region to absorb. This may cost an estimated $1.6 billion and would therefore require a mix of federal and state funding.
Other Issues and Solutions
The US Army Corps of Engineers: Give the USACE sufficient funds to complete projects that have been authorized and backlogged for years from inadequate funding. Fully fund projects early on so planners can minimize costs that increase when funding streams are unreliable. Fix the funding process for the USACE Work Plan. Remove OMB from the process of changing the Corps Work Plan after Congress has determined what amount should be allocated for that Plan. Members of Congress naturally know better than federal bureaucrats what is better for their District.
Regulations: Reduce the national approach to environmental review and permitting to a more regional, local approach that will achieve the same results. What’s good for Martha’s Vineyard may not be good for Houston.
Regional Coordination: Many of the projects needed do not have a single authority to coordinate and authorize implementation. We need to get all of the relevant stakeholders in one room and begin planning now. This includes but is not limited to: City of Houston, SJRA, Harris County Flood Control District, and Montgomery County. This may require a new entity with the proper authorities, or simply give an existing entity the authority to implement projects without delay.
Improve Emergency Notification and Evacuation Procedures. Water was released from reservoirs and Lake Conroe without proper notice to residents. The Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Houston did not work together effectively to ensure that local residents were aware of devastating releases. This is unacceptable and can be fixed quickly at the local level.
Empower Local Citizens and Build a Culture of Preparedness. FEMA is just one part of the team. During a disaster, citizens in the impacted communities also become the “first responders.” We need to empower individuals with life skills to help speed the response and recovery efforts.