Local Funding Shortages. Between 2001 and 2015 Harris County reduced the increment levied on homeowners for flood control from $0.08 per $100 of assessed value to $0.02829. Homeowners in Harris County with a property value of $250,000 (with an exemption of $100,000) currently pay $3.50 per month for flood control—less than the cost of a large coffee. Harris County is currently authorized to assess up to $0.30, or roughly ten times the current rate, for flood control. City of Houston voters approved Rebuild Houston in 2010, which created a dedicated funding source for street and drainage improvements. The pay-as-you-go fund will provide $20B in funding through the year 2040 for projects that benefit the City’s service area, but only if it is reapproved by City of Houston voters.
Local Funding Solutions. WHA supports Harris County’s efforts to address these issues through a bond election scheduled for August 25, 2018 to obtain provide $2.5 billion. Approximately $900 million of the $2.5 billion is intended to complete ongoing projects on Brays, White Oak, and Hunting Bayous and on Clear Creek as well as approximately 270 other projects. Remaining funds will go towards other projects identified by HCFCD, such as buyouts, linear detention, and potentially a third reservoir. Assuming a 3 percent growth rate and rapid issuance of funds, the bond will increase property taxes by no more than $0.04 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Harris County will require approximately $35 billion to increase capacity so all 23 of its major channels can convey 12 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period. Some of these funds will be provided through federal funding from the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The Act provided $89.4 billion for resiliency related projects, in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and 19 other states and territories. Local drainage inadequacies (storm sewers, roadside ditches, and sheet flow) require an additional $10 billion to $15 billion in capital investment through 2060.
State Funding. HCFCD and other local jurisdictions currently leverage state and federal funding programs for drainage infrastructure. The State of Texas should expand programs run by the Texas Water Development Board to provide more funding options for drainage and flood control projects more like those available for water supply projects. This would allow jurisdictions with dedicated funding sources to draw on state funds, build projects and save lives sooner, as well as avoid wasting tax dollars on interest payments. Federal programs should accelerate flood control project studies, funding, and approvals. Such a move would likely save lives, private property, and hundreds of billions of dollars in federal tax dollars.
Federal Funding. In 2018, the Federal Government allocated approximately $89.4 billion (as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018), some of which can be used to buy out flooded homes and improve infrastructure in regions damaged by the three major storms in 2017. The Federal Government is likely to allocate additional funds through the Water Resources Development Act after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the “Corps”) completes studies. Local and state leaders must work diligently with local Congressional Representatives and the Corps’ local staff to secure these federal funds to address local and regional needs.
Blocked Drainage Corridors. Prior to 1984, Harris County did not have detailed flood maps or regulations that prohibited development in the floodplain or preserved drainage corridors. Consequently, a number of communities built between the 1950s and early 1980s did not preserve drainage corridors. These communities have flooded, and remain vulnerable to flooding.
Acquire Corridors. Our local government entities should proactively and strategically acquire land in developed areas for future drainage corridors and retention areas. Jurisdictions should prioritize acquisition of (a) overburdened corridors that include large numbers of homes that qualify for voluntary buyout programs, and (b) undeveloped corridors in watersheds where development is projected. Developers should construct drainage facilities necessary to serve the needs of their development and dedicate land necessary for future growth. All jurisdictions should require a minimum corridor width of 150-feet, which will provide for future outfall depth, eliminate the need for shallow pumped detention solutions, and put in place the road map for smart growth in the region. Creating these corridors provides a platform on which a variety of tools and techniques can bring about robust flood protection, connectivity, mobility during severe storms, environmental stewardship, and greater quality of life.
FLOOD CONTROL PLANNING
Incomplete Planning. Floodwaters know no political boundaries. Regional flood mitigation planning is critical. Major thoroughfare plans have improved regional mobility coordination and preserved transportation corridors. The Houston Galveston Area Council coordinates policy and project funding for issues like transportation, water quality, and air quality. While flood control coordination has improved recently, no comprehensive regional coordination for flood control exists.
“Drainage Thoroughfare Plan.” County and City leaders should apply transportation planning lessons to drainage and flood control. A regional drainage plan similar to the City of Houston Major Thoroughfare Plan would prevent loss of critical rights-of-way and guide floodwaters and quality growth to benefit all in and between Greater West Houston and Galveston Bay. The plan should also be modeled to benefit the greatest number of people, with robust elements of flood damage reduction, improved mobility, and emergency response. Flood control projects should create connected corridors, multi-use greenspace, trails, and public facilities. The plan should prioritize projects based on modeled risk reduction and benefit to the largest affected populations across the region. Publishing and updating this “Drainage Thoroughfare Plan” should guide improvements and development activity so that the region “fits together” in a comprehensive way. For major investments, such as the contemplated Cypress Creek Reservoir, leaders must establish regional partnerships for flood control that work to coordinate funding and inform the public.