Hurricane Harvey

After Harvey, What’s In The Works To Address Flood Mitigation In Greater Houston?

City, county, state and federal government are all working to weaken the effects of another Harvey

Flood mitigation has long been subject of discussion in Greater Houston. Harvey has only increased the urgency. Officials have renewed talks about building another reservoir.

The Addicks and Barker reservoirs in west Houston weren’t sufficient to deal with all the rainfall Harvey brought. When they reached capacity, thousands of homes were flooded by water released from them.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, wants a third reservoir built as soon as possible.

“It’s my highest priority to get this thing started and get this thing done as expeditiously as possible,” he said at a recent press conference.

Part of McCaul’s plan is to get more funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built and maintain the Addicks and Barker reservoirs.

Edmund Russo, with the Corps’ Galveston district, said they’re planning a three-year, $3 million study that would include a third reservoir.

 “We may also take into consideration increasing the storage capacity within the reservoir dams by excavating material from within those,” Russo said. “We could also examine improved downstream flood risk management through the bayou network in the Houston area.”

The SSPEED Center, a storm research institute at Rice University, has been looking into this issue too. The center’s director, Phillip Bedient, said one major problem in the city has been the pace of development.

 “Even in existing neighborhoods on the western fringe, it may be that we’re going to simply have to go in and do some buyouts and create a unique set of setbacks and green space and detention areas where we already have developments,” he said.

The Harris County Commissioners Court has approved $20 million to buy out 200 homes.

Bedient said, besides a third or even fourth reservoir, we need more detention basins. Those could be put in bought out areas and golf courses, for example. He said there needs to be a policy change to address unchecked development and land use.

Matthew Zeve, director of operations the Harris County Flood Control District, disagrees with that last part. He said there are already drainage requirements for new development.

“Every recent development in the past 20 years, they have their drainage impact mitigated by detention basins,” he said.

Zeve does agree that more detention is needed across the area. He pointed to a map showing the 22 detention basins in the county and, he said, they’re adding more.

 “We have hundreds of millions of dollars of construction going on as we speak for new detention basins all over Harris County,” Zeve said.

It’s probably important to make a distinction here between a reservoir and a detention basin.

Detention basins are dug into the ground. They detain, or keep, stormwater and slowly release it into a channel and eventually Galveston Bay, Zeve said. Reservoirs are above the ground behind raised embankments.

Harvey hasn’t changed the urgency for the flood control district, Zeve said, because they have always used all available resources to mitigate flooding. But he said it may have helped getting additional funds from federal, state and local government.

Bedient, the Rice professor, said he too is encouraged by the money that’s coming in.

“Now all of a sudden, we’ve gotten the attention of the nation and the world with respect to Harvey,” he said. “I do believe that things are moving quickly and I think that there will be some significant changes going forward because there has to be.”

On the city level, a new taskforce will be looking into future flood mitigation.

 “And what we’re going to be focusing on are three specific issues,” Stephen Costello, Houston’s flood czar, said. “Detention; what we call site fill and the displacement of stormwater; and the third is the impact on our infrastructure, when people encroach onto our drainage infrastructure.”

For Bedient, it’s important that all the players do a better job working together. That includes the city, county, state and federal government. “All these different groups, all responsible in a lot of ways for the same problem,” he said.

He suggests bringing all of these governmental entities into one management agency to deal entirely with flooding in the region.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter.Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters and the Houston Press Club.Florian is a native of Germany. His studies in Leipzig...

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