Rule Changes, Projects, and Other Post-Harvey Discussions

If you are having trouble keeping up with all of the discussions about possible post-Harvey rule changes, projects, or other activities here’s a handy summary of what is going on (that I know about):

  1. West Houston Association: The association has proposed construction of a set of projects to address flood risk including buyouts; widespread bayou and channel enlargements to convey runoff from 12″ of rain in 1 day; a third reservoir in the Katy/Cypress area; fixing Addicks and Barker reservoirs; and enlargement of Buffalo Bayou from Highway 6 to downtown so that it can convey 15,000 cubic feet per second (the full release rate during Harvey). The Association’s plans were covered by Channel 2 news.
  2. Judge Ed Emmett: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett presented a 15 point plan which is detailed in another post on this blog.
  3. Governor Greg Abbott: Governor Abbott compiled a list of 300 projects from all County Judges and Mayors in declared disaster areas.  I published highlights here.
  4. County Engineer John Blount, P.E.: Mr. Blount has proposed changing floodplain rules to require the finished floor of occupied structures to be higher than previously required. This was based on the County’s analysis of documented flood damages from Harvey and the rules in place at the time that the developments with damaged homes were designed and built. A comparison sheet with existing and proposed rules can be reviewed here.
  5. City of Houston Chief Resilience Officer: Stephen Costello, P.E. has moved forward with a task force that was planned long before Harvey. The task force is charged with evaluating three things: (a) Detention rules for redevelopment and development; (b) Rules regarding placement of fill dirt above or outside the regulatory floodplain; and (c) Protection and preservation of the city’s rights of way, especially roadside ditches.
  6. Low Impact Development (Harris County): The county has a task force working on an update to their 2011 rules regarding low impact development / green infrastructure. One reason for the update is to more clearly address how LID can meet the “retention” requirement in “Supplemental Guidelines” approved by Harris County in March 2016 addressing drainage and development in some areas the Cypress Creek / Addicks / Barker system.
  7. Low Impact Development (City of Houston): The Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Houston is applying for a grant from the Houston Endowment to develop a program to encourage private development to use green infrastructure in redevelopment and development projects in the city.  This effort might include experts from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Urban Land Institute.
  8. Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium: The Kinder Foundation, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, the Houston Endowment, and the Walton Family Foundation have jointly funded the Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium. The group will support leading researchers from various institutions to come together to “compile, analyze and share a rich array of scientifically-informed data about flooding risk and mitigation opportunities.”  The program manager is Christof Spieler of Huitt-Zollars (formerly Morris Architects), Rice University, and the Metro Board.
  9. Bayou City Initiative: Jim Blackburn, and others, have created a new non-profit organization called the Bayou City Initiative.  As I understand it, the organization’s mission will be to develop a “vision document” for what a more resilient Houston would look like; create a network of 100,000 citizens by February 2018; advocate for sufficient funding for buyouts; advocate for project funding; advocate for advanced flood warning systems; advocate for better public information about flooding and flood risks; and prepare and distribute a how to guide for “surviving Houston flooding” for residents of the region.
  10. Lawsuits: A large number of residents in the western fringe of the Addicks and Barker flood pools, whose homes were inundated by the rising water inside the reservoirs, and a large number of residents along Buffalo Bayou whose homes flooded as a result of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) releasing a higher than normal amount of water from both reservoirs, have sued the USACE. The lawsuits are seeking financial compensation for the government’s use of private land to hold or convey flood waters, a legal concept known as “inverse condemnation.” This is similar to condemnation, but in a different order. Normally the government pays a private land owner for the right to use or own the land first and then the government uses the land.  In an inverse condemnation case, the government uses the land first and then compensates the owner afterwards.  I am not an expert in inverse condemnation law and I’m not a lawyer, but from what I’ve read, I don’t believe the flooded home owners are likely to prevail.

If you know about any other post-Harvey activities, plans, or projects, please leave a comment about them.

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