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Flood funds need matches for mitigation

By Lewis Spearman

EAST HARRIS COUNTY – Problems matching money set aside to mitigate flooding locally are allowing flood conditions to threaten the Greater Houston Area.

Remember all those floods from the Memorial Day Flood to Hurricane Harvey? Citizens of Harris County passed a $2.5 billion dollar matching funds bond to deal with making an infrastructure to reduce the risk of floods.

The $2.5 billion bond passed in 2018, and Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) planned for state and federal agencies to match the bond amount. But the HCFCD explained that the Texas General Land Office changed how it allocated funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Houston and Harris County are now competing with the rest of Texas for Hurricane Harvey relief. The 2015 Memorial Day and 2016 Tax Day floods did not receive grants, according to the HCFCD.

Since then, the Greater Houston Area has added over 100,000 folks each year with previous percentages of concrete and roofs to people as before. Harris County alone is facing an increase of nearly 4 million people in the next decade or so. Flooding is now more of a risk due to hard surface increases, replacing good old water-absorbing land.

The San Jacinto River Watershed contains the San Jacinto River and Lake Houston. Many bond projects fall within that watershed. Matching funds are currently less than 74% of the total prices to propose the projects to begin the work.

Harris County Budget Management Department told Commissioners Court on March 9 that just over a billion and a quarter dollars had not been matched with federal funds for this bond.

Funding isn’t currently available for the San Jacinto Regional Watershed Master Drainage Plan (SJMDP) and a study into building a detention basin near the Houston Ship Channel. As it stands $3.3 billion of potential projects are to go into waterways leading to Lake Houston.

Dredging Lake Houston now has a $40 million proposed project.

Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Texas 127 District, has been shepherding House Bill 2525 through the Texas Legislature to make the Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District funded by taxes. Thus avoiding a wait for matching funds in the future to reduce flood impact.

SJMDP in summary indicates that potential funding sources are FEMA, HUD and the EPA on the federal level, the General Land Office and Texas Water Development Board on the State Level, and locally, taxes and Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones. HCFCD says SJMDP calls for “coordinating common drainage criteria for hydrology, detention and floodplain analysis.” It demands “development of a watershed protection study for tributaries into major streams to identify flood risks and assess mitigation strategies.”