Flood bond is a first step in addressing future rain events, expert says
If the upcoming $2.5 billion flood bond passes, it would mark the start of how Harris County addresses floodplain areas, building and safety, a flood expert says.
Jim Blackburn, a lawyer and environmental law professor at Rice University, told the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce on Thursday that the bond would need to pass to help start major flood mitigation.
“Frankly, water needs more space in our community. We’ve tried to restrict it over the years to little bitty channels. It needs more room than we’re giving it in this community and that’s a change in our attitude and our vision,” he said.
The bond would fund projects along all 23 watersheds in the county, which would include home buyouts, channel improvements, additional detention basins and remapping floodplains, among others.
If passed, county officials said the bond would also obtain a federal match that could double funds to $4.5 or $5 billion.
“It’s hard to overstate the importance of getting local funding to address this problem, which I think is really about the economic future of our whole region,” Blackburn said.
The Harris County Flood Control District finished hosting meetings for each watershed to obtain public input on projects.
The agency released a list of projects on Monday.
The county has small watersheds that rise quickly when heavy rainfall occurs, he said.
In northwest Harris County, the most affected watersheds have been Cypress Creek and Little Cypress Creek, which are the most populous with about 35,000 residents.
About 9,400 residents along both creeks have been affected by flooding, Blackburn said.
While Hurricane Harvey caused a lot of flooding that damaged homes and businesses, future storms could also cause a lot of devastation if no preparation is made to address more intensive rainfall events.
Updating the flood maps would be very important, as the current 100-year flood maps are obsolete, he said.
Providing disclosures of flood prone areas would also be necessary to keep residents out of danger during intense rainfall events. Home buyouts would be the fastest way to offer relief to affected residents and help the county gain area to create detention ponds.
Engineers tasked with constructing buildings and other infrastructure would need to change building designs to address potential high waters in the future.
“We’re building infrastructure that’s going to last us 50 years into the future. We need to anticipate what that future’s going to look like. It’s just not smart to build according to what it used to be and not what it will be,” Blackburn said.
While a study found widespread support from voters toward the bond, distributing the funds so that all watersheds are equally funds is important.
While many of the projects would take time to design and build, Blackburn said that faster projects, such as providing landowners with incentives to create detention ponds would also help hold back water.
“We’re just going to have to learn to live with water. We don’t live with water particularly well right now,” he said.
Early voting for the flood bond began this week and will end on August 25.