Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday gave the green light to 16 new flood control projects, three days after voters overwhelmingly approved a $2.5 billion bond aimed at boosting the region’s protections against future floods.
The projects include de-silting the Addicks and Barker reservoir watersheds, drainage improvements in the San Jacinto River, Cypress Creek, Luce Bayou and Cedar Bayou watersheds, a stormwater detention basin project along Greens Bayou and conveyance improvements on Willow Creek.
“It’s a matter of starting with the low-hanging fruit, the ones that are ready to go, and move forward,” County Judge Ed Emmett said.
The bond includes more than 230 projects across the county’s 23 watersheds. The projects approved include in work in Armand, Buffalo, Halls, Luce, Cedar, Horsepen and Greens bayous; Cypress, Willow and Clear creeks, waterways leading into the Addicks and Barker reservoirs and the San Jacinto River.
The engineering firms hired for those 16 projects will help determine their price tags.
Plans in the bond issue include $1.2 billion for channel improvements, $401 million for detention basins, $242 million for floodplain land acquisition, $12.5 million for new floodplain mapping and $1.25 million for an improved early flood warning system. Another $500 million remains unallocated, leaving the county money to pay for projects identified in the future.
“This is initiating the negotiating process ... to help us bring these projects to fruition,” said Russ Poppe, the Harris County Flood Control executive director.
The court also permitted the flood control district to hire 20 new employees starting Sept. 1. Operations Manager Matt Zeve said Saturday the flood control district plans to hire as many as 70 additional staff, plus consultants, to administer bond projects.
The measure, passed on Saturday with the support of 86 percent of voters, will allow the flood control district to spend around $450 million annually on projects, Poppe said. The existing flood control projects budget is just $60 million.
“We’ve got to meter the amount of work we produce with the amount of staff we have internally,” Poppe said. “It’s going to take us a bit of time to ramp up and produce commensurate with the public’s expectations.”
The bond funds also will help Harris County access more than $2 billion in matching federal dollars, pushing the total to be managed by the flood control district toward $5 billion.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle on Tuesday praised the district for what he said was the most transparent bond process he had ever seen. Court members and flood control district staff held two-dozen public meetings over the summer to educate residents about the proposals.
“Getting out there, communicating what this bond was about has paid off,” Cagle said. “The public has overwhelmingly supported it.”
Flood control district officials have said they plan to complete some projects by the beginning of the 2019 hurricane season next June, an advantage of holding the bond election Aug. 25 instead of in November.