Harris County judge outlines 15 proposals to improve regional flood control
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Wednesday afternoon outlined 15 proposals to revamp the Houston area's flood control system, citing an urgent need for a "comprehensive plan to redefine Harris County and the surrounding region as a global model for living and working in a flood-prone area."
The wide-ranging plan comes two months after Hurricane Harvey dropped 52 inches of rain and flooded almost an estimated 160,000 homes and structures in the county, killing almost 80 people across the state.
"Now is not the time for a piecemeal approach," Emmett said.
The proposals likely will require significant buy-in from federal, state and local officials. They include:
- Creating a regional flood control organization that can coordinate water management across county lines. Releases from Lake Conroe in Montgomery County have been fiercely criticized by Harris County residents.
- Increasing regulations on development in flood-prone areas, including rethinking floodplains. The county is currently conducting a reevaluation.
- Developing an improved flood control system and localized evacuation plan that could utilize volunteer organizations to help first responders, as well as how to coordinate high-water vehicles and private boats. Residents in the areas around Addicks and Barker dams have called for a better warning system, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dams, considered such a system before dropping the idea two decades ago.
- Installing automatic barriers at flood-prone underpasses and developing a plan for closing such underpasses. After the Tax Day floods, Emmett said he would lead such an effort.
- Buying out all homes located in the 100-year floodplain or that have flooded repeatedly. The County has several disparate buyout efforts ongoing, but a larger scale program will probably cost billions of dollars.
Other proposals include asking the state to allow Harris County to collect sales tax money and institute "clear rules" for approval of plats, more comprehensively studying the 22 watersheds in Harris County and modeling where the water flows, building a third reservoir with the state of Texas's "rainy day fund" and jump-starting federal flood control projects around Houston.