Despite Upgrades, Flood Risk Still Exists for Some Houston Homes

March 7, 2018

Nearly 9,000 homes and other buildings will remain in the floodplains of four Houston-area waterways despite multimillion-dollar flood control projects.

Momentum built last month to finish the projects on Brays, Hunting and White Oak bayous and Clear Creek after Congress appropriated $10.4 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers specifically for flood control projects in disaster-affected areas like Harris County. The projects include miles of widening, straightening and deepening waterways, as well as digging out detention basins to keep significantly more rain and runoff within the waterways’ banks and out of thousands of flood-prone homes, the Houston Chronicle reported .

But even after the projects’ completion, the waterways will still struggle to contain floodwaters from storms weaker than those that have hit Houston each of the last three years, according to projects from the Harris County Flood Control District.

“There’s been no project, nor will there likely be any project, that will reduce the flood risk to zero,” said Steve Fitzgerald, chief engineer for the flood control district. “There is always a residual floodplain.”

Homes in the floodplains face the potential for a so-called 100-year storm, a storm that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year. Three floods in the past three years, including one resulting from Hurricane Harvey, all reached 500-year storm levels that have a 0.2 percent chance of occurring in any year.

The flood control district’s projections reveal that completely protecting Houston against what’s expected to be a growing natural threat is held back by the limitations of public funds and taxpayers’ willingness to pay.

“I am of the unpopular opinion that goes,’`We need to pay higher taxes, we should have higher flood insurance premiums,”’ said Tamara Fish, whose Meyerland home flooded in 2015 and again during Harvey.

Fish said neighbors try to believe that Project Brays will completely solve the flooding, but she never expected the upgraded bayou to contain a 100-year storm.

Fitzgerald said that even if homes remain on the floodplain after the project, the amount of water houses take on should decrease.

“We have to manage expectations,” said Stephen Costello, the city’s chief resiliency officer. “We’re not building a 100-year channel, we’re building something slightly less than a 100-year channel. We’ll still have houses in harm’s way.”

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