Emmett calls for changes to county’s flood strategy

Good to see.

Judge Ed Emmett

Calling Tropical Storm Harvey’s devastation a “game-changer,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Monday called for a sweeping reexamination of the region’s flood control strategy, a process that could include billions of dollars to upgrade aging dams, building a new storm water reservoir and ramping up regulations to tamp down booming development in flood-prone areas.

The set of options outlined by Emmett on Monday, if implemented, would be the biggest change in decades to how the Houston region protects against its perennial rains and floods. Emmett said everything would be on the table, including large-scale buyouts, banding with surrounding counties to create a regional flood control district and seeking authority from the state to levy a sales tax to pay for what likely would be a massive initiative.

Emmett, a Republican who has served as county judge since 2007 and largely is seen as a pragmatist, likened the changes to a post-flood push in the 1930s that led to the creation of the Harris County Flood Control District and the construction of the Addicks and Barker dams on the city’s west side, which today protect thousands of homes of homes, downtown Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“We can’t continue to say these are anomalies,” Emmett said. “You’ve got to say, ‘We’re in a new normal, so how are we going to react to it?'”

Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer and frequent critic of Harris County’s flood control strategy, was encouraged after hearing Emmett’s comments Monday.

“This is the single best piece of news I have heard post-Harvey from any elected official,” said Blackburn, who has sued the county on several occasions and co-directs Rice University’s center on Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters. “I would like to hear every one of them say that.”


Included in the options Emmett outlined Monday were buyouts, not just of individual homes, but whole tracts of land. He said a wish-list of homes that are not already being targeted by projects, such as the upgrades on Brays Bayou, could cost $2.5 billion.

A regional flood control district could be modeled after the Harris-Galveston Subsidence District, created in 1975 to oversee the conversion from well water to surface water after sinking ground alarmed residents and public officials.

Emmett said given the repetitive flooding, the 100-year standard the county uses to design projects and regulate development, would need to be reexamined.

“We basically had three 500-year events in two years,’ he said.

An additional reservoir and a levee in the northwest part of the county to back floodwaters from Cypress Creek – both part of the options Emmett outlined – had been part of an original U.S. Army Corps plan when it built the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. Those projects failed to materialize, however, and land costs became prohibitive as people moved in.

As we now know, this includes a bond issue of up to $1 billion. On top of that, Commissioners Court has filed an application with FEMA to buy out some houses in high risk areas. Emmett has also mentioned federal funds for some projects, which state officials are also seeking, reallocating the county budget to put more of an emphasis on flood mitigation, and maybe asking the Lege to provide another revenue stream such as a sales tax. Some of this may now be mooted by the bond issue, and some of it may be discarded for lack of support. The important thing is to get the conversation started, so kudos to the county for that.

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4 Responses to Emmett calls for changes to county’s flood strategy

  1. neither here nor there says:

    They finally have seen the light, or have they? Will have to see what they promise and for how long that 11% increase will be in effect, probably forever as the county does not lower taxes.

  2. Flypusher says:

    Judge Emmitt is at the top of a very short list of sane Republicans for whom I’d actually vote if I could. Sadly, none of ones on my list represent me.

  3. Steve Houston says:

    Manny, given “Flood control officials estimate that providing 100-year-flood protection to all the homes in the county would cost upwards of $20 billion.” and that doesn’t include the multi-billion dollar surge protection some have been demanding, it sounds like all the whining about Turner’s single year revenue cap exception is just a smoke screen to divert attention. The same complainers keep trying to re-invent the Rebuild Houston program as strictly for flooding, which was never the case, so I’m curious if this call for changing county budgets, issuing large bond packages, increasing sales taxes, and even setting up yet another governmental bureaucracy will be met with the same kind of resistance.

    Absent party politics, I wonder how many cries that “there are better ways to tax” or the usual complaints of “socialism” will be made now that ranking members from both major political parties have admitted that changes are needed. Neither the city nor the county budget enough each year to make meaningful changes in flood control and neither of them have that much fat to trim to handle substantial projects without cutting in areas traditionally off limits. I know the dream solution is for the feds and state to pay for most of it but neither seem too enthusiastic about doing so, it will be interesting to see how the rank and file GOP swallow Ed’s foresight.

  4. neither here nor there says:

    While I did not support the rain tax, I agree it was never just about flood control that was not even the major part of the deal.

    I do wonder why the the ones that are always gripping about the taxes the city is proposing are extremely silent when the county does the same thing. Once the county increase taxes by about 11% it could be much higher for many others, they are not likely to remove that tax increase when the bonds are paid.

    In fact the City had to agree to contribute money to the flood control remediation to help the Brays Bayou project.

    The Flood Control district is a joke as it is, that is a County controlled entity. I frankly have no trust on any of the Republicans that run the county when it comes to flood control, that means controlling development and requiring proper detention.

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