15 strategies from Harris County Judge Ed Emmett to prevent flooding in southeast Texas

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During a news conference Wednesday, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett presented 15 strategies to protect the county and surrounding areas from future flooding with help from federal, state and local governments. Tropical Storm Harvey damaged an estimated 136,000 homes in the county, forcing local leaders to evaluate the effectiveness of existing flood control measures.

“We must quickly commit ourselves to a comprehensive plan to redefine Harris County and the surrounding region as a global model for living and working in a flood-prone area,” Emmett said.

Emmett presented the following suggestions:

  1. Create a regional organization for multi-county coordination of flood control and water management

2. Update floodplain maps

Emmett said FEMA floodplain maps should be updated to show Harvey’s impact. He also said new rules should restrict development in 500-year floodplains.

3. Build a third reservoir for the county and city of Houston

Emmett said the state should pay for a third reservoir with help from its “rainy day fund” in order to protect the west and northwest sections of Harris County. Emmett said the third reservoir would be part of a larger project to create a state or national park for the Katy Prairie.

The existing Barker and Addicks reservoirs in West Houston were built in the 1940s and are owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—Galveston District.

4. Get the USACE to fund existing flood control projects

The four Harris County Flood Control District projects should be funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Emmett said. These projects are Brays Bayou, White Oak Bayou, Hunting Bayou and Clear Creek.

5. Improve watershed indentifiers

Old watersheds in developed areas of Harris County should be identified so that the USACE knows where water will flow during an “uncontrolled release”, Emmett said. The August openings of the Barker and Addicks reservoirs were controlled releases.

6. Emergency management should develop a flood warning system and localized evacuation plans

A flood warning system and localized evacuation plans should be developed by the Harris County Office of Emergency Management, the judge said. he also suggested The Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Community Emergency Response Teams create a water rescue effort with private boats and high-water vehicles.

7. Use lakes north of Houston for flood control

Emmett said Lake Conroe and Lake Houston should serve as flood control facilities as well as water supplies. Lake Houston should be restored to hold its maximum capacity of water, and the San Jacinto River Authority should create retention and detention basins upstream of Lake Houston.

8. Have the Harris County Emergency Operations Center assist with emergency operations in surrounding counties

9. Get municipal utility and other special districts to manage flood control and stormwater

10. Equip flood-prone underpasses with automatic barriers or be closed as part of a comprehensive manual plan

11. Create comprehensive plans for watersheds

Comprehensive plans should be developed for every major watershed in Harris County by the Harris County Flood Control District, Emmett said. He included Buffalo Bayou, where a canal or tunnel system might be implemented.

12. Federal, state and local governments approve buyouts or an elevation program for homes located in the 100-year floodplain or that have repeatedly flooded

13. New state regulations for development plats in unincorporated areas and in cities’ extraterritorial jurisdiction

14. USACE performs high quality repairs the Barker and Addicks dams and detention areas

15. Allow Harris County to receive a portion of unincorporated areas’ sales tax revenue to implement flood prevention projects

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  1. Since Judge Emmett’s staff doesn’t seem to have their act sufficiently together to post this list on his own website, it’s good to see it here. They’re all good ideas. Where I come from most of the artificial lakes are for flood control, not using Lake Conroe and Lake Houston to help out is silly.

    We also need to raise the development-restricted flood zones to 2-3 feet above the 500 year level. Raising the restriction level to the 500 year level without any safety margin is just closing the barn door after the horse has been stolen without bothering to put a lock on it.

  2. Agreed on Lake Conroe and Lake Houston, more lakes and digging out the channels will help, but in no way will it prevent flooding, because this area has flooded for generations.
    The government is great at spending other peoples money and the Nature Center on Spring Creek Greenway is a perfect example. In private hands it was in great shape and the owner paid taxes. They preach don’t build on the greenway and built on the greenway. The Nature Center flooded twice and pumped human wasted down the creek.
    Of course it was sold to the tax payers to control flooding and protect the environment. The rest of the creek turned into a dumping ground for trash.
    A much better idea is to place restrictions on building and leave it in private hands. Look at the loss of tax dollars on the Spring Creek Greenway and the result.

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