Harris County commissioners discussed a potential $1 billion flood control bond referendum as well as the possibility of constructing underground tunnels to redirect flood waters at a March 27 court meeting.

Bond referendum talks came up after officials with the Harris County Flood Control District said they would need millions of dollars to match funds available through the Hurricane Harvey Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. The grant money, which comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is part of a federal package to help states affected by natural disasters in 2017 pay for projects to prevent damage in future storms.

Another item on the March 27 agenda asked commissioners to approve an HCFCD request to submit an application for $165 million in grant funds for home buyouts, which would require a $66 million match from the county. HCFCD Executive Director Russel Poppe said the district’s budget for non-maintenance projects is $60 million each year, meaning their contribution would be over budget if they tried to fund it themselves.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said the court could call a bond election as early as June 16, but argued that the turnout could be low and the cost of holding an irregular election—a separate election from the regular November election—could be a concern.

Ellis also asked if $1 billion would be enough to fund the study and other priority flood projects, suggesting that as much as $2 billion could be needed.

“I’ve heard various numbers from $1 billion to $2 billion," he said. "There were rumors of higher numbers… What’s the difference if there’s $2 billion or more, and what can be done with the $1 billion?”

Bond money could also help fund a study into building underground tunnels to transport rain water away from flood-prone neighborhoods.

The goal of the tunnels would be to help several of the major waterways in the Houston area—possibly including Buffalo Bayou, Clear Creek, Cypress Creek, Greens Bayou, Halls Bayou, Hunting Bayou and White Oak Bayou—to stay within their banks during a 100-year storm, reducing flooding in nearby neighborhoods. Exactly where they would be built and where the water will drain are still to be determined, county officials said.

The study itself, which was approved by commissioners at the March 27 meeting, would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Poppe said.

“What we’re proposing is basically to do a feasibility study to just look at the technology, the engineering [and] the soils that we have in Harris County to see if this is a technique that would even be feasible,” he said.

Poppe said the underground tunnels should not be considered a solution until the feasibility study is complete. HCFCD was authorized at the meeting to enter negotiations with geotechnical firm Fugro USA Land for engineering services on the study.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the commissioners will need more time to discuss the matter, and that the timeline for the tunnel study is uncertain.

“I would guess they would come up with something in the next 30 to 60 days to start the [feasibility] study and it could cost somewhere from $200,000-$400,000,” he said. “One of the things people expect is for us to look at [the tunnel solution]. All the technology and all the possibilities that are out there… the district knew that they would be remiss if they didn’t at least look at the idea.”

No decisions have been made on if or when a bond election will take place.