Texas prepares to launch first-ever flood fund with voter approval

A section of Cypress Creek experiences flooding during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. (Vanessa Holt/Community Impact Newspaper)
A section of Cypress Creek experiences flooding during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. (Vanessa Holt/Community Impact Newspaper)

A section of Cypress Creek experiences flooding during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. (Vanessa Holt/Community Impact Newspaper)

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After garnering the approval of voters, Texas has been given the go ahead to create the state’s first flooding infrastructure fund.

The fund is being established with a one-time injection of $793 million in funding from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund—more commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund—after voters approved Proposition 8 on Nov. 5. However, state lawmakers can choose to add more money to the fund in the future, officials said.

The proposition passed with the support of 77.83% of Texas voters, finishing with over 1.5 million votes in favor of the measure compared to about 435,000 votes against it, according to unofficial results from the Texas secretary of state’s office. In Harris County, the margin of support was even greater, with 86% of voters supporting the measure, according to the Harris County clerk’s office.

“I was very encouraged by the results of the election,” said state Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont—who authored the House resolution that put Proposition 8 on ballots—in a phone interview. “We are finally going to get involved in flood mitigation for the first time in the history of the state.”

The new fund, which is being called the Flood Infrastructure Fund, will be managed by the Texas Water Development Board, which hosted a series of workshops around the state in 2019 to solicit feedback on how to prioritize projects. Prior to the proposition’s passing, TWDB Director Kathleen Jackson spoke about the board’s planning efforts at an October event hosted Houston Stronger, a coalition that advocates for flooding solutions in Houston.

With Proposition 8’s success, Jackson said funds should become available in 2020 and will be used to meet immediate needs. The TWDB sent out proposed rules for how the fund will be managed for public comment in November, a process that will last through mid-January, officials said.

Phelan, who also spoke at the event, said communities will be able to submit applications for drainage and flood projects. If they are successful, they will qualify for either a zero-interest loan, a low-interest loan or grant funding, he said.

“We don’t know what that looks like yet,” Phelan said. “Based on the workshops around the state, we’re going to try to figure out how that money is levied out throughout those different opportunities.”

Phelan said it is crucial for local entities to begin developing their plans now in order to be competitive in the application process.

Thinking regionally

The overall way the state is approaching flood mitigation involves planning for the future and approaching issues more regionally, Jackson said at the Houston Stronger event.

“When you look in the past when a flood would occur ... we would go back and rebuild, and we would basically take what the previous actions had been, and we’d mitigate to those,” she said. “I think we know now that we need to be proactive—that we need to be thinking about population growth; we need to be thinking about changes that are occurring as we look forward, not just what’s happened in the past in terms of weather, but what’s going on in the future.”

Alan Black, the director of operations for the Harris County Flood Control District, said the district is waiting for the rules to be finalized before applying for funding for local projects. The district did not indicate which projects are being considered for applications at this point.

“We anxiously await publishing of the rules so we can determine which of our many state projects have the best potential for approval,” Black said in an email.

In the aftermath of the Nov. 5 election, Bob Harvey, the president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, said he looks forward to working with local and state partners in Harris County to ensure area projects receive funding.

“As we know well in Houston, improving our flood resiliency is essential to our long-term success,” Harvey said in an email. “Prop. 8 is a critical step forward in the effort to build a more resilient region and state.”


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