The North Canal Project, a $131 million proposed flood mitigation plan for downtown Houston, received funds to enter its design phase May 19.

The project includes rerouting White Oak Bayou along downtown, adding an overflow channel east of downtown, and improving bridges and channels along Yale Street and Heights Boulevard to increase water conveyance capacity.

“This project was first sketched by renowned architect Charles Tapley in 1970. That’s how long this project has been around,” Council Member Sallie Alcorn said. “Just to see this item on the agenda and see money going toward the design phase is a really, really exciting day.”

Houston City Council voted unanimously to approve a $1.1 million contract with HDR Engineering Inc. to design the project, setting the stage for the final design to be completed by May 2023.

Funding sources for the project include $25 million from the Memorial Heights Redevelopment Authority; $2.66 million for design from the Federal Emergency Management Agency; and $20 million from the city, the Harris County Flood Control District and the Texas Department of Transportation.

Preliminary plans indicate Buffalo and White Oak bayous upstream from downtown will see a 2- to 5-foot reduction in depth during 100- and 500-year storms, Laura Patino, the chief of staff for the Mayor’s Office of Recovery, told Houston City Council members in an Aug. 6 briefing.

Council Member Robert Gallegos, who represents both downtown and the East End, expressed concern during the May 19 vote over the increased conveyance.

“As you know, the East End does not flood. I am concerned now with more water coming down through Buffalo Bayou and the new East River Development in Fifth Ward,” Gallegos said. “I just want to stress that this needs to be looked at carefully to make sure it does not cause any problems in the future.’

Already a complex project requiring coordination from the federal government though Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers in addition to state and local officials, the effort is also happening alongside the potential overhaul of I-45.

The designs will determine how much property acquisition will be necessary, which plays a significant role in determining how quickly the project can be completed, Patino said Aug. 6.

Matt Dulin contributed to this report.