Officials with the Harris County Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers announced Feb. 14 that an agreement had been reached over how to move forward with flood mitigation studies targeting Buffalo Bayou.

The Corps has been working on an interim report of its Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries study, public meetings for which date back to April 2019. The study targets a large swath of western Harris County, including the Buffalo Bayou, Addicks, Barker, Cypress Creek, Brays and White Oak Bayou watersheds.

Under the new agreement, the HCFCD will contribute additional funding and technical assistance to project and will "temporarily take the lead on additional analysis of various study alternatives, including deep stormwater tunnels," according to the Feb. 14 news release.

“We need a long-term solution that’ll preserve our existing communities and businesses,” Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey said in a statement. “This study is so important because it allows us access to federal funding, and I’m thankful to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their partnership and investment in our region.”

The HCFCD has been conducting its own analysis of the use of underground flood tunnels in Harris County, having already come to the conclusion that a systemwide approach would yield the largest benefits.

The Corps launched the Buffalo Bayou study in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 with the goal of identifying actions that would reduce flood risks to people, property and communities within the Buffalo Bayou, Addicks and Barker watersheds. An earlier interim report from the Corps was criticized by some stakeholder groups along the bayou—including the Barker Flood Prevention Advocacy Group, Houston Stronger and Save Buffalo Bayou—for one option that called for deepening and widening the channel. The option, one of several favored by the Corps' cost-benefit analysis, raised environmental concerns.

Then, the Corps announced in December 2021 that it would revisit its plans and come up with a new interim report that would reconsider underground tunnels.

Moving forward, the HCFCD will conduct its analysis using three guiding objectives, according to the Feb. 14 release:
  • Finding a cost-effective, implementable and community-supported solution that significantly reduces the remaining flood risk associated with the operation of Addicks and Barker reservoirs;
  • Securing federal funding for design and construction; and
  • Enhancing the resilience of vulnerable communities in Harris County and supporting integrated solutions that transform the county’s ability to manage evolving flood risks.
In its analysis, HCFCD will use newly available state-of-the-art hydrologic and hydraulic models, according to the release. The district will have roughly one year to complete its evaluation, after which the Corps will look to complete the study by 2026.

“We’re excited to continue working with the Harris County Flood Control District to find a way to bring the communities along Buffalo Bayou an effective means to further reduce flood risks,” said Col. Rhett Blackmon, the Corps' Galveston District commander, in a statement. “I believe that together we can find a solution which best meets the needs of the affected communities.”