Flooding Local Politics

Flooding is like Potholes… Wait, what?


On January 11th, the mayor was bragging and city council members were patting each other on their backs.

The official press release would be more professional, but there was an air of smugness.  This mayor has solved flooding, and city council would be taking some credit, too, by virtue of their physical proximity.

“No longer will we be reactive,” said Mayor Turner.  “This approach will allow us to anticipate when and where improvements are needed and then take care of them before we have a problem.  Last year, we focused on repairing potholes and streets.  In 2017, the emphasis will be on flooding and drainage.  This is the next big step in improving Houston’s infrastructure.”

You see, solving flooding is not any more difficult than fixing potholes.

The mayor just created a new program called “SWAT.”

It stands for Storm Water Action Team, but the name seemed more like it was designed by PR professionals than actual professionals with expertise in city infrastructure.

Basically, there are 100 projects that Microscope Houston has identified as maintenance projects that are long overdue, and the city will be using $10 million to do 22 of those projects… supposedly all this year  The city is not quite sure where the money is going to come from to do the next batch of projects in 2018.  But, by golly, they found $10M to mow some ditches and repair some busted up concrete.

Never mind that the annual city budget is billions of dollars, and don’t worry your little head about the hundreds of millions that were recently spent to upgrade George R. Brown Convention Center and Discovery Green for the Super Bowl.

Ten million whole dollars will be spent to solve flooding.  Yes!

You see, flooding is no more difficult to solve than potholes.

Well, at least that’s what the city wants you to think.  But, just seven days later, the city was hit with a very bad rainstorm.  Note, this wasn’t a tropical storm or a hurricane.  It was a storm.  And, it caused massive street flooding and it caused homes in Meyerland to flood yet again.  Some Meyerland homes flooded for the fourth time in two years.

But, hey, flooding is just like potholes, and the city has it solved.

The below picture is a flooded out car in the Memorial Drive underpass beneath Shepherd Drive just north of River Oaks and just west of Downtown.

Yeah, that just looks like a really bad pothole.

And, for the homes that flooded yet again, it’s really not much more inconvenient than driving over a nasty bump in the road.

Or, maybe not.

Maybe flooding a is real problem in the city of Houston.

The January Response.

Likely because city hall looked like idiots, the response came quickly.  Well, quickly by city standards.  The response came 6 days later.

And, they did look like idiots.

A symposium on flooding hosted by some council members actually had to be cancelled due to flooding.

Six days is quick.  It took almost a year for the SWAT program to be announced after the Tax Day Floods.  See, the city is getting better.

For Brays Bayou, the city submitted a loan application “to the Texas Water Development Board for [long delayed] Brays Bayou improvements. Upon approval of the loan by the state, the City will in turn advance $43 million to the flood control district to help pay for bridge replacements and extensions and channel widening in the Brays watershed.  The $43 million is equivalent to the amount the flood control district expects to receive from the federal government once the projects are completed.  The City will be paid back as projects are completed and the flood control district is reimbursed by the federal government.”

Never mind that $43 million is a drop in the bucket in the city’s overall budget, Turner and city hall demanded credit for such an innovative solution.

And, they were very pleased with themselves.

Okay, great work guys.

Assuming approval for the loan, it is actually fantastic for Meyerland residents that the work on Brays Bayou can now be funded.  But, it took way too long.  Way, way too long.

What’s Left?

The majority of flooding in Houston doesn’t occur in a mapped flood plane.

Urban flooding occurs when elevated commercial properties and new concrete push water off into adjacent neighborhoods and there is not enough storm water detention to hold the excess water.

To address this issue, city building codes need to be changed and more water detention is needed in the urban parts of the city prone to residential flooding.

The city still does nothing to proactively prevent flooding.

To be fair, the mayor did say he was no longer going to be reactive to flooding problems.

The problem is, he isn’t reacting at all to the majority of flooding which happens outside of mapped flood plains.

When will the mayor start amending the building codes and finding money to pay for water detention in flood prone neighborhoods?

This has been a Microscope Houston report. 


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