Harris County Voters to Decide $2.5 Billion Flood-Risk Bond Issue

By George Slaughter

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett speaks at an information meeting Wednesday – George Slaughter photo

Hurricane Harvey made its mark on Harris County and Southeast Texas last year. Later this month, county voters will decide on a $2.5 billion bond package focused on flood-risk reduction projects.

Katy-area residents learned about the proposal at a public information meeting held at Memorial Parkway Junior High School, 21203 Highland Knolls.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said that the hurricane caused approximately 160,000 flooded homes, in addition to businesses and schools.

“We can’t let that happen again,” Emmett said. “We’re all going to have to pull it up together and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Potential project types include voluntary home buyouts, storm repair work, and subdivision drainage management. Projects can also include:

  • Community input projects, which are projects suggested by citizens at events such as Wednesday’s meeting.
  • Local projects, which are projects such as and use only flood district money.
  • Partnership projects, which are projects developed through a local, state, or federal partnership.

Much of the Katy area falls in the Barker Reservoir. The bond proposal includes several storm repair work projects for along Mason Creek and its tributaries. Some storm repair work projects will focus on the tributary just north of I-10. Seven subdivision drainage improvement work projects are also in the plans.

Emmett said that the biggest proposed project is the deepening of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs.

To see a PDF of the proposed Barker Reservoir projects, click here.

Part of the bond money will cover the county’s contribution towards a study to determine a site for a proposed third reservoir. Emmett said the original design for a third reservoir was for Cypress Creek. That purpose of that reservoir was to capture overflow from Cypress Creek and keep it from going into the City of Katy, which it did last year, and the Addicks Reservoir.

Since those plans were created, Emmett said, approximately 300,000 people have moved into that area. Now the proposed third reservoir must be relocated elsewhere, and a study will help answer those questions.

The bond issue will focus in part on waterway improvements for Brays Bayou, Clear Creek, Hunting Bayou, and White Oak Bayou. Work on those projects has already started.

The bond is more than waterway improvements. Emmett said Brays Bayou has 32 bridges, many of which have columns in the water, which impedes water flow.

“It’s more than just digging out ditches,” Emmett said. “It goes to projects. It doesn’t go to operations and maintenance.”

Emmett said the informational meetings give people a chance to talk “with experts who know what they’re talking about.” He said the reaction to the bond proposal has been “quote good” overall.

Wednesday’s meeting was the 23rd and last such meeting held around Harris County. Flood district staffers were stationed at a series of information stations, each of which had a map of the proposed Barker Reservoir projects. Against a wall, officials set up a computer station to enable feedback about other possible flood-related projects. A flood district staffer said about 300 people attended Wednesday’s meeting.

Emmett said that 33 new projects have been added to the county’s plans because of citizen input.

“People realize we have to do something,” Emmett said. “There are some people who still say, ‘Well, there’s no specific project that helps me,’ and I say, ‘Well, wait a minute, if the county took that attitude, 93% of the homes in Harris County didn’t flood,’ so they say, ‘Why should I do this it doesn’t help me?’ But we got through Harvey together, and I think there’s still that sense of community, that we’ve got to make our community more resilient.”

Harris County Flood District officials estimates that the overall tax increase will be no more than 2-3 cents per $100 of home property evaluation. Harris County homeowners with an over-65 or disabled exemption and a house worth $200,000 or less would not pay any additional taxes for bonds, district officials said.

Two U.S. representatives, John Culberson, R-Houston, and Michael McCaul, R-Austin, were also in attendance. Both Culberson’s and McCaul’s districts include parts of the Katy area. Both have been active, as have other federal officials from Texas, in expediting federal guidelines and securing federal flood relief funding.

Culberson said he was scheduled to meet with Army Corps of Engineers officials Monday to discuss funding issues.

Harris County commissioners set the election for August 25 mindful that it was the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. Early voting begins August 8.

“I didn’t want to go past the one-year anniversary of Harvey without something positive to talk about,” Emmett said.

Emmett said the first projects to be completed are the ones the county can get done first.

“We’ve got to start making improvements,” Emmett said. “People don’t like to hear this, but I’ve been asked, if Harvey came now, would we be better off than we were, and my answer is no. In fact, we’re worse off because Harvey damaged a lot of the infrastructure that we haven’t been able to replace. We have to start now. To say we’re not going to do it accomplishes nothing. It sends a signal to the whole world that we don’t care.”

For more information, see the flood district web site.