Raising the Bar on Flooding

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Elevating Houston’s Standards for Flood Protection

District C is blessed with many advantages, but it also contains some of the hardest-hit areas from the last three major floods: Harvey, Tax Day and Memorial Day.

Flood recovery, prevention, and management are exceedingly complex, multi-jurisdictional and expensive. Abbie Kamin knows they are also incredibly frustrating. 

During Hurricane Katrina, Abbie personally evacuated from New Orleans and not only spent the next five years assisting with the city’s recovery efforts, but had to deal with FEMA personally. She also served in Senator Mary Landrieu’s office in Washington D.C., doing policy research on federal rules and regulations pertaining to the Army Corps of Engineers dredging policies of rivers and bayous, and the nonsensical way in which the Corps is required to dispose of silt and other materials dredged. 

During Hurricane Harvey, Abbie was called in to help at the City Command Center at the George R. Brown Convention Center (she was also in the Astrodome assisting as the first buses came in from New Orleans’ Superdome during Katrina). Abbie has seen what is working and what is not working with our emergency management response, and what we need to improve on in terms of resident preparedness, and physical and mental health needs following traumatic storms.

Our District C council member cannot do it all, but she can be a catalyst and, to some extent, an enforcer, when it comes to ensuring responsibility, accountability, transparency and common sense on flood issues.

To begin with, we need to stop denying climate change.

Houston is experiencing the consequences of climate change right now – and it will only get worse. A recent study confirms predictions that the storms are likely to get bigger, be more intense and last longer:

“Investigators say…climate change is likely to make Atlantic hurricanes bigger, more intense and longer-lasting than in the past.  The researchers calculate climate change caused Harvey’s rainfall to be 15 to 38 percent greater than it would have been otherwise.” Scientific American, May 16, 2018

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“In a little more than two years, Harvey was the fifth 100-year rainstorm—weather so severe that each storm was expected to occur just once in 100 years under “normal” conditions.” CityLab.com

We must demand that our state and federal governments acknowledge that climate change is real and start addressing the issue head on with sound policy grounded in science. Climate change is literally killing Texans already and is detrimental to the future of our economy.

Practical steps we can take right now:

Abbie’s plan includes:

City Services

  • Federal funds. There are new federal funds available through the City of Houston to help homeowners recovering from Hurricane Harvey. The District C council office can help residents access these and other services for flood recovery.  Our campaign has already connected Meyerland residents through satellite service centers.

  • Buyouts. On the one hand, it doesn’t make sense for the long term to keep investing public dollars to repair homes that will just flood again when the next big storm arrives. On the other hand, we should not force people out of their homes. We need to be sure homeowners have all the information they need to make a responsible decision, and offer buyouts for those who may be interested in certain areas.

Transparency, Communication and Resident Input

  • Town hall meetings. Abbie will conduct regular town-hall meetings to update residents on the progress of projects and to hear their input. Participants will include representatives from the city, county, Flood Control District, Army Corps of Engineers and flooding experts.

  • Project Brays. Abbie will keep residents informed on the latest updates on Project Brays and will aggressively push back against further delays. 

  • Drainage and Flooding Committee. Abbie is considering making a proposal to bring back the City Council Drainage and Flooding Committee to act as a two-way conduit of information and a forum where City Council members can use their leverage to push projects forward, minimize delays and hold agencies accountable.

  • Notification requirements for renters. Current law requires home sellers to disclose past flooding activity on the property to potential home buyers. Abbie wants to require landlords to inform potential renters if the property they are about to rent lies in a mapped floodplain or has previously flooded in the past 5 years.

Basic Hurricane Preparation

  • Maintenance. Abbie will birddog city agencies to ensure that common-sense maintenance is happening before major storms, such as keeping ditches free of debris and making sure storm drains aren’t clogged in flooding trouble spots.

  • Trouble Spots. Abbie will work with the City of Houston Office of Emergency Management, local civic clubs and super neighborhoods to identify and address flooding trouble spots –- specific areas that always flood.

  • Improved flood warning systems. We need to supplement existing real-time flood gauges with predictive capabilities. That will help residents prepare and help the city pre-position resources. It will also give residents information that is targeted to their areas – in real time. The Texas Medical Center has done this on Brays Bayou and it is working. White Oak Bayou is next. With investments by the city, the county and the state, along with some private grant funds, we should be able to expand this to all of Houston’s major watersheds.

Building Resiliency

  • Flood insurance. Abbie will push for a public education campaign to work to increase the number of residents who purchase flood insurance. The average flood insurance payout to homeowners who flooded was $120,000. The average FEMA payout was $4,000 to $7,000.

  • Tax appraisal reform. Abbie will advocate for a simpler appraisal appeals process at the Harris County Appraisal District for flooded homes, so that flooded homeowners are not paying property taxes based on the value of their homes before the flood occurred and are not overly burdened by an appeals process that doesn’t account for the unique scenario of flood victims.

Build Houston Forward

Build Houston Forward (formerly Rebuild Houston) was a huge step forward for how we finance infrastructure in Houston. By creating a pay-as-you-go, dedicated fund for streets and drainage, Houston voters ensured an eventual debt-free, continuous revenue stream that cannot be diverted for other purposes. As the old debt continues to be retired, the real benefits of the program will become more visible and dramatic.

Abbie supported Proposition A last year to reauthorize the program. And like any city program, she believes we should continuously monitor its progress and make changes when necessary. Abbie is advocating for a number of reforms, including substantially increasing targeted neighborhood rehabilitation and repair projects, and allocating more funds into the SWAT program. She also wants to ensure that the program is more  transparent.

Development Standards

Abbie believes as a city we have to fundamentally change the way we develop in relation to flooding. As Houston continues to grow, we must build responsibly. It won’t be easy and it will require a thoughtful balance of competing interests. 

Abbie supported the amendments passed to Chapter 19, which governs development in the floodplain, but she is also open to common-sense changes as we see how the implementation progresses. 

New rules are also under consideration for new buildings outside the floodplain, including elevation requirements requirements for additional stormwater detention. It is important that, as the city makes these decisions, the process is  transparent and give residents, stakeholders, and experts a voice.

As Hurricane Harvey, the Tax Day Flood and the Memorial Day Flood so painfully demonstrated, Houston’s flood plain maps are seriously outdated. The Houston Chronicle reported that “Hurricane Harvey damaged more than 204,000 homes and apartment buildings in Harris County, almost three-quarters of them outside the federally regulated 100-year flood plain, leaving tens of thousands of homeowners uninsured and unprepared.”

New, more accurate maps are not expected until 2021, but that is too long to wait. Abbie supports using more recent rainfall results compiled by the federal government as we consider policy changes; our policies can be updated once the new maps are completed.

State Government Reforms

Abbie supports large scale projects like the Ike Dike or Mid-Bay Barrier, but those will take at least a decade. Abbie believes that in the meantime we must do everything we can to protect the Ship Channel and Port from future storms. That includes making sure that the nation’s largest refining and petrochemical complex shoulders its fair share of the costs, and that business and government work together. 

Be Prepared: Resources

Governments can only do so much; residents and businesses need to be proactive when it comes to being prepared. Here are some resources to help: