Frequently Asked Questions: The Harris County Flood Control District
What is the Harris County Flood Control District?
The Harris County Flood Control District is a special purpose District created by the Texas legislature in 1937 after community leaders petitioned for assistance in response to devastating floods in 1929 and 1935. Since its creation, the District has successfully partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on many projects, and through the years, the District's partnerships and capabilities have expanded significantly.
Why was the District Created?
The District was originally created to serve as the local partner with the U.S. Army Corps Engineers for implementing flood damage reduction projects in Harris County. During the time of the devastating floods of the 1920's and '30's, no single entity in Harris County had the authority to address drainage and stormwater management. This was a major contributing factor that brought about the State Legislature's actions to create the District in 1937.
What are the responsibilities of the District?
The District was originally given the responsibility of overseeing rivers, streams, tributaries and flood waters in Harris County "for domestic, municipal, flood control, irrigation and other useful purposes." Additionally, the District was responsible for the reclamation and drainage of the overflow land of Harris County, the conservation of forests, and for keeping navigable waters "navigable" by regulating the storm waters that flowed into them.
Through the years, the District's roles and responsibilities have become much more complex, but our mission remains simple: Provide flood damage reduction projects that work, with appropriate regard for community and natural values. Flood damage reduction is accomplished by: 1) Devising the flood damage reduction plans; 2) Implementing the plans; and, 3) Maintaining the infrastructure.
What are the physical boundaries of the District?
The District's jurisdictional boundaries are set to coincide with Harris County, a community of more than 3.7 million that includes the City of Houston. The other boundaries in which we operate - those provided by nature - are of the 22 primary watersheds that are either partially or totally within Harris County's 1,756 square miles. Each has its own independent flooding problems and present unique challenges.
Who is the governing body of the District?
The Harris County Commissioners Court was appointed by the State of Texas as the governing body of the District, with the authority to appoint an Executive Director of the District.
What is the Capital Improvement Program?
The Capital Improvement Program (CIP) is a listing and schedule of current and future flood damage reduction activities. Each year, the District submits a 5-year CIP to Commissioners Court for approval, and consideration of current funding needs. The "5-year" refers to a sliding five year time frame or window that advances one year into the future as each year passes. CIP activities include planning, engineering design and construction projects. In 2001, an innovative approach to funding the District's future capital project needs was adopted by the Harris County Commissioners Court that provides funding at levels four to five times higher than any time in the past. This new funding approach enables an even more aggressive implementation of flood damage reduction projects across Harris County.
How can it be determined if a construction project is being done by the District?
Contact the District's Citizens Service Center and describe the location of the project. If District employees are doing a project, they will be wearing uniforms with the District Logo on them and driving marked vehicles. The District also contracts with private companies to perform construction and maintenance activities. These projects will usually include a large project sign at a noticeable location that provides more information about the project and contact information. All of these projects are under the supervision of a District Inspector, who is regularly on-site, supervising the activity. Non-District sponsored construction work does take place on channels and detention basins usually in conjunction with land development projects.
What does a stormwater detention basin do?
Stormwater detention basins are a place to store damaging flood waters temporarily until the channels can safely carry the water away. As flat as Harris County is, most of our stormwater storage has to be excavated. The District uses stormwater detention extensively to reduce the risk of flooding throughout the county. District basins are typically large regional facilities that may be several hundred acres in size. New developments often use stormwater detention to offset or mitigate the negative effect development may have on flooding (due to covering up soil with buildings and concrete, and speeding up the rate water runs off an area).
Does the District regulate development?
The District was created by the State Legislature in 1937 to primarily build projects. The District's mission is: Provide flood damage reduction projects that work, with appropriate regard for community and natural values. We reduce the risk of flood damage by: 1) Devising the flood damage reduction plan plan; 2) Implementing the plan; and, 3) Maintaining the infrastructure.
As a special purpose district, the District does not have regulatory authority over development. Each municipality within Harris County and the County Engineer does have some regulatory authority through their respective construction and building permit programs.
How do I determine if a channel or stormwater detention basin belongs to the District?
Contact the District's Citizen Service Center for information.
Who should I contact if I wish to build or rebuild a fence adjacent or into a District right-of-way?
A written request needs to be submitted to:
Property Management Department
The letter should include pertinent information regarding the address, location, channel name, etc. Should a gate or fence be installed across the public easement by the homeowner's association to deter the pedestrian traffic on a channel, the ability to access the area by the Flood Control District will have to be made available in order to continue to maintain the section of channel.
Harris County Flood Control District
9900 Northwest Freeway
Houston, TX 77092
Why is flooding a frequent problem in some neighborhoods?
There are many reasons why some areas are at a higher risk of flooding than other areas. Two common reasons include:
||Many older subdivisions were built prior to our current understanding of flooding potential and prior to current regulations that restrict certain uses of flood-prone land.
||Streets and storm sewers are typically designed for normal rainfall events, and when heavy rains fall the systems are overloaded. Water will begin to pond in the streets and then try to flow overland to try to get to a creek or bayou, sometimes flooding houses along the way.
Who should be called to report persistent street flooding in a subdivision?
Occasional street flooding is to be expected. Persistent and frequent street flooding may be an indication that the drainage system is old and undersized, or is in need of maintenance. A call should be made to, the governmental entity that maintains the internal drainage system within the subdivision, such as a municipality or your County Commissioner's office in unincorporated Harris County.
Is street flooding normal?
Yes. In most areas, the streets are considered to be a part of the drainage system. During a typical rainfall event, water will flow through storm sewers located underneath the street or in roadside ditches to a drainage channel like a creek or bayou. When the capacity of the storm sewers or roadside ditches is exceeded, the street itself will hold the water until the storm sewer or roadside ditch has additional room to drain the water.
How does someone purchase flood insurance?
Visit the National Flood Insurance Website, http://www.fema.gov/business/nfip/ or contact your insurance agent. You may also click here for more information within this website about flood insurance.
Who needs flood insurance?
Everyone! Even if you do not live within the mapped floodplain consider this: Repaying a $50,000 flood-related loan from the Small Business Administration costs about $300 a month over many years, while the average flood insurance policy usually runs about $300 annually. To learn how to purchase a flood insurance policy, visit the National Flood Insurance Website, http://www.fema.gov/business/nfip/ or contact your insurance agent. You may also click here for more information within this website about flood insurance.
The FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps show my house is outside of the flood zone - do I really need flood insurance?
Everyone needs flood insurance! Just because your home is not mapped within the 100-year flood plain does not mean that you are free from the potential to flood. FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) show areas subject to flooding from a primary flooding source, typically major rivers, bayous and their tributaries, and are meant to help determine the risk of flooding for a property. However, flooding from sources that are not identified on the FIRMs is possible and occurs often in Harris County. Many homes flood because excess storm water cannot drain into a storm drainage system fast enough to prevent localized ponding from reaching the inside of a home. On a national basis, one-third of the flood loss claims are from property located outside of the mapped 1% (100-year) flood plain. To learn how to purchase a flood insurance policy, visit the National Flood Insurance Website, http://www.fema.gov/business/nfip/ or contact your insurance agent. You may also click here for more information within this website about flood insurance.
What is a floodplain?
FEMA defines a floodplain as "Any land area that is susceptible to being inundated by water from any source." In Harris County, a floodplain is generally defined as an area flooded due to either a channel's capacity being exceeded or due to a tidal storm surge. See the Flash interactive overview for more information.
What is meant by the term 1% (100 Year) Floodplain?
Also known as the Base Flood, it is an area of land that has a 1% chance of being inundated by floodwaters from a bayou or creek in a given year. The 1% (100-year) flood event is a regulatory standard used to administer floodplain management programs, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and to set building requirements for new construction. Statistically, the 1% (100-year) flood has a 26% chance of occurring during a 30-year period of time - the length of many mortgages. See the Flash interactive overview for more information.
Is construction permitted within the 1% (100-year) floodplain?
Restricted development is permitted in the 1% (100-year) floodplain. The floodplain administrators at each municipality within Harris County are responsible for enforcing floodplain management rules and regulations that govern construction in the floodplain.
Why does flooding occur outside of the FEMA mapped floodplain?
There are several reasons why this occurs. Some of them are:
||Not all flood hazards are mapped on the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps, nor is every bayou or creek in the county studied. Flooding can occur from ponding or overland sheet flow when intense rainfall occurs over an area overwhelming the local street drainage system.
||The mapped floodplain is only an estimate of where flooding is predicted to occur from a bayou or creek given a set of parameters including a hypothetical rainfall occurring over a watershed for an assumed amount of time. During an actual rain event, natural conditions can result in greater amounts of rainfall or runoff, resulting in flood levels deeper and wider than shown on the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps.
See the Flash interactive overview for more information.
Why did the District and FEMA make new floodplain maps?
The District and FEMA together produced new Flood Insurance Rate Maps for Harris County to provide more accurate flood risk information and allow community planners and engineers to make decisions based on up-to-date technology and conditions. This is critically important as the population of Harris County continues to grow and new land development projects are considered, planned and constructed. In addition, the District is able to use the data behind these maps for additional products used for planning and design of new flood damage reduction projects within Harris County. Learn more about FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps.
How is the District funded?
The District's income is derived primarily from a dedicated ad valorem property tax. The rate is variable, depending on funding needs, and in 2002 was set at just under 4.2 cents per $100 valuation. Capital projects had been funded on a Pay-As-You-Go (or cash) basis for almost a decade. In 2001, an innovative approach to funding the District's future capital project needs was adopted by the Harris County Commissioners Court that provides funding at levels four to five times higher than any time in the past, enabling an even more aggressive implementation of flood damage reduction projects across Harris County. The annual 5-year Capital Improvement Program proposed for FY2004-07 calls for $802 million in projects, which comes from a combination of local and Federal funds.
Does the District Issue Bonds?
Currently, the District does not operate from funds derived from the issuance of bonds. The District's income is derived primarily from a dedicated ad valorem property tax and through a capital project agreement with Harris County.
Who has authority over drainage and flooding in Harris County?
The Harris County Flood Control District does not have sole jurisdiction over drainage and flood-related matters in Harris County. In fact, there are many other entities involved that have special interests in their particular areas of responsibility.
The City of Houston is one of the local floodplain administrators for the community's participation in the National Flood Insurance Program. The city has its own criteria for design of its drainage systems - primarily the design of storm sewers and street drainage, but also stormwater detention storage for these systems.
Other incorporated areas are also floodplain administrators and have their own drainage design criteria for their road systems. In unincorporated areas of Harris County, the County Engineer's office is the floodplain administrator. In all, there are 34 floodplain administrators in the county and the District is not one of them.
How can it be determined if a home is in the floodplain?
Floodplain maps are a product of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and copies of these maps can be found on their website www.fema.gov. Additional information can be obtained by contacting your local floodplain administrator in the city in which you live or, for unincorporated Harris County, at the Harris County Permits office. While the maps will show your property's relationship to the flood plain, you should also consider hiring a surveyor to determine the elevation of your home relative to the Base Flood (100-year) elevation. This information is useful in determining a property's risk of flooding and in determining flood insurance requirements and rates.
Who is allowed to build trails and other recreational amenities along District channels and detention basins?
The Harris County Flood Control District allows for and encourages third parties to build and maintain trail systems and other park amenities, as well as create greenway corridors, in channel and detention rights-of-way. The District has dedicated staff that works with third parties to assist in making the multi- use of District facilities a reality.
Both public and private entities are teaming up with the District for multi-use projects along channels and on detention basin sites.
How do trails, greenways and other recreational amenities along District land benefit the community?
Multi- use partnerships benefit the community by meeting the growing demand for publicly owned green space in a rapidly developing region.
Trails along District bayous often create connectivity, meaning establishing a connection between places in the community such as existing parks, schools, existing trail systems, places of work, etc. Many individuals utilize trails along the bayous as an alternate means of transportation. For example, many individuals who work in the Texas Medical Center bike to work on the trails along Brays Bayou.
Who does a homeowner's association contact to put in a trail (jogging, bike, etc.) along a channel?
To initiate the process, the homeowner's association should send written correspondence including contact information, maps, location, sponsor name, and other pertinent information to:
Property Management Department
How is the District organized?
Harris County Flood Control District
9900 Northwest Freeway
Houston, TX 77092
Under the direction of the District's Director, the District is organized into four primary divisions. These are: Communications, Operations, Administrative Services and Infrastructure.
The Communications Division provides information about the District and on-going work sponsored by the District to interested parties namely, the general public, organized citizen groups, employees of public and private entities, non-profit organizations, the news media and the offices of appointed and elected officials at all levels of government.
The Operations Division provides the functions and departmental structure to achieve two of the three objectives stated in the District's mission. These two objectives are devising the stormwater management plans and implementing those plans. The Director of Operations reports directly to the District's Director on activities taking place in the office of the Chief Engineer, Watershed Coordination, Engineering & Construction, Planning, and Environmental Services.
ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES DIVISION:
Administrative Services is comprised of four departments. These departments are Financial Services, Personnel Services, Office Services, and Information Services. This division provides major support functions for all District services.
The Infrastructure Division provides the functions and departmental structure to achieve one of the three objectives stated in the District's mission. This objective is maintaining the infrastructure. The Infrastructure Division is comprised of five departments and houses other services as well. The departments are Citizen Service Center, Maintenance Engineering, Property Management, Facilities Maintenance, and Fleet Management.
How can a citizen coordinate a wildflower planting along a channel or within a detention basin in their neighborhood?
Please mail in your written request for clearing, removal, or planting to the Property Management Department. Click here for contact info.
Who can be contacted to find out more about wildflowers?
Information about wildflowers may be directed to the District's Property Management Department. Call our main number at 713-684-4000.
How can an individual find out more information about using adjacent lots that were acquired by the District as part of the Buyout program for use as a garden or extended yard?
To get information to use the District's properties you must contact the District's Property Management Department. Call our main number at 713-684-4000.
Where can a resident find out more information about leases on District property?
Inquiries about lease opportunities can be directed to the District's Property Management Department. Call our main number at 713-684-4000. Questions about existing leases or agreements can be directed to the District's Agreement Coordinator in the Property Management Department.
Who can answer questions about area lakes and reservoirs?
The Barker and Addicks Reservoirs are managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Please contact the Corps at www.swg.usace.army.mil. (Please note that the Corps' normal operating procedures for the reservoirs require all gates to be closed before and during a rainfall event. Gates are only opened when it is safe to discharge floodwaters down Buffalo Bayou. Emergency operation of the outlet gates may change this procedure.)
Lake Houston is managed by the City of Houston. Please contact the City of Houston at www.cityofhouston.gov. (Please note that Lake Houston has no flood damage reduction function and does not have any gates operated for flood damage reduction purposes.)
Highlands Reservoir is managed the San Jacinto River Authority. Please contact the San Jacinto River Authority at www.sjra.net. (Please note that Highlands Reservoir has no flood damage reduction function and does not have any gates operated for flood control purposes.)
Sheldon Reservoir is managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Please contact TPWD at www.tpwd.state.tx.us. (Please note that Sheldon Reservoir has no flood damage reduction function and does not have any gates operated for flood control purposes.)
Lake Conroe is managed by the San Jacinto River Authority. Please contact the SJRA at www.sjra.net. (Please note that Lake Conroe is a water supply reservoir and has no flood control function.)
What should be done to remove individuals trespassing on District property?
Contact local police regarding any criminal activity that may be occurring along the drainage easement. The law enforcement officers do not need "No Trespassing" signs to make arrests for criminal activity. The District has no policing authority. If more detailed information is needed, please contact the District's Property Management Department. Call our main number at 713-684-4000.
What are watersheds, and how many are there in Harris County?
Basically, a watershed is a land area that ultimately drains rainfall runoff (or stormwater) to a common outlet point - typically a body of water, which is mostly creeks and bayous in Harris County. You're sitting in a watershed now. For example, if you live in the Brays Bayou watershed, the rain that falls on your house will eventually end up in Brays Bayou.
Watershed boundaries are formed by nature and are largely determined by the topography or "lay of the land." Harris County has 22 major watersheds that each drain into 22 major waterways, each with its own independent flooding issues.