Shared from the 8/26/2018 San Antonio Express eEdition


A year later, Texas isn’t ready — but it could be


ABOVE: A Houston neighborhood is inundated by floodwaters from Harvey last year. The state has yet to take the steps to prevent a recurrence of such storm damage. Brett Coomer / Staff file photo


Mark Mulligan / Staff file photo

Firefighters use a borrowed canoe to search for evacuees during extreme flooding in Houston after Harvey. Local governments, without state help, are unable to bear the financial burden of infrastructure improvements that would prevent the kind of damage that Hurricane Harvey inflicted on Texas communities.


File photo / Beaumont Enterprise

An evacuee gets a piggyback ride through floodwaters to a shelter for those displaced in Port Arthur. All levels of government bear blame for deferring action on flood planning and infrastructure investment.


File photo / Getty Images

A resident carries a bucket to try to recover items from her flooded home in Port Arthur on Sept.

1. Water does not follow political boundaries, so the state should facilitate the development of regional flood plans.

On Aug. 24, 2017, we all watched the radar screen on the news as the storm gained energy in the Gulf of Mexico and began making its way toward the Texas coast. No one understood the unprecedented rainfall that was about to hit portions of Texas and Louisiana over the next five days, nor the devastation that would be left in its wake.

As the storm made landfall, it destroyed homes and businesses in Rockport, Refugio, Port Lavaca, Port Aransas, Beaumont, Bastrop, Houston, and many other coastal and East Texas communities. The hurricane resulted in the death of 93 Texans, with many others at risk as they evacuated their homes in the middle of the night as the water rose.

Almost one-quarter of U.S. refining capacity was knocked out as facilities along the coast were forced to shut down, creating a gasoline shortage across the state and dealing a blow to one of the most important sectors of our economy.

Knowing all this, a year later, we still haven’t taken steps to change the outcome if a storm like Hurricane Harvey, or even a lesser one, hit today.

All levels of government bear some blame for deferring action on flood planning and infrastructure investment following lesser floods over the years. Now, we’re recovering from what could be a 1,000-year flood, the kind of event that no community could ever prepare for but one devastating for a community that isn’t prepared even for a smaller, more common disaster.

During the upcoming legislative session, the state should step up by crafting policies and making investments that will ensure our communities and our economy are better prepared when the next major storm strikes.

As the next hurricane brews off the African coast, we need to be better prepared to absorb the shot with infrastructure versus strictly reacting with emergency operations.

Across the state, there is likely more than $60 billion worth of flood control projects that have been studied and proposed by local governments but have languished without a funding mechanism — a figure that will be more precise when the Texas Water Development releases its draft of the State Flood Assessment for public comment next month.

In July, the federal government appropriated $5 billion for Texas flood projects from its $13.9 billion nationwide flood infrastructure package. The lion’s share of that $5 billion is for a levee and seawall system to protect Southeast Texas from storm surge.

Orange County will be required to pay back 35 percent of the cost of the section it borders — $665 million of the $1.9 billion cost of that section of the project.

To put that in context, Orange County’s total budget last year was $45 million.

Local governments should pay a fair percentage of the cost of any project from which it benefits, but the state should serve as a bridge between local and federal dollars so that needed projects are completed, whether through a state appropriation from the rainy day fund, a dedication of a portion of the state’s sales tax revenues for a specified period of time or dollar amount, or an allowance for communities to hold an election to exceed the total maximum combined sales tax rate of 8.25 percent to fund projects for a defined duration of time or until a funding level is reached.

We applaud the leadership in Harris County for raising local funds to provide meaningful flood relief, and we believe that an infusion of state resources would bolster their efforts and incentivize other local governments to do the same. Collaboration among all levels of government will be required, and state funding should serve as a multiplier, enabling the development of a greater number of projects.

As we all know, water does not follow political boundaries, a fact that flood control projects developed by individual political subdivisions do not always reflect. The state should also facilitate the development of regional flood plans that will require coordination among cities, counties and other local districts to better manage floodwaters from the standpoint of individual watersheds within a basin.

The Bexar Regional Watershed Management Partnership, a collaboration between Bexar County, the city of San Antonio, the San Antonio River Authority and 20 suburban cities within Bexar County, is the only of its kind and a great example of a regional approach that could be replicated across the state.

In one week, 34 trillion gallons — enough water to serve the needs of all Texans for eight years — fell over the canopy of Texas. We must find a way to capture and store a fraction of the flood flows that filter to the coast to achieve water supply, subsidence mitigation and flood mitigation benefits, as other states have accomplished.

Wide-scale implementation of this effort will require legislative changes to the way that surface water is permitted in the state, as well as long overdue studies on areas best suited for aquifer storage and recovery projects, and stormwater management wells.

House Natural Resources Committee hearings over the past year provided great insights and ideas from those who were directly impacted. Other measures — such as encouraging the acquisition of strategic conservation easements in areas where flooding is known to occur, floodplain management reforms, supporting longterm solutions for dredging, improving public alert systems and a number of others — should all be on the table as we work to respond to a historic natural disaster and begin to correct decades of complacency on flooding issues.

Nearly a year after one of the most devastating hurricanes in our history, Texas has done little to prepare for future floods. The upcoming 86th legislative session will be the first meeting of the Legislature since the storm revealed deficiencies in our preparedness and tested our resiliency.

It’s our responsibility to step up and limit the loss of life and property going forward.

Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, is a member of the Texas House of Representatives and chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. He can be reached at or@RepLyleLarson.

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