June 2019 Commerce Club featuring COL Dave Weston, HDR, Inc.

COL Dave Weston HDR Engineering Inc.

A storm of just about any size gains attention quickly in the greater Houston metropolitan area. Even a brief storm can cause delays, street flooding, and unexpected damage in the space of an hour – and it is predicated on the location of the heaviest downpour. It’s the spot no one wants to be in.

“Where it rains is where it floods,” COL Dave Weston stressed during his talk about Harris County’s flood risk reduction programs at the Greater Houston Port Bureau’s Commerce Club luncheon on June 13, 2019. “You’ve been where the storm sat right on your neighborhood, and two miles the other way, the streets are dry.”

In August of 2018, Harris County voters approved $2.5 billion in bonds to finance flood damage reduction projects. Funds from these bonds qualify for a matching share of an additional $2 billion in federal funds that will come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and other grant programs.

“There are 237 projects identified for Harris County. The plan calls for ten years, but there is a push to get them done in five,” Weston explained. “If a project can be completed in five years, there is a possibility for obtaining more dollars for more projects.”

Weston noted areas adjacent to Harris County had been awarded funds as well. The Galveston district received $4.53 billion in storm recovery funds – out of $17 billion – with the “vast majority going to (flood risk reduction) construction projects that were already authorized or with feasibility studies completed.”

The Freeport levee will be raised, and Orange County is getting a new levee near Bridge City – an area heavily impacted by Hurricane Ike in 2008. Weston also mentioned the Port Arthur hurricane protection system that has been there for several decades will be raised and refortified to current standards.

Silt happens

“Silt happens,” said Weston humorously, switching his focus to mitigating risks to the waterway. “We still have silt two years after Harvey in the Houston Ship Channel . . . It’s not really a new problem,” he added, showing newspaper images from 1935 when a major storm produced large amounts of silting in the Houston Ship Channel.

Weston said approximately 3.5 million cubic yards of silt flowed into the Houston Ship Channel as a result of Harvey. Weston showed that the Addicks and Barker reservoirs were originally intended to include mechanisms for reducing silt in the Ship Channel during a rain event. However, their distance is about 15 miles from the Ship Channel, rendering them less effective for silt prevention or reduction.

Out of the Harris County appropriations, one task is a study on silt mitigation measures, including silt sumps (areas dug out on the Ship Channel designed to hold an influx of silting during storms) and detention basins. “Detention basins often look like parks … but they hold some of the water during a rain event,” Weston said. “They help slow down silting and prevent erosion.”

Weston urged industry to “get engaged and stay engaged” with mitigation projects. “Be present at the table when the various agencies have the meetings. Coming in at the 90% (complete) level will be too late. Be represented at the table so we can drive the mitigation projects to a successful completion for all of us.”

  • Date July 25, 2019
  • Tags 2019 July