Conservation Matters January 2019

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

Harvey flooding continues to inspire disaster planning

By Kathy Wythe

Harvey flooding continues to inspire disaster planning Brazos Bend State Park 3, photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Almost a year and a half after Hurricane Harvey and its torrential rains wreaked havoc on parts of Texas, the infamous hurricane and its ramifications are still in the news. Several reports relating to the hurricane or to flooding have recently been published and the 86th Texas Legislature Session, which opened Jan. 8, could possibly deal with related issues. 

In 2017, then Texas House Speaker Joe Strauss and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick charged House and Senate committees respectively to examine issues related to Harvey. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs recently issued its Interim Report: 2017 Hurricane Harvey Response to the 86th Legislature and the House Committee on Natural Resources published its Interim Report to the 86th Texas Legislature, which addresses flooding among other water issues.

In December 2018, the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, a commission formed by Gov. Greg Abbott to study the aftermaths of Hurricane Harvey, issued its report, “Eye of the Storm.” The commission’s role was to “oversee the response and relief effort between the state and local governments to ensure victims of the storm get everything they need as quickly as possible” and to be “involved in the rebuilding process, focusing on restoring roads, bridges, schools and government buildings in impacted communities.”

The report gives “wide-ranging recommendations to help Texas better prepare for future catastrophic storms in the wake of Hurricane Harvey,” according to the Governor’s office news release. A few recommendations are:

  • Form an ongoing recovery task force made up of county extension agents as well as staff from appropriate state agencies and nonprofit organizations;
  • Predesignate a group of experts ready to assemble immediately for large-scale disasters to help response and early recovery efforts function more efficiently;
  • Maintain a single, well-publicized state website for post-disaster information as well as investigate better use of 911, social media and mobile apps to communicate with the public and local officials;
  • Develop catastrophic debris management procedures, encouraging local jurisdictions to adopt debris management plans as well as establishing a contracting template to protect against unscrupulous contractors;
  • Expand the role of the Texas Department of Transportation in debris removal, a first during Harvey recovery, after future catastrophic storms; and
  • Create a case management program at the state level to replace the federal version to speed up the response to individual needs.

Also in December, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) released its State Flood Assessment, a report to the Texas Legislature that includes TWDB’s recommendation for statewide flood mitigation efforts. TWDB conducted online surveys and held workshops throughout the state to gather information and priorities from stakeholders.

According to its news release, TWDB recommends developing a foundation of flood risk management policies and goals, including improved flood mapping and modeling; coordinated watershed-based planning; and mitigation efforts, such as policy changes, increased technical assistance and financial assistance.

In November 2018 and coinciding with the aftermath of Harvey and its widespread flooding was a report issued by the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores at Texas A&M University, Galveston Campus and the Center for Disaster Resilience at the University of Maryland on the growing threat of urban flooding. Started in 2016, the study examined “the extent and consequences of urban flooding in the United States” and explored “what actions might be taken to mitigate this flooding in the future,” according to the report.

The report found that “flooding caused by an increasing number of intense storms is a national challenge and significant source of economic loss, social disruption and housing inequality across the United States,” according to a Texas A&M Today article.

The report made nine recommendations, including calling on the administration and Congress to bring together representatives from state, municipal and tribal governments, nongovernmental organizations and the public to define responsibilities and implement a variety of actions at the local level.

Texas A&M authors of the report include Dr. Sam Brody, Galveston and College Station campuses, Dr. Wesley Highfield, Galveston; Dr. Joshua Gunn, Galveston; Jayton Rainey, College Station; and Sherry Parker, Galveston.

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