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White Oak Bayou Watershed

White Oak Bayou watershed, showing project elements and study area.
White Oak Bayou watershed, showing project elements and study area.

The White Oak Bayou Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project
The White Oak Bayou Flood Damage Reduction Project is a partnership project between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) and the Harris County Flood Control District (the District). The District is the lead sponsor for this project, thanks to an arrangement approved by Congress as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 1996, or WRDA 96. WRDA 96 allows the local sponsor to take the lead on a project like this and submit completed discrete segments for reimbursement of the federal share.

In developing a flood damage reduction project for White Oak Bayou, the Harris County Flood Control District has performed extensive data collection and analysis. The District has held public meetings within the community several times over the course of developing the project to determine the community's interests and flood damage reduction needs. Using this information, the District developed the flood damage reduction project for White Oak Bayou.

Project Costs
The final configuration of the Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project are still being developed, but flood damage reduction efforts for White Oak Bayou are estimated at approximately $195 million, including implementation of projects under the District's Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The District anticipates federal reimbursement for much of the construction costs.

History Behind the Project
There is a long history of flooding along White Oak Bayou, and numerous projects have been constructed to reduce such flooding. Actually, over time, much of the entire length of White Oak Bayou has been modified and enlarged. The most prominent enlargement occurred between 1964 and 1976, when the lower 10.7 miles of the bayou was modified as part of a federal flood damage reduction project, undertaken by the District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps).

In 1984, the Harris County Commissioners Court adopted the White Oak Bayou Regional Flood Control Plan, the first of its kind in Harris County. The plan consists of several large regional detention basins and a larger channel between Tidwell Rd. and Jersey Village. The purpose of the regional plan is to reduce existing flood levels and to allow new developments to continue without increasing existing flood levels. Regional detention projects are generally more efficient than smaller, individual site-specific ones because of the economy of scale. Since the adoption of the regional plan in 1984, the District has spent tens of millions of dollars on regional plan improvements, completing at least four miles of channel modifications and acquiring and excavating several stormwater detention basins.

In 1998, the District began the feasibility study for the White Oak Bayou Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project. This investigation has involved an extensive study of the White Oak Bayou watershed, including the inventory and analysis of over 17,000 structures in the 0.2% (500-year) flood plain of White Oak Bayou. Of these 17,000 structures, approximately 5,400 homes were identified in the 10% (10-year) flood plain, and approximately 12,500 homes were identified in the 1% (100-year) flood plain. Components to address flooding were analyzed and evaluated in great detail, which generated several alternatives for consideration as part of the project. Some of the components are already being implemented.

Overview of Current Activities
Presently, a majority of the construction activity is occurring in the upper portion of the White Oak Bayou watershed. Construction on the first 1.2 miles of the Jersey Village bypass channel has begun, while significant channel modifications on White Oak Bayou between Beltway 8 and North Houston Rosslyn will begin soon. Additionally, several stormwater detention basins are currently being excavated. Their locations are varied along White Oak Bayou between North Houston Rosslyn and Jones Road. There are other detention basins that are already in operation in the area, and still more are planned in the near future.

In addition to the structural efforts that are part of the flood damage reduction project, over 500 homes have been bought out in the White Oak Bayou watershed and residents moved to higher ground, forever removing the possibility of those structures flooding again.

Home Buyout Plays Significant Role in White Oak Bayou Watershed
The Harris County Flood Control District, working in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is helping area residents reduce their risk of flooding through the Tropical Storm Alison Buyout Program.

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Allison, the District, FEMA and the State of Texas, initiated a "fast track" voluntary buyout program throughout Harris County. The "fast track" was a modification to FEMA's normal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program application and funding approval process. The fast track was designed to be responsive to the victims of Tropical Storm Allison and not just follow the normal process meant to mitigate damages for a future flood disaster. Through the fast track program, floodplain administrators could recommend homes for buyout that were determined to be "substantially damaged," or in other words, the cost to repair the damage was 50% or greater than the pre-flood value of the structure, excluding land value. Homes are purchased at "pre-Allison flood" fair market value for those homeowners who elected to volunteer. Environmental Justice Relocation Assistance (EJRA) is made available to income-eligible participants to assist in their relocation out of the 1% (100-year) floodplain. The goal of the EJRA program is to relocate individuals without adversely impacting their social and economic environment.

Buyouts in the White Oak Bayou watershed, and throughout Harris County, are an effective form of flood damage reduction, especially for those homes built deep in a floodplain. Buyouts ensure the flood?prone house will never flood again, because once a house is purchased through this program, it is demolished. FEMA rules require that the land remain as open space and owned by the public in perpetuity.

What Happens to Buyout Open Space?
The District works with communities, civic associations and neighborhoods, and individual neighboring property owners to determine what uses are feasible for the land. The goal is to have open space land become a community amenity with possibilities ranging from a community garden to a park or to an area that is left to return to nature. The District also works with a buyout property's neighboring owners so that they may use an adjacent lot as yard space in exchange for mowing and maintaining the land, which continues to be owned by the District.

Your Input is Important to Us
As with all of the District's efforts, public involvement in the White Oak Bayou Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project is crucial to its success. The White Oak Bayou Citizen Advisory Committee was formed so stakeholders' interests would be represented throughout the planning process, and so stakeholders would have an opportunity to share ideas and give feedback on topics discussed during the planning process. In turn, the Citizens Advisory Committee members go back to their respective organizations in the community and report on the progress of the White Oak Bayou Federal Flood Damage Reduction Project.

If you would like more information the White Oak Bayou Flood Damage Reduction Project, or would like to comment about ongoing flood damage reduction in the White Oak Bayou watershed, please contact the District.

The White Oak Bayou Watershed
The White Oak Bayou watershed is located in central Harris County. The bayou originates northwest of FM 1960 near U.S. 290 and flows generally toward the southeast where it joins Buffalo Bayou in downtown Houston. The bayou drains areas in northwest portions of the county as well as the City of Jersey Village and portions of the City of Houston. The watershed covers about 110 square miles and includes four primary streams: White Oak Bayou, Little White Oak Bayou, Brickhouse Gully, and Cole Creek. There are about 151 miles of streams in the White Oak Bayou watershed, including the primary and tributary channels. The estimated population within the watershed in 2000 was just over 416,000.

Flooding is frequent along the bayou and its tributaries, as many homes were constructed prior to the existence of detailed floodplain maps and prior to the adoption of floodplain management regulations. Many areas in the watershed recently experienced significant flooding due the devastating rainfall amounts brought by Tropical Storm Frances in 1998 and Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

Harris County Flood Control District
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