History of the District

History of the District

Last Modified: 07/09/2020 01:37 PM

Learn why the Flood Control District was created and how it has been accomplishing its mission to provide flood damage reduction projects that work, with regard for community and natural values.

The District is Created

Shortly after the Allen brothers chose to establish Houston at the confluence of Buffalo and White Oak Bayous, virtually every structure in the new settlement flooded. Although it was quickly realized that our area is naturally flood prone, it took the devastating floods of 1929 and 1935 to bring about serious action for major flood relief. After these tremendously destructive floods, Harris County citizens clamored for solutions. Cumulative flood losses had reached a staggering sum. If ever there was a county in need of flood assistance, this was it.

On April 23, 1937, after local leaders petitioned the State of Texas, the 45th Texas Legislature unanimously passed the bill that created the Harris County Flood Control District and established the Harris County Commissioners Court as the District's governing body. The Harris County Flood Control District originally served as the local partner for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control projects. Since its creation, the District has successfully partnered with the Corps on many projects, and through this time our roles, additional partnerships and capabilities have grown significantly.

Roles & Responsibilities

An aerial view showing the extent of the disastrous inundation of the commercial district of Houston, 1935.

Originally, the District was given the responsibility of overseeing rivers, streams, tributaries and flood waters "for domestic, municipal, flood control, irrigation and other useful purposes." Although our primary function was to serve as the local partner for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the District gradually took on a much more complex role. As the population of Harris County doubled to 600,000 by mid-century, and the number of plants and factories tripled, managing the problems of flooding became even more urgent. Costly floods were almost an annual event. More homes and businesses were built in improvident locations, prior to establishing the standard of the 1% (100-year) flood and prior to our current level of understanding of flood-prone areas. Still, managing the flooding as efficiently as possible was essential.

Changing Times, Changing Tools

Every year, new flood damage reduction projects were proposed and others were completed. Major projects, such as the enlargement of a 25.4-mile stretch of Brays Bayou in 1968, and 10.7 miles of White Oak Bayou in 1971, were big steps. Despite the progress, however, flooding problems continued, with 21 damaging storms from 1950-1980. It became apparent that additional flood damage reduction tools were needed. The concept of stormwater detention facilities began to figure prominently in project planning and new development projects. These facilities hold excess storm water until the peak passes and release it slowly, as flood waters recede. The District now has more than 40 regional detention sites, covering over 7,100 acres, with many more in the planning stages.

A More Efficient District

Eldridge Stormwater Detention Basin, 2009

New technologies have also influenced the evolution of flood damage reduction by allowing a better understanding of the flooding potential and in providing the means to design and build more efficient and effective projects. Additionally, floodplain regulations and stringent environmental codes have played an increasingly important role. Efficiency of District operations has also improved through the years: a streamlining of the organization in the 1990s reduced the staff by two-thirds, while engineering, construction and maintenance duties were privatized.

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.

Although our operations have become more complex through the years, our mission remains simple: Provide flood damage reduction projects that work, with appropriate regard for community and natural values.

Whether it's managing multi-million dollar projects, the maintenance of channels and stormwater detention basins, or detailed attention to improving the local environment, we will continue to hold true to our mission.