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What is the Harris County Flood Control District?

The Harris County Flood Control District is a special purpose District created by the Texas legislature in 1937 after community leaders petitioned for assistance in response to devastating floods in 1929 and 1935. Since its creation, the Flood Control District has successfully partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on many projects, and through the years, the District's partnerships and capabilities have expanded significantly.

Why was the Flood Control District Created?

The Flood Control District was originally created to serve as the local partner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for implementing flood damage reduction projects in Harris County. During the time of the devastating floods of the 1920s and 1930s, no single entity in Harris County had the authority to address drainage and stormwater management. This was a major contributing factor that brought about the State Legislature's actions to create the Flood Control District in 1937.

What are the responsibilities of the Flood Control District?

The Flood Control District was originally given the responsibility of overseeing rivers, streams, tributaries and flood waters in Harris County "for domestic, municipal, flood control, irrigation and other useful purposes." Additionally, the Flood Control District was responsible for the reclamation and drainage of the overflow land of Harris County, the conservation of forests, and for keeping navigable waters "navigable" by regulating the stormwater that flowed into them.


Through the years, the Flood Control District's roles and responsibilities have become much more complex, but our mission remains simple: Provide flood damage reduction projects that work, with appropriate regard for community and natural values. Flood damage reduction is accomplished by: 1) Devising the flood damage reduction plans; 2) Implementing the plans; and 3) Maintaining the infrastructure.

What are the physical boundaries of the Flood Control District?

The Flood Control District's jurisdictional boundaries are set to coincide with Harris County, a community of more than 4.3 million that includes the City of Houston. The other boundaries in which we operate – those provided by nature – are of the 22 primary watersheds that are either partially or totally within Harris County's 1,756 square miles. Each has its own independent flooding problems and presents unique challenges.

Who is the governing body of the Flood Control District?

The Harris County Commissioners Court was appointed by the State of Texas as the governing body of the Flood Control District, with the authority to appoint an Executive Director of the Flood Control District.

How can it be determined if a construction project is being done by the Flood Control District?

Contact the Flood Control District's Citizen Service Center and describe the location of the project. If District employees are doing a project, they will be wearing uniforms with the District logo on them and driving marked vehicles. The Flood Control District also contracts with private companies to perform construction and maintenance activities. These projects will usually include a large project sign at a noticeable location that provides more information about the project and contact information. All of these projects are under the supervision of a Flood Control District Inspector, who is regularly on-site, supervising the activity. Non-District-sponsored construction work does take place on channels and detention basins, usually in conjunction with land development projects.

What does a stormwater detention basin do?

Stormwater detention basins are a place to store damaging flood waters temporarily until the channels can safely carry the water away. As flat as Harris County is, most of our stormwater storage has to be excavated. The Flood Control District uses stormwater detention extensively to reduce the risk of flooding throughout the county. Flood Control District basins are typically large regional facilities that may be several hundred acres in size. New developments often use stormwater detention to offset or mitigate the negative effect development may have on flooding (due to covering up soil with buildings and concrete, and speeding up the rate water runs off an area).

Does the Flood Control District regulate development?

The Flood Control District was created by the State Legislature in 1937 to primarily build projects. The Flood Control District's mission is: Provide flood damage reduction projects that work, with appropriate regard for community and natural values. We reduce the risk of flood damage by 1) Devising the flood damage reduction plan; 2) Implementing the plan, and 3) Maintaining the infrastructure.

As a special purpose district, the Flood Control District does not have regulatory authority over development. Each municipality within Harris County and the County Engineer does have some regulatory authority through their respective construction and building permit programs.

How do I determine if a channel or stormwater detention basin belongs to the Flood Control District?

Contact the Flood Control District's Citizen Service Center for information.

Who should I contact if I wish to build or rebuild a fence adjacent or into a Flood Control District right-of-way?

A written request needs to be submitted to:

Property Management Department
Harris County Flood Control District
9900 Northwest Freeway
Houston, TX 77092


The letter should include pertinent information regarding the address, location, channel name, etc. In the case of a homeowner association seeking to install a gate or fence to deter pedestrian traffic, the Flood Control District must be able to access its public easements in order to maintain its channels and basins.

Why is flooding a frequent problem in some neighborhoods?

There are many reasons why some areas are at a higher risk of flooding than other areas. Two common reasons include:

Many older subdivisions were built prior to our current understanding of flooding potential and prior to current regulations that restrict certain uses of flood-prone land. Streets and storm sewers are typically designed for normal rainfall events and, when heavy rains fall, the systems are overloaded. Water will begin to pond in the streets and then try to flow overland to try to get to a creek or bayou, sometimes flooding houses along the way.

Who should be called to report persistent street flooding in a subdivision?

Occasional street flooding is to be expected. Persistent and frequent street flooding may be an indication that the drainage system is old and undersized, or is in need of maintenance. A call should be made to the governmental entity that maintains the internal drainage system within the subdivision, such as a municipality or your County Commissioner's office in unincorporated Harris County.

Is street flooding normal?

Yes. In most areas, the streets are considered to be a part of the drainage system. During a typical rainfall event, water will flow through storm sewers located underneath the street or in roadside ditches to a drainage channel such as a creek or bayou. When the capacity of the storm sewers or roadside ditches is exceeded, the street itself will hold the water until the storm sewer or roadside ditch has additional room to drain the water.

How does someone purchase flood insurance?

Visit the National Flood Insurance Website, or contact your insurance agent.

Who needs flood insurance?

Everyone! Even if you do not live within the mapped floodplain consider this: Repaying a $50,000 flood-related loan from the Small Business Administration costs hundreds of dollars a month over many years, while the average flood insurance policy usually runs about $600 annually. To learn how to purchase a flood insurance policy, visit the National Flood Insurance Website, or contact your insurance agent.

The FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps show my house is outside of the flood zone. Do I really need flood insurance?

Everyone needs flood insurance! Just because your home is not mapped within the 100-year floodplain does not mean that you are free from the potential to flood. FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) show areas subject to flooding from a primary flooding source, typically major rivers, bayous and their tributaries, and are meant to help determine the risk of flooding for a property. However, flooding from sources that are not identified on the FIRMs is possible and occurs often in Harris County. Many homes flood because excess stormwater cannot drain into a storm drainage system fast enough to prevent localized ponding from reaching the inside of a home. On a national basis, one-third of the flood loss claims are from property located outside of the mapped 1% (100-year) floodplain. To learn how to purchase a flood insurance policy, visit the National Flood Insurance Website, or contact your insurance agent.

What is a floodplain?

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) - The federal agency responsible for providing leadership and support to reduce loss of life and property and to protect our institutions from all types of hazards. This is accomplished through a comprehensive, risk based, all hazards emergency management program consisting of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. In relation to flooding hazards, FEMA is the federal agency responsible for administering the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). defines a floodplain as "any land area that is susceptible to being inundated by water from any source." In Harris County, a floodplain is generally defined as an area susceptible to being flooded due to either a channel's capacity being exceeded or due to a tidal storm surge. See the Flash interactive overview for more information.

What is meant by the term 1% (100-year) Floodplain?

Also known as the Base Flood, it is an area of land that has a 1% chance of being inundated by floodwaters from a bayou or creek in a given year. The 1% (100-year) flood event is a regulatory standard used to administer floodplain management programs and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and to set building requirements for new construction. Statistically, the 1% (100-year) flood has a 26% chance of occurring during a 30-year period of time – the length of many mortgages. See the Flash interactive overview for more information.

Is construction permitted within the 1% (100-year) floodplain?

Restricted development is permitted in the 1% (100-year) floodplain. The floodplain administrators at each municipality within Harris County are responsible for enforcing floodplain management rules and regulations that govern construction in the floodplain.

Why does flooding occur outside of the FEMA mapped floodplain?

There are several reasons why this occurs. Some of them are:

Not all flood hazards are mapped on the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps, nor is every bayou or creek in the county studied. Flooding can occur from ponding or overland sheet flow when intense rainfall overwhelms the local street drainage system.The mapped floodplain is only an estimate of where flooding is predicted to occur from a bayou or creek, given a set of parameters including a hypothetical rainfall occurring over a watershed for an assumed amount of time. During an actual rain event, natural conditions can result in greater amounts of rainfall or runoff, resulting in flood levels deeper and wider than shown on the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps.

Who has authority over drainage and flooding in Harris County?

The Harris County Flood Control District does not have sole jurisdiction over drainage and flood-related matters in Harris County. In fact, there are many other entities involved that have special interests in their particular areas of responsibility.

The City of Houston is one of the local floodplain administrators for the community's participation in the National Flood Insurance Program. The city has its own criteria for the design of its drainage systems – primarily the design of storm sewers and street drainage, but also stormwater detention storage for these systems.

Other incorporated areas are also floodplain administrators and have their own drainage design criteria for their road systems. In unincorporated areas of Harris County, the County Engineer's office is the floodplain administrator. In all, there are 34 floodplain administrators in the county and the Flood Control District is not one of them.

How can it be determined if a home is in the floodplain?

Floodplain maps are a product of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and copies of these maps can be found on their website www.fema.gov. Additional information can be obtained by contacting your local floodplain administrator in the city in which you live or, for unincorporated Harris County, at the Harris County Permits office. While the maps will show your property's relationship to the floodplain, you should also consider hiring a surveyor to determine the elevation of your home relative to the Base Flood (100-year) elevation. This information is useful in determining a property's risk of flooding and in determining flood insurance requirements and rates.

Who is allowed to build trails and other recreational amenities along Flood Control District channels and detention basins?

ENHANCING OUR COMMUNITY AND NATURAL VALUES

Harris County is blessed with a system of interconnecting waterways that not only provide our primary stormwater drainage but also offer unparalleled opportunities for greenbelt recreation and open space areas. The establishment of trails along our waterways complements our mission and benefits our community in many ways.

Trails serve three of the most popular recreational activities in Texas - walking, bicycling, and running. They serve a greater number of people for less cost than just about any other recreational facility. A Texas trails study published by Texas Parks and Wildlife reported that nearly 70% of Texans walk for pleasure. This is the highest participation rate for any single recreational activity.

Expanded development of trails along the bayous in our community is an important part of our future, and the District is ready to be a partner.
We recognize the efficiency and inevitability of the multi-use of public lands. We welcome trails that meet our requirements and we offer our support.


THE ROLE OF TRAILS ALONG OUR CHANNEL SYSTEM

Since the formation of the District in 1937, public awareness of floodplain management has grown considerably. A consensus continues to grow that public lands should be used for more than a single purpose. This concept has helped develop an expanded view of our mission. As a principal steward of stream corridors, the District must balance its responsibilities for meeting its statutory mandate with various other public interests and protection of the environment. In order for the District to meet this difficult challenge, commitment from both the public and private sectors will be needed.

Many of our natural and man-made stream corridors are connectors that have always invited trails. Often, the intrigue of local forests and the offer of a chance sighting of some of our area's abundant wildlife arouse our curiosity. Urban dwellers, especially, seek out these streams for that special and unique experience to be found only along the banks of our creeks and bayous. The District benefits from the addition of trails, as well. Visibility and increased security are some of the immediate benefits, and over the long term, a savings in taxpayer dollars is realized. Since the sponsor of the local trail is responsible for its maintenance, the savings in the District's maintenance dollars can be allocated to other areas of need.


PARTNERSHIPS ARE THE KEY

Through successful partnerships, many miles of recreational trails have already been built on District rights of way. This experience has successfully demonstrated that trails are indeed compatible with creeks, bayous, and natural or man-made tributaries. Neighborhoods, schools, and parks have been connected by these trails, and an important form of transportation and recreation has been provided.

The District supports the further development of a trail system and offers the following guidelines to facilitate understanding of its role in implementing trails and how the process works.

POLICY CONCERNING RECREATIONAL TRAILS ON DISTRICT RIGHTS OF WAY

We at the District welcome trails on our rights of way. Most of our drainage easements have been granted to the District for flood damage reduction purposes. In these areas, the trail sponsor must obtain a trail easement from the fee owner of the property. Where the District holds the property in fee simple ownership, we will allow a trail to be built there under the following conditions:

  1. A sponsor must agree to construct, operate and maintain the proposed trail. 
  2. The sponsor must, for the privilege of using District rights of way, agree to maintain (mow) the rights of way from top of bank to property line on the trail side of the bayou, creek or tributary channel. The sponsor must also agree to pick up litter. 
  3. A formal agreement is necessary between the District and the sponsor. The sponsor could be a city, a utility district, a county precinct, a homeowners' association or another legal entity. 
  4. The trails cannot interfere with the District's mission, and the sponsor will have the duty of repair or replacement of the trails, should they become damaged through use, flooding or Flood Control District maintenance operations. 
  5. The public must be allowed access and use of these trails.

DESIGN CRITERIA AND MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENTS

Design criteria must be site-specific. Trails may not restrict water flow or access by the District's maintenance vehicles. Construction plans, including any amenities, such as benches, landscaping or water fountains, must be approved by the District prior to construction.

Repairs to the trail, mowing and litter pickup are responsibilities of the sponsor.

How can an individual find out more information about using adjacent lots that were acquired by the Flood Control District as part of the Voluntary Buyout program for use as a garden or extended yard?

To get information to use the Flood Control District's properties you must contact the Flood Control District's Property Management Department. Call our main number at 713-684-4000.

Where can a resident find out more information about leases on District property?

Inquiries about lease opportunities can be directed to the Flood Control District's Property Management Department. Call our main number at 713-684-4000. Questions about existing leases or agreements can be directed to the Flood Control District's Agreement Coordinator in the Property Management Department.

Who can answer questions about area lakes and reservoirs?

The Barker and Addicks reservoirs are owned, operated and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). During normal operating procedures, the reservoirs' gates are closed before and during a rainfall event and releases are made when it is safe to discharge floodwaters down Buffalo Bayou. In the case of extreme rainfall and high pool elevations, however, the reservoirs' emergency operation procedures are followed. For questions or to learn more about the Barker and Addicks reservoirs visit www.swg.usace.army.mil.

Lake Houston is owned by the City of Houston and operated, maintained by the Coastal Water Authority. Lake Houston is a water supply reservoir and has no flood control function. For questions or to learn more about Lake Houston visit www.coastalwaterauthority.org.

Lake Conroe is managed by the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA). Lake Conroe is a water supply reservoir and has no flood control function. SJRA’s normal operating procedures do not include pre-releasing water prior to a storm. The Flood Control District will be in frequent communication with SJRA operators throughout the rainfall event. For questions or to learn more about Lake Conroe visit www.sjra.net.

The Sheldon Reservoir is managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The Sheldon Reservoir has no flood damage reduction function and does not have any gates operated for flood control purposes. For questions or to learn more about the Sheldon Reservoir visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us.

What should be done to remove individuals trespassing on Flood Control District property?

Contact local police regarding any criminal activity that may be occurring along the drainage easement. The law enforcement officers do not need "No Trespassing" signs to make arrests for criminal activity. The District has no policing authority. If more detailed information is needed, please contact the Flood Control District's Property Management Department. Call our main number at 713-684-4000.

What are watersheds, and how many are there in Harris County?

Basically, a watershed is a land area that ultimately drains rainfall runoff (or stormwater) to a common outlet point – typically a body of water. In Harris County, this usually means a creek or bayou. You're sitting in a watershed now. For example, if you live in the Brays Bayou watershed, the rain that falls on your house will eventually end up in Brays Bayou.

Watershed boundaries are formed by nature and are largely determined by the topography or "lay of the land." Harris County has 22 major watersheds that each drain into 22 major waterways, each with its own independent flooding issues.