Bayous & Watersheds

HCFCD Unit Numbering System

The Harris County Flood Control District uses a unique numbering system to keep track of the 2,500 miles of bayous and channels in Harris County, more than 300 stormwater detention basins, and hundreds of construction and maintenance projects aimed at improving and maintaining our drainage infrastructure.

The system was developed in the mid-1940s under the direction of then-Flood Control Engineer R. J. Putney, who served in that position from March 1945 to April 1950. Under this system, each unit of infrastructure – bayou, basin etc. – is given a unique Unit Number. When a flood damage reduction project is initiated, the Unit Number becomes part of a unique Project ID Number as well.

Under this system, there is an alpha code for each of Harris County’s watersheds, beginning with “A” for Clear Creek, in the extreme southeast part of the county next to Galveston Bay. Moving in a roughly counter-clockwise direction, “B” is for Armand Bayou, “C” for Sims Bayou, “D” for Brays Bayou, and so on. Two notable exceptions: Little Cypress Creek, which is actually a tributary of Cypress Creek (“K”), nonetheless has its own alpha letter (“L”). And, while there is a “U” for the Addicks Reservoir watershed and a “W” for the Buffalo Bayou watershed, there is no watershed assigned to the letter “V”.

Following the watershed letter is a sequence of seven numbers, grouped and separated by dashes. The very first number is important, because it tells what KIND of infrastructure the Unit Number identifies – “1” for a bayou or other channel, “5” for a stormwater detention basin, etc.

Let’s look more closely at Unit Numbers beginning with the numeral “1,” which denotes a bayou or other channel:

A watershed is like a tree, with one trunk (or main channel), multiple branches (tributaries) and twigs off each branch (sub-tributaries and sub-sub-tributaries). Each channel, no matter how large or small, has a unique Unit Number.

The first set of three numbers after the watershed letter in a particular Unit Number refers to the main channel or other prominent branch on which the channel in question is located. W100-00-00 is the Unit Number for Buffalo Bayou, the main channel of the Buffalo Bayou watershed. The main channel always has a “1” and lots of zeros!

W140-00-00 is the Unit Number for a major Buffalo Bayou tributary commonly known as Spring Branch. Other examples of Buffalo Bayou tributaries include W156-00-00 (Rummel Creek), and W167-00-00 (Turkey Creek).

The second and third sets of numbers in the Unit Number refer to smaller sub-tributaries, and even smaller sub-sub-tributaries, of the main channel. For example, W140-00-00 is a tributary of Buffalo Bayou (W100-00-00) known as Spring Branch; W140-06-00 is a tributary of Spring Branch known as Buttermilk Creek; and W140-06-01 is a tributary of Buttermilk Creek (with no common name).

In the beginning, Unit Numbers reflected a tributary’s location – in order – from the mouth or confluence of the main channel, working upstream. (For example, tributary W133-00-00 is upstream of W130-00-00 – or you could say that W130 is closer to the mouth.) However, manmade tributaries were later added to the system and given the next available number.

In the case of stormwater detention basins, which are identified by the first numeral “5” after the watershed letter, subsequent numerals help identify the tributary into which the basin discharges. For example: Basin A520-03-00 is the third of several basins that discharge into tributary A120-00-00.

Unit Numbers are important because they are exact, and help positively identify a particular channel. Common names are popular, but they are sometimes in popular dispute, or repeated in multiple locations across the county. For example: Harris County has three Turkey Creeks, in the Cypress Creek, Clear Creek and Buffalo Bayou watershed. Only Unit Numbers tell you definitively which channel is which, and make sure everyone is talking about the same one!

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Flood Control District assigns Unit Numbers to channels in Harris County for informational and record-keeping purposes, including many for which it does NOT have right of way, or maintenance responsibility.


When a letter and fourth set of numbers is added to a Unit Number, it designates a Project Identification Number – the unique number of a Flood Control District flood damage reduction, maintenance or other project.

For example:

C506-03-00-E001 is the Project ID Number of a project to excavate the South Richey Stormwater Detention Basin, a basin located in the watershed of Berry Bayou (C106-00-00), which is a sub-watershed of the larger Sims Bayou (C100-00-00) watershed. The E001 suffix tells you that it is an (E) earthen channel or basin project, and that it is the first (001) project or project phase for that particular basin. Subsequent projects or project phases under separate construction contracts at the South Richey basin might be numbered E002 or E003.

Other letters denote other types of projects: “X” for a maintenance project and “V” for a vegetation management project, for example. This system allows for accurate record-keeping, and separates different types of project activities at one project site.

One special exception to the Project ID Number system: “Z-packages.” Smaller maintenance projects grouped together under one construction contract are often given both individual Project ID Numbers and an umbrella number that begins with the letter “Z,” since there is often more than one watershed involved in the group. “Z-packages” have numbers such as Z100-00-00-X223.