Unmanned Aircraft Systems and the HCFCD
The Harris County Flood Control District is testing the use of small, unmanned, remotely guided aircraft as a cost-effective tool for conducting flood control project surveys, and for collecting maintenance-related data and imagery.
The Flood Control District joins a wide range of government agencies – from public works and parks departments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – who use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to more safely and efficiently:
- Inspect infrastructure
- Collect geo-spatial data about what’s on the ground in a particular location
- Conduct plant and animal species surveys
The picture on the LEFT shows a typical UAV flight pattern within Flood Control District boundaries, and the nearby property and road images that could be captured as part of that flight. The picture on the RIGHT shows the final rendered image provided to the Flood Control District, masking private property and areas outside of Flood Control District boundaries.
With jurisdiction over more than 2,500 miles of open and closed channels across nearly 1,800 square miles, and with limited staff, the Flood Control District anticipates a variety of potential benefits from the use of UAS:
- They make the inspection process safer for inspectors who often need to access waterways and enter remote, overgrown areas.
- They allow inspectors to cover more ground in a work day, as compared to boots-on-the-ground inspections.
- Future applications could utilize different image-capturing capabilities to identify plant stress, and quantify success of site stabilization and tree planting sites. These tasks help to determine when a project has been successfully completed by a contractor, or to identify contractor performance issues.
Flood Control District use of UAS technology is guided by both federal and state law, including the Texas Privacy Act. Recent contractors, HUVRdata LLC and Precision Aerial Compliance Solutions, are among UAS service providers vetted and credentialed by the National UAS Credentialing Program (NUASCP).
UAS on White Oak Bayou
UPDATE: HUVRdata LLC plans to revisit the White Oak Bayou project site on October 17, 2016, to verify data. Crews will be on site generally along White Oak Bayou near the E500-03-00 stormwater detention basin. Please do not disturb the Pilot In Command or other support personnel during active flight operations.
In September 2016, the Harris County Flood Control District began its first test of UAS to measure and assess Flood Control District basins and drainage channel easements. Austin-based HUVRdata LLC, a Flood Control District contractor, flew over White Oak Bayou and three stormwater detention basins in central Harris County, roughly between Fairbanks North Houston Road and North Houston Rosslyn Road. After collecting more than 3,000 images and related data during two days in the field September 28-29, the company is now preparing its final report.
The contractor used an Ascending Technologies Falcon 8 to survey approximately 329 acres in the project area, measuring maintained vs. unmaintained areas, including some with tree cover. This is an 8-rotor, v-shaped Vertical Take Off and Land (VTOL) aircraft, which weighs less than six pounds. The use of UAS will be compared to the use of ground crews in performing similar measurements. Frequently updated measurements of Flood Control District property are necessary to the efficient and accurate management of contract maintenance services such as mowing, which are typically bid by the acre.
This area was chosen to test UAS capabilities over densely populated urban areas located directly adjacent to Flood Control District infrastructure.
According to project flight rules, the UAS fly over and retain data about ONLY Flood Control District-owned property and right of way. Flight rules require that the Federal Aviation Administration-certified Pilot In Command:
- Maintain visual contact with the aircraft at all times
- Avoid flying over or collecting data about any persons not directly involved in the demonstration project, which includes adjacent homeowners.
- Fly only during daylight hours.
UAS at John Paul’s Landing Stormwater Detention Basin
Flood Control District UAS contractor Precision Aerial Compliance Solutions conducted aerial topographic surveys at the Stormwater Detention Basin at John Paul’s Landing in northwest Harris County in 2016 and 2017. Data and images provided timely information about current conditions at the 283-acre site, where work progresses on a $1.8 million capital project to expand the stormwater detention basin. Quick completion of the topographic surveys helped avoid delays in the project, which began in 2015 and continued with a second phase in 2016-17.
The basin at John Paul’s Landing, located in a mostly rural area of the Addicks Reservoir watershed, is a key element of the Upper Langham Creek Frontier Program. John Paul’s Landing is the site of a future Harris County Precinct 3 park.
Stormwater detention basins reduce flooding risks and damages during heavy rain events by safely storing excess floodwater and slowly releasing it back to the bayou when the threat of flooding has passed.
(Photo at John Paul's Landing of Jason Nicholas, pilot in command, and HCFCD construction inspector Larry Rosenthal, courtesy of Precision Aerial.)