Houston’s Storm Water Action Team Is on the Job

Sometimes, it’s the small things that matter most.

In previous blogs, I have outlined  the City of Houston is working to prevent flooding. We are engaged in major projects and have partnered with Harris County on its flood control work on Brays Bayou by borrowing necessary funding from the Texas Water Development Board. We won approval from FEMA for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the “mouth bar” in the San Jacinto River—sediment that had built up in the river that was slowing down the flow of water.

Many big projects underway. Many more to come.

Sometimes, all it takes to stop the worst effects of heavy rain in a neighborhood is cleaning and regrading drainage ditches. Or rebuilding curbs and gutters on a street. Or replacing culverts

That’s where the SWAT comes in—the Storm Water Action Team.

More than seven months before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, I announced the formation of SWAT to proactively reduce drainage problems that are not directly attributed to overflow from the bayous (which are under the control of the Harris County Flood Control District). The goal is to expand maintenance capabilities and improve the movement of water from day-to-day storm events through rehabilitation and upgrade of existing drainage infrastructure.

The big projects are critically important. But these are smaller projects that are done in our neighborhoods and are just as critical. This is a major shift in the City’s approach to improving drainage and mitigating flooding.

What types of projects are being done?

  • Storm Sewers and Outfall: Projects include replacing collapsed outfalls, where storm sewer pipes deposit drainage into a waterway, increasing the size of inlets where water passes into the storm sewer system, replacing inlet plates with grates and rebuilding roadway curbs and gutters for re-establishment of water flow paths.
  • Roadside Ditches: Projects include regrading of ditches and replacement of culverts not set to proper flowline and clearing.
  • Off-Road Ditches and Detention Ponds: Projects include clearing, removing vegetation, regrading and desilting, minor erosion repairs and mowing.

Project locations are determined by reviewing 311 calls and other data regarding frequency of flooding. The City’s Public Works and Engineering Department works with district City Councilmembers to choose projects, based on their knowledge of their districts and requests from their constituents.

We started SWAT in January 2017 with $10 million and began with 22 projects—two in each Council district. We have allocated $17 million for this year’s projects, for a total over 200 projects that have been completed or that will start in this fiscal year. This year’s projects are being prioritized now.

I know a forecast of stormy weather causes anxiety and fear for many Houstonians. There is no reason why we can’t help alleviate some of those concerns. These are practical improvements that can be completed quickly to provide the greatest amount of relief and reduce the possibility that water will enter homes and strand motorists.