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Wednesday, October 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Top Houston area official calls for major flood control plan

In this Sept. 25, 2008 photo, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett stands in his West University neighborhood in Houston. (Nick de la Torre / Associated Press)
In this Sept. 25, 2008 photo, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett stands in his West University neighborhood in Houston. (Nick de la Torre / Associated Press)
Associated Press

HOUSTON – The Houston area should have a new reservoir, fix aging reservoirs and complete long-sought bayou and creek flood control projects as part of 15 recommendations from the top elected official in the county that includes Houston to prevent future flooding like Hurricane Harvey.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said all levels of local state, federal and government need to begin moving on regional solutions before the “sense of urgency created by Harvey” fades.

“We really need to take ownership of flood control,” he said.

Emmett’s proposals announced Wednesday include adding a third reservoir to the northwestern part of the county, making improvements to the existing two reservoirs where water releases were needed after they were filled by the record rains from Harvey and completing flood control projects on several creeks and bayous where levees were overwhelmed by the August storm.

The Houston Chronicle reported those projects and others likely would cost billions of dollars and require federal money that Congress has yet to agree on and appropriate. Emmett also is advocating Texas tap its “rainy day fund” to accelerate the process, an action both state lawmakers and Gov. Greg Abbott have resisted.

Other recommendations include an improved flood warning system and evacuation plans, updating and revising flood maps, buying out homes repeatedly flooded or within the 100-year flood plain, and installing automatic barriers at flood-prone underpasses to prevent drownings.

Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer and co-director of Rice University’s center for Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters, said Emmett’s proposals are excellent but lack money.

“The question is how is he going to do it?” Blackburn said.

Emmett said he would lobby state and federal officials. He and several Harris County commissioners also have said they’d support a bond issue that could raise more than $1 billion for flood control projects.

Craig Doyal, the county judge in Montgomery County, immediately north of Houston, said Emmett’s idea of a regional response and control is worth visiting.

“What happens in Montgomery County is, obviously, going to have an impact on Harris County,” Doyal said. “I think we need to at least recognize what impact we have on our neighbors.”

Harvey led to 36 deaths in Harris County and flooding damaged an estimated 156,000 dwellings, or more than 10 percent of those in the county database, according to the flood control district for the county.

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