Assessing Flooding and Hydrodynamics for Flood Prevention and Mitigation

Houston, Texas

Featured image for the project, Assessing Flooding and Hydrodynamics for Flood Prevention and Mitigation

Description

Although Texas has long experienced weather extremes, the intensity and frequency of major storm events is increasing.  The recent flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Harvey left Southeastern Texas devastated.  Rainfall totals shattered previous records; over a four-day period, many areas received more than 40 inches of rain.  At least 80 fatalities have been confirmed and recovery efforts are expected to continue in the weeks and months ahead.  The preliminary damage costs from Harvey are upwards of 70 billion dollars.

In 2009, eight years before Harvey hit Texas, a community flood group called Residents Against Flooding (RAF) formed to bring awareness to the public about the impacts that un-mitigated development can have on neighborhood flooding.  Increased development in and around Houston leads to higher volumes of stormwater runoff from parking lots and roofs into surrounding neighborhoods, and since Houston has mostly non-porous, clay soils, water runs off easily.  RAF is trying to change the embedded rules and city code structure to improve flood control.   RAF leaders live in the Memorial City area on the west side of Houston but they have thousands of members from across the city. The group has 700+ Facebook members, 4000+ Twitter followers and a dedicated website.

A few drainage studies have been completed in Memorial City over the years by various engineering firms.  One study in 2001 showed the neighborhood falling outside of any FEMA mapped floodplain, yet still recommended installation of at least 4 detention ponds and numerous drainage improvements.  An expensive Regional Drainage Study was completed in 2012 after 500 homes flooded in a slow moving 2009 thunderstorm. It found that most neighborhoods did in fact fall within the floodplain yet FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) were not updated to capture this change.  Since 2009, RAF has amassed data and evidence confirming the severity of the flooding.  On May 25, 2016, RAF filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston and the Memorial City Redevelopment (MCRA) seeking remedy related to persistent flooding.

This project has been conceived and designed in partnership with community leaders at RAF and Flood Forum USA.

Contact

Current RAF Board Chair and co-founder, Ed Browne, and Vice-Chair, Dean Bixler, will serve as community leads.  The community leads commit to engaging with the scientific partner on this project and providing strategic direction to ensure that the assessment is in line with their larger vision of flood reduction and mitigation in the City of Houston.

Scientist Wanted

As an initial first step, a scientist is requested for 2 months to work with RAF to walk the neighborhood with the community leaders, examine and aggregate existing hydrological assessments and create a short write-up summarizing neighborhood-scale vulnerability and describe some next steps to learn more about and/or start mitigating that vulnerability.  These next steps will provide a foundation and refined scope upon which to shape the remainder of this TEX-FFUSA project.  Specifically, Ed and Dean seek a scientific partner to help RAF evaluate past drainage studies, assessing their validity and whether they match the current reality for the Memorial City area.

In a later phase of this project, the scientist will also work with RAF to prepare recommendations for presentation to local government entities.

TEX asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact that they can contribute to as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators.  This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

 

Timeline and Outcome

Work will begin as soon as possible (October 2017).  The first phase of this project will take approximately 2 months.  Once a refined project scope is identified, the remainder of the project is expected to last 12-16 months.

 

Desired Skills and Expertise

  • Background in hydrology
  • Experience dealing with urban sprawl, movement of water over land and sheet flow, flow analysis and modeling
  • Ability to critically analyze data
  • Capable of explaining scientific data in a confident manner in potentially politically- charged environments
  • Ability to translate difficult science terminology to a lay audience
  • Willingness to be present for meetings with funders to respond to scientific questions, and work with community leaders to prepare for engaging with funders
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns
  • Strong listening and communication skills
  • Competent and open to new ideas
  • Relaxed, easy going personality with a good sense of humor
  • The scientist should be able to visit the community in-person

Collaborating Organization(s)

This project is part of one of TEXs’ new cohorts.  TEX has partnered with Flood Forum USA which supports grassroots flood groups across the country by helping them develop strategies for a sustainable future.  TEX is working with ten of their grassroots groups to connect them with scientists who can help them better characterize neighborhood-level flood risks and work effectively with local decision makers to mitigate those risks. 

Flood Forum USA