Apply now to join our next cohort of Community Science Fellows and Community Leads!

Assessing Future Flood Risk for Sustainable Solutions

Brazoria County, Texas

Featured image for the project, Assessing Future Flood Risk for Sustainable Solutions

Photo courtesy of Kevin McKinney


The Team


The objective of this project was to understand, in an unbiased manner, how and why flooding occurred in Richwood, Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The project team met on the phone regularly and across email to build up their project. Steven met with Richwood’s attorneys to discuss the case and understand the relevant background. Steven took time to review the report from the City of Lake Jackson (which was prepared in the wake of the flooding event). Steven provided a thorough review by using new LiDAR imaging available for the area, as well as ArcGIS programs. In the fall of 2019, Steven made a site visit to Richwood to better understand the flood path and drainage in affected areas of Richwood.


Project Outputs:


Project Impacts:

The impact of this project was very significant for Richwood residents. Specifically:

  • Due to the litigation and hearings, there is no more pumping and sandbagging occurring. The City of Lake Jackson admitted in a deposition hearing that they are trying to find a way to divert flood waters out of the Brazos River
  • The October deposition hearing ended with the court case continuing



From this project, others may learn better ways to partner with Thriving Earth Exchange for their own purposes. For instance,

The team noted that the following contributed to the success of the project:

  • Teamwork was key to success. The community came together as one to communicate with each other and the attorneys.
  • Ensuring leadership on the team and having the right people in place to disseminate information along the course of the project.
  • Having trust in each other was huge. All parties believed in each other from the start and the community felt a sense of credibility.
  • The attorneys were very clear with Steven on what exactly they wanted him to do. It was also essential to have the lawyers on board right from the beginning to provide important legal guidance.

However, there were a few key things that the team would do differently if they had the chance to do this project again:

  • (From a science liaison perspective): Conduct site visits early and often. Steven would have preferred to visit the site at the very beginning of the project with Kevin to obtain important local context.
  • Determine a way to get more community members involved and to attend court hearings.

To other teams currently pursuing Thriving Earth Exchange projects and for those that anticipate doing a Thriving Earth Exchange project, the team recommends:

  • (From a science liaison standpoint): “It’s not really that hard” – getting involved on a project that has legal action seems intimidating from the outside but isn’t in reality.
  • (From a community leader standpoint): Trust in the process and your team! Don’t give up. Even if you think it’s overwhelming, look around to those that support you.

Steven in the field

Kevin and Steven


Brazoria County is located in the southeast section of Texas along the Gulf Coast and is considered part of the Greater Houston area. Residents of Richwood, Texas and surrounding areas within the county were heavily impacted during Hurricane Harvey in late August/early September of 2017. Many residents of Richwood had never flooded before the storm and found themselves with upwards of 3 feet of water in their homes. Residents claim that in the aftermath of the storm, the City of Lake Jackson directed floodwater into pumps that spilled into Richwood and surrounding areas of the county. The water inundated neighborhoods and mobile home parks, severely damaging homes and personal property.

Over 400 residents have joined a lawsuit to demand that the City of Lake Jackson take responsibility for the flooding that occurred in the City of Richwood and surrounding areas in Brazoria County and compensate for damages.

The Richwood Advisory Council was formed in September of 2017 by residents impacted by the flooding. The Council is not affiliated in any way with the City. An associated Facebook page, Flood Victims of Richwood, was also established to organize residents impacted by the flooding. The group has a Facebook page with close to 350 followers. Their main goal is to ensure that flooding like what occurred following Hurricane Harvey never occurs again.

This project will be conceived and designed in partnership with community leaders at the Richwood Advisory Council and Flood Forum USA. The Richwood Advisory Council would like to find a scientific partner who can help them obtain a better understanding of what happened to their community, what future flooding risks exist in their section of Brazoria County, and evaluate options to prevent future flooding. The flood group feels as though they don’t currently have a trusted source for unbiased answers to their questions. This means they may want help finding relevant data, interpreting relevant reports, or designing additional data collection. The goal of this TEX project is to bring scientific evidence and understanding to the questions and priorities of local residents, so that residents can use that science to make decisions and take actions. It is not intended that the scientist be directly involved in the pending lawsuit, though data and evidence produced could be cited in the lawsuit.

Due to the heightened attention on the Houston area in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, this will likely be a highly visible project. Potential risks to the scientific partner include public questioning of the data and evidence, and possible cross-examination as part of the legal proceedings. On rare occasions scientists have found their reputation questioned as well. While AGU and TEX cannot offer legal support or protect TEX participants from all risks, we are committed to helping design a project and role that minimizes risks, coaching and mentoring through any challenges, and standing up publicly for the integrity of our scientists and the TEX process. The best strategy to minimize these risks is to design a project that answers community questions based on rigorous practice and sound scientific evidence, and to share all data and findings in a transparent and readily accessible way.   

About the Community

Kevin McKinney is the Chairman of the Richwood Advisory Council and will serve as the community lead. The community lead commits 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 Brazoria County.


Expert Hydrologist Helps Flood Victims in Lawsuit

By Harriet Festing, Anthropocene Alliance

Richwood, Texas: Dr Steven H Emerman was touring Richwood on Tuesday. He was in town to provide expert testimony for a lawsuit on behalf of the Flood Victims of Richwood: Dr Emerman is helping three members of Higher Ground with lawsuits and appeals. He is well qualified to do so. He was a professor of hydrology for 31 years and has 66 peer-reviewed publications in the areas of hydrology and geophysics. He has a B.S. in mathematics from The Ohio State University, M.A. in geophysics from Princeton University, and Ph.D. in geophysics from Cornell University. Since retirement at the end of June 2018, Dr Emerman is now a full-time consultant for environmental, human rights, and indigenous organizations. We are tremendously grateful for his help for flood victims across the country.

In this photo Dr Emerman (right) is shaking hands with Kevin McKinney, who heads the Flood Victims of Richwood.

A Dream for Richwood, Texas

All updates for this project

Project Team

Community Lead

Kevin McKinney is the Chairman of the Richwood Advisory Council

Bio coming soon!


Science Liaison

Steve Emerman is the owner of Malach Consulting and former Associate Professor of Hydrology at Utah Valley University.

Bio coming soon!

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 twelve 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.