Charts: What Flood Mitigation Policies Do Houston-Area Residents Support?

Reservoir construction in Houston. Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Buyouts, another reservoir, tougher development regulations, all of these options are on the table for Houston and Harris County after Hurricane Harvey. And many appear to have broad public support, according to a recently released survey from the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs in collaboration with two Rice University researchers.

“Everybody is for everything,” said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University and one of the researchers behind the survey at a conference on flood mitigation and prevention organized by the Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters Center. But when it comes to paying for those policies through increased property or sales taxes, support drops off for most.

The survey, conducted roughly three months after Harvey hit, reached 2,002 residents across Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Brazoria counties to gauge public opinion on policy responses to the flooding that occurred as well as experiences during the storm. The survey started November 20, 2017 and ran for a month, reaching residents on landlines and cell phones and it echoed findings from similar findings: more people experienced lost wages than direct flooding though both represented large shares of the population, for example, a finding Stein took to mean that flooded homes weren’t the primary concern for many area residents evaluating policy solutions.

“This was a bad experience for people of color and people who rent,” said Stein, looking over the results. Black respondents, followed by Asian respondents, for example, suffered the most serious residential flooding, according to the results, while black and Hispanic respondents had the highest reported rates of “extremely serious” economic damage from the storm.

While officials drum up support for a third reservoir and other policy interventions as well as float a $1 billion bond, the survey sought to quantify support for such measures.

And though support dropped off when respondents were asked whether they would be in favor of higher taxes to fund them, Stein said the results actually seemed relatively supportive. In Harris County, support was the highest with just over half of respondents saying they’d be in favor of paying more in taxes for flooding fixes but support declined as the proposed tax increase grew and a large bond would still be a tough sell for voters.

Hover over a policy to see the level of support it had among respondents as well as the support it received when combined with a tax increase.

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Leah Binkovitz

Leah Binkovitz is Senior Editor with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research.


  1. It seems quite a stretch to think huge amounts of flood waters will be shipped across Waller, Ft. Bend, Harris Galveston and Brazoria counties to the Gulf of Mexico to deal with flooding. The only obvious solution is to require serious increases in the elevation of buildings as has been proposed by Harris County. We can’t stop the water and can’t get it out fast enough to prevent flooding.

  2. As a resident of Buffalo Bayou since 1947 and a current resident within 200 yards of the bayou, I have an opinion as to flood control from Addicks and Barker Dams.
    The root cause of the local Buffalo Bayou flood needs to be studied in 2018 terms. It does not make sense to route all of the flow directly through the City of Houston. When these dams were first designed, the Harris County water shed was not mostly concrete and impervious ground cover. Today we have high value properties and full ground cover from State Hwy 6 through down town Houston. The options to study are few, and could include deepening of the existing dam datum to retain more flood water, adding a third dam, providing a by-pass via channel or large U/G culvert to the Brazos River and or tying all of these methods into a single well controlled system that could be activated when appropriate. As a retired Register Civil Engineer, I have studied the bayou 100 year flood plane and would not want to bear the cost and construction difficulty of raising the elevation of properties adjacent to Buffalo Bayou to the 500 year level. A cost effective and construction efficient solution to the City of Houston’s problem is to control the flow around the city. A controlled flow into the Brazos River could be done for much less cost and be completed in a much faster schedule. It could be a controlled flow that would be sequenced and when included to the greater holding capacity would not cause the Brazos River any problems down stream. I would like to see a study using HEC I or HEC II with all of these Controlled System improvements considered. Run a computer analysis on a family of cases and see what the overall least cost really is. Letting the flow move through the heart of Houston can not be cost effective, nor construction friendly.

    Don Lieske II P.E. Retired
    232 Sugarberry Circle
    Houston Tx 77024

  3. New development areas are not the areas that flooded so apparently what we are doing is working. The older areas were not designed to shed sheet flow and the existing storm sewer infrastructure is under sized; it cannot pass enough water which means it backs up. Stricter new development criteria will only serve to unnecessarily increase the cost of living for those who can afford it least.

  4. Wait a minute, Bob. Are you saying that the flood targeted black people first and then went after Asian and Hispanic people in Houston? That’s diabolical! How would the flood water know? We know that water can’t normally run uphill by itself. So, I guess what you are really saying that the flood waters most impacted those neighborhoods that were either lower in elevation or whoever was unfortunately in the path of a massive, controlled release of dammed up water. The councilmembers and representatives for those areas better sharpen their pencils because these people need help! Even if those neighborhoods have higher populations of people of color or other specific genetic trait, I don’t think the flood is race, gender, or species-motivated (poor animals). We can all agree – rich or poor – that getting flooded out of your home and/or your business is serious, and flood waters like low lying areas. We have to come to grips with the fact that there’s only so much the government can do to get rid of the water pouring onto a large coastal plain – which is where we live by the way. Assuming that local governments have been responsible in taking all reasonable (or extreme) efforts to get flood water to flow faster, and that they’ve trimmed their own operating expenses as efficiently as possible to shoulder their burden in all of this, the rest is up to all Houstonians whether we are black, white, brown, yellow, red, short, tall, blonde, brunette, redhead, lowland resident, highland resident, bike rider, bus rider, car driver, truck driver. If the powers and authorities that can make effect change are still bickering about how, who, what, when, and where by the time the next huge flood hits, sensible and brave Houstonians will once again be out helping their neighbors because they are neighbors. That’s what we do regardless of genetic traits.

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