I am back in Washington this week with several key votes ahead on the National Defense Authorization Act. Over the past several weeks, I have spent much of my time on-the-ground with flood experts, survivors and first responders.
Armed with details about the flood control issues we face, I am working to secure targeted appropriations and key policy changes to help Harris County improve its drainage, retention and water infrastructure.
I recently visited with Houston Public Radio’s Houston Matters about how the private sector and public sector can each do more to prevent future flooding and improve drainage. As I told HPR:
The government has a responsibility to ensure that there are retention requirements in place, drainage requirements in place and that the dredging and improvement work are done downstream to ensure that water has a place to go.
In The 7th District of Texas
In my stops around Harris County since the flood, I visited with families, civic leaders and business leaders impacted by the disaster. Their insights sharpened my focus on critical needs and bolstered my resolve to help fix unaddressed infrastructure, retention and drainage issues.
Harris County Emergency Management
I toured the Harris County Emergency Management Center where military, law enforcement, and first responders walked me through the issues they were confronted with when the flooding began and continue to address now as we seek to recover.
Emergency management officials estimate the damage at $25 million for Harris County alone as well as $2 million in damage to the ship channel. Over 7,000 homes were damaged in the flooding and 1,200 individuals were assisted or rescued from their homes by Sheriffs, Fire Departments and other first responders. The tax day flooding was so severe it is categorized as a 250-year event.
I met with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner prior to his State of the City Address to talk about Houston’s flooding problems and we began a dialogue that I hope will allow us to work in concert to address water drainage, retention and storage issues. I look forward to working with Mayor Turner and County Judge Ed Emmett to bring substantial infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation solutions to Houston.
As you know, Meyerland was hit particularly hard by the flood. Mike Talbott, who runs the Harris County Flood Control District, joined me on a tour of the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston in Meyerland. The Synagogue is housed directly across the street from Brays Bayou. At the height of the flooding, water levels reached three feet in the sanctuary and the recent flooding is the second time the synagogue has flooded in less than 12 months.
In Congress, I have already begun work to address Brays Bayou. I have secured $194 million for Brays and the Harris County Flood Control District. This fiscal year I secured an additional $392 million for flood control and storm damage projects, which includes funds for Houston and Harris County. The Harris County Flood Control District estimates that without the federally funded work that has already been completed on Brays, at least 4,000 additional homes in Harris County would have flooded.
Village Mayors and Council Members
As I found with each visit, the best information about how to address flooding issues in Harris County comes from those closest to the problems. Hosted by my friend and Bunker Hill Mayor Jay Williams, along with other Mayors and City Council Members from the Villages, I gained tremendous feedback not only into how recent flooding is impacting their communities but also what projects and improvements would actually make a difference.
There is much work to be done on the relief and recovery effort. I am hard at work to ensure survivors can find assistance and Houston can find long-term solutions. My visits were all eye-opening. I am so thankful to the members of our community who shared their stories with me.
I welcome your feedback and thoughts on how best to address Harris County’s flooding issues.