Every year on June 1st a new Atlantic hurricane season begins and, along with it, the questions – about whether states and communities along the United States’ Atlantic and Gulf coasts are prepared for the potential impacts of a powerful storm.
In 2020, there were a record-breaking 30 named storms, 13 of which became hurricanes and six that packed top winds of 111 mph or greater. Among them was Sally, which came ashore as a slow-moving Category 2 hurricane. In about four hours, it dumped over 30 inches of rain, causing widespread freshwater flooding from southwest Alabama to the Florida Panhandle. In 2017, Texas experienced catastrophic flooding impacts of its own, when another slow mover - Hurricane Harvey - hammered Houston for several days and peak rain accumulations reached nearly 61 inches.
Partnering with Texas
Fast forward to 2021 and Wood’s current efforts to help the state identify effective end mitigation projects that can prevent significant storm-related flooding in the future. It’s part of our four-year $4.2M contract with the Texas General Land Office (GLO), a new client for Wood. Our role, as program manager, is to support GLO and ensure flood study vendors are doing both the outreach and technical work they were hired to do.
“It’s a really good program management opportunity and working alongside GLO we have the opportunity to address the growing flooding risks to increase the resiliency of communities across Texas”, says Tyler Jones, Resilient Environment’s Vice President and Central Gulf Coast Region Manager. “This is about a $85M program on flood studies alone, so we need to help the state ensure that this money is being spent appropriately and where it has the greatest impact.”
The Texas program is part of a larger federally funded $4.2B Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. The CDBG Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) Program enables grantees to use government funding to carry out strategic and high-impact activities that will mitigate disaster risks and reduce future losses in areas impacted by recent disasters.
Examining data statewide
The work involves studies of previously impacted areas in Texas, as well as public outreach. The goal is to use collected data, from areas hard-hit by significant rainfall and weather-related flooding, to determine the best mitigation options and designs for those solutions, which could include more retention ponds, a new reservoir, or even the construction of new drainage canals. Along the coast, other options might be the addition of barrier islands or, even, new oyster reefs.
Everything’s bigger in Texas
Program Manager Ken Ashe has previously done this type of work for the state of North Carolina. He’s also provided support in Missouri, which was similar in scope to what we’re doing in Texas. “The biggest difference is the GLO is taking a planning approach to the study. The focus is to identify mitigation projects and then the funding mechanisms for each of them,” he explains. “Normally programs focus on producing modeling or mapping and leave mitigation to other partners post-project.”
Because our work in Texas will be establishing the standards and protocols for future studies, this project is unique and first-of-its-kind. “A large regional approach hasn’t previously been undertaken,” Ken explains, so the focus is definitely bigger. It includes developing engineering models, alternative analysis, plus identifying mitigation projects and the individual funding mechanisms that should be pursued for each project.
Some of the biggest challenges include: the large scale of the project; attempting to model combined impacts of coastal surge and riverine flooding; the unique differences in topography across Texas’s diverse regions; and, balancing funding to specific study needs across a large geographic area with multiple communities.
One of the main stakeholders, among many in Texas, is the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and that is unique to this specific project, too. “In Texas, the GLO has included USACE as both a technical advisor and the technical reviewer. The purpose was to make sure the engineering and mitigation products developed, as part of this project, meet standards identified by the collaborative teams. Some of the projects will be identified as potential USACE projects and will be built to these specific standards - making them eligible to be included in USACE projects and funding opportunities in the future.