Large rainfall events have been no stranger to Texas over the last century.
In September 1921, 23.11 inches of rain fell in less than a day in the towns of Taylor and Thrall. The rainfall headed south and caused the Olmos Creek to reach its crest within an hour. Hundreds of homes in Brackenridge Park were inundated with up to 10 feet of water, while downtown San Antonio streets were flooded by by the end of the day. According to the U.S. Geological Survey report, $8.5 million in property damage was reported—the equivalent of $132 million today.
Widespread rainfall broke a statewide, multiyear drought in 1957 but caused flooding across the state from the Pecos River to the Sabine River. The October 1998 Central Texas floods along the San Marcos, Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers resulted in $750 million of damage ($1.9 billion today) and 31 fatalities.
In 2015, multiple storm events across the state resulted in significant flood damages and deaths. Two Presidential Disaster Declarations were issued on May 29 and November 25 as the result of flooding. NOAA reported five deaths and more than $140 million in property and crop damages. In addition, NOAA’s records for floash flooding in 2015 reflect $1.9 billion in property and crop damages along with 43 deaths and five injuries. NOAA’s figures rely heavily on self-reported data and potentially underestimate additional damages experienced but not reported.
Most recently, the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey resulted in catastrophic rainfall with many areas receiving more than 40 inches of rain and as much as 61 inches in Nederland, Texas, over four days. When Harvey subsided, an estimated $125 billion in damage had occurred with 68 fatalities.
These are a few examples of how Texas has been impacted by significant rainfall events and a precursor to others sure to impact the Lone Star State in the future.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), just an inch of floodwater can cause up to $25,000 in damage to one home. Additionally, the loss of life increases as flood levels rise.
Following Hurricane Harvey in late August 2017, state legislators committed to ensuring funding was available to pave way for Texas’ first State Flood Plan.
Regional and State Flood Planning Becomes Reality
During Texas’ 86th regular session in 2019, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 8, directing the creation of the first State Flood Plan. Prepared by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), which took over the state’s flood program in 2007, this plan will follow a similar region-driven “bottom-up” approach that has been used for water supply planning in the state for more than 20 years.
Due to Texas’ varying ecoregions—ranging from the Trans-Pecos out west to the Piney Woods in the east and High Plains in the north—each region requires a uniquely designed plan to accommodate potential rainfall events in those areas.
As outlined by the Texas Water Code, the purpose of the regional and state flood plans is to:
- Provide for orderly preparation for and response to flood conditions to protect against the loss of life and property
- Guide state and local flood control policy
- Contribute to water development, where possible
Following the state’s Water Planning Process, the State Flood Plan will be developed from actions rolled up from regional flood plans, which are due Jan. 10, 2023. The State Flood Plan is then due Sept. 1, 2024. Legislation requires the flood plans to be updated every five years.
Regional Flood Planning Group (RFPG) Basics
The TWDB divided the state into 15 regions based on river basin boundaries. Each RFPG is responsible for developing a regional flood plan by the legislative deadline in accordance with requirements outlined in the Texas Water Code, TDWB administrative rules, the scope of work and technical guidelines. This ensures the scope of work is consistent across all regions, so when the regional flood plans are submitted, they can be easily built into the State Flood Plan.
The RFPGs consist of volunteers who represent one of 12 interest categories:
- Electric Generating Utilities
- Flood Districts
- River Authorities
- Small Businesses
- Water Districts
- Water Utilities
These volunteers comprise the voting membership in each RFPG. RFPG members are responsible for considering the flood-related needs associated with the interest category they represent. The TWDB solicited nominations to fill each position within each RFPG. The TWDB then selected the original RFPG members, while any open positions were left to the local RFPG to find an appropriate representative.
In addition to the required voting members, the legislation entails that an ex officio representative from the TWDB, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the General Land Office, the Parks and Wildlife Department, the Department of Agriculture, the State Soil and Water Conservation Board and the Texas Division of Emergency Management also be appointed to each RFPG.
The RFPGs have the flexibility to add voting interest categories, as well as non-voting interest categories or agencies that are appropriate for their region.
The TWDB developed the scope of work that each of the RFPGs is tasked with completing.
There are 10 primary tasks included in the original scope of work:
Task 1: Planning area description
Task 2A: Existing conditions flood risk analyses
Task 2B: Future conditions flood risk analyses
Task 3A: Evaluation and recommendation of floodplain management practices
Task 3B: Flood mitigation and floodplain management goals
Task 4A: Flood mitigation needs analysis
Task 4B: Identification and evaluation of potential flood management evaluations (FMEs) and potentially feasible flood management strategies (FMSs) and flood mitigation projects (FMPs)
Task 4C: Prepare and submit Technical Memorandum
Task 5: Recommendation of FMEs, FMSs and FMPs
Task 6A: Impacts of the regional flood plan
Task 6B: Contributions to and impacts on water supply development and the State Water Plan
Task 7: Flood response information and activities
Task 8: Administrative, regulatory and legislative recommendations
Task 9: Flood infrastructure financing analysis
Task 10: Public participation and plan adoption
FMEs are proposed studies of specific flood-prone areas, where additional information is needed to develop potentially feasible flood mitigation solutions. FMPs are proposed flood mitigation projects and can be structural or non-structural in nature. FMSs include proposed strategies that are not necessarily typical studies or projects but are recommended to mitigate flooding, such as developing and implementing a floodplain ordinance. A recommended FME, FMP or FMS requires an identified sponsor to implement the recommendation. FMEs and FMPs also include ballpark cost estimates.
Each of these tasks includes multiple subtasks that are detailed in the scope of work. In addition, the TWDB developed two guidance documents, titled Exhibit C and Exhibit D, that provide information on required tables, maps and geodatabase elements that support the regional flood plans.
In response to the RFPGs’ requests for additional time and effort to solicit local flood-related information from cities, counties and entities with flood responsibilities, the Texas Legislature allocated additional funding in 2021 for three additional tasks:
Task 11: Outreach and data collection to support Tasks 1-9
Task 12: Perform identified FMEs; identify, evaluate and recommend additional FMPs
Task 13: Preparation and adoption of the amended regional flood plan
Task 11 deadlines remain the same as those included in Tasks one through nine. However, Tasks 12 and 13 include additional time and are due July 14, 2023. The extended timeframe allows the RFPGs to incorporate additional information into the amended regional flood plans.
Public Planning Process
The RFPG meetings are required to abide by the Open Meetings Act, thus they are open to the public. Additionally, officer and subcommittee meetings are subject to the Open Meetings Act. Due to public interest and the ongoing health concerns associated with COVID-19, many of the RFPGs host hybrid meetings whereby the public may have the opportunity to participate in person or virtually.
Each RFPG is required to develop, host and maintain a website to facilitate public outreach. Depending on the agenda items, most meeting notices require a seven-day or 14-day advance posting. Certain public meetings require a 30-day notice. Meeting materials must also be provided in advance of the meeting.
The public has the opportunity to provide written comments before or after each meeting. Verbal comments are permitted at designated times during the meeting. Each of the RFPGs has established an email address and mailing address where written comments may be submitted at any time.
The RFPGs began meeting virtually in fall 2020 after the TWDB appointed the initial members. The TWDB assisted the RFPGs with their initial meetings by providing training, a draft of the bylaws, posting the required public notices and hosting kickoff meetings. Each RFPG selected a sponsoring entity to handle the contracting requirements, as the RFPGs are not entities that can enter into contracts. Each RFPG approved its bylaws and selected officers. After that, the RFPG chairs coordinated and ran their meetings with TWDB serving as an advisor.
The RFPGs considered filling any voting positions that the TWDB was unable to fill. RFPGs also considered adding additional voting and non-voting positions to their regions. For example, several RFPGs added the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a non-voting member.
The RFPG sponsors coordinated the request for qualifications (RFQ) for technical consultant teams. Some groups established committees to assist with the review of RFQs. The full RFPG selected the consultant team that best met its requirements. Each RFPG sponsor handled the contracts with the TWDB and consultant team. From there, the consultant team jumped into the TWDB’s scope of work and began work.
Each RFPG has developed its meeting frequency and meeting location. Most RFPGs meet monthly, while several meet every other month. Most provide a hybrid option that complies with the public meeting criteria. Some RFPGs meet at the same location to provide consistency, while others move meetings around the region to provide an opportunity for local input.
At each RFPG meeting, the consultant team provides an update on its progress with the scope of work and solicits feedback and direction from the planning group members. The TWDB also provides an update on recent activities that impact the regional flood planning effort. Guest presentations are sometimes provided, such as the General Land Office’s regional flood study effort.
The regional flood plan development process is a public process. Local knowledge and information on current and anticipated future flooding concerns are of significant interest to the RFPGs. In the summer and fall of 2021, the RFPGs initiated outreach and communication with cities, counties and other entities with flood-related responsibilities in the region. Outreach typically involved electronic surveys, interactive web maps, postcards/flyers/mailers, phone calls and emails. The RFPGs requested a variety of flood-related information from local entities, including existing flood studies, models, mitigation activities, low-water crossing locations and areas with historical flooding. The public was also encouraged to participate and provide information on previous flooding locations.
In December 2021, the RFPGs met to review and approve the Technical Memorandum to be submitted to the TWDB by a Jan. 7, 2022, deadline. The Technical Memorandum represents the first major milestone in the flood planning process. The Technical Memorandum is intended to provide a snapshot in time as to where the RFPG is in the planning process on specific subtasks associated with the first four tasks.
The Technical Memorandums include:
- List of existing political subdivisions with flood-related authority/responsibility
- List of previous flood studies and flood models relevant to the regional flood planning effort
- Adopted flood mitigation and floodplain management goals for the regional plan
- Process used to identify potentially feasible FMSs and FMPs
- List of potential FMEs and potentially feasible FMSs and FMPs
- List of infeasible FMSs and FMPs and explanation for the exclusion
- Associated geospatial data
All of the RFPGs submitted their Tech Memos by the legislated deadline.
Next Steps for the RFPGs
The RFPGs are working on additional tasks while the TWDB reviews the Technical Memorandums. They are preparing the Technical Memorandum Addendums. Some data that the TWDB was developing and providing to the RFPGs and their consultants were delayed. The TWDB provided two additional months to allow the RFPGs and their consultants time to review, assess and incorporate the additional data into a Technical Memorandum Addendum, which is due March 7.
The Technical Memorandum Addendum includes:
- Existing and future condition flood risks
- Floodplain mapping gaps
- Hydrologic and hydraulic (H&H) modeling availability
The RFPGs are required to determine current and potential future flood risk. Some areas of the state have a significant amount of floodplain mapping and modeling already available. Other areas have little to no existing data. The TWDB provided additional information for the RFPGs to consider as they estimate current and potential future flood risk. Rather than regulatory purposes, the potential future conditions are intended for flood planning purposes. Additionally, the RFPG consultants are merging the available floodplain maps and flood studies to identify gaps where floodplain mapping is needed.
RFPG consultants are reviewing flood studies and models to determine appropriateness for inclusion in the report. Each RFPG is developing criteria for deciding which studies and models are relevant and should be included in their plan. Also, the consultant teams are forging ahead on additional tasks in the scope of work beyond the Technical Memorandum Addendum to advance plan development to meet the schedule.
The RFPGs are continuing their outreach efforts to cities, counties, other entities with flood-related responsibilities and the public. They are still accepting local flood studies, models, planned flood-mitigation projects and more as they continue developing the lists of potentially feasible flood-mitigation activities.
Upcoming RFPG Activities
The RFPGs will be submitting their Technical Memorandum Addendums by March 7. They will continue holding public meetings and solicit public input on draft planning items to ultimately deliver the initial draft regional flood plans.
The RFPGs will narrow down the list of potentially feasible FMEs, FMSs and FMPs to develop the list of recommended flood studies and flood mitigation solutions. Some RFPGs are establishing subcommittees to assist their consultant team with this task. Like the RFPG meetings, these subcommittee meetings will be open to the public. The RFPGs will coordinate with the anticipated sponsoring entity for each recommended solution to confirm that the solution aligns with the local entity’s plan and to confirm the anticipated source of funding. The full RFPG will make the final decisions on which FMEs, FMSs and FMPs to recommend in the draft regional flood plans.
The draft regional flood plans are due Aug. 1, 2022. The RFPGs will have numerous public meetings between now and then to prepare their draft plans.
To support flood planning efforts, the TWDB established a data hub. The data hub provides geospatial information for the RFPGs to use as a starting point. The data includes GIS layers showing critical infrastructure, flood infrastructure, population, terrain and more. The TWDB Floodplain Quilt that is being used in the planning process is stitched together from various sources of data to provide comprehensive coverage of all known existing statewide flood hazard information. The Floodplain Quilt combines numerous data layers from FEMA, including effective floodplain maps, preliminary maps and base level elevation (BLE) maps, as well as data from other federal agencies. Information drawn from local and regional flood studies is being used to refine the region’s Floodplain Quilt. Each RFPG is enhancing its Floodplain Quilt to reflect the flood risks within its region.
Using this data, researched data and collected information, the RFPGs will identify locations that have the greatest flood mitigation and flood study needs by the evaluation of high flood risk or flood-prone areas, areas lacking sufficient models or maps, historic flooding and emergency needs. The RFPGs are in the process of adding the locations of the potentially feasible FMEs, FMSs and FMPs to the plan’s supporting geodatabase with the TWDB-required information for each potential solution. They will include the recommended solutions in the geodatabase when those decisions are made. The geodatabase will be submitted to the TWDB and included in the draft regional flood plans.
Flooding is a top priority for the State of Texas. As such, the Legislature included deadlines in the legislation for this first cycle of regional flood planning. The fast-paced schedule essentially compresses the four-year planning timeframe for preparing a regional flood plan into 18 months. Although challenging, the RFPGs and their consultants have stepped up to the challenge and have shown significant progress in meeting the deadlines with the submittals of their Technical Memorandums.
How to Get Involved
The regional flood planning effort is open for local jurisdictional and public input. If you represent a city, county or entity with flood-related responsibilities, the RFPGs need to hear from you about your current and anticipated flood-related challenges, as well as your plans to address them. If you are a member of the public who wants to keep up with the planning effort in your region, the RFPGs welcome your input and involvement.
The RFPGs need your help to develop regional flood plans that truly represent the flood risks in their regions. If you are not already involved, please consider participating in your local RFPG’s meetings and providing any relevant information that might be beneficial as your RFPG develops its first-ever regional flood plan!
FME = flood management evaluations
FMP = flood mitigation projects
FMS = flood management strategies
RFPG = Regional Flood Planning Group
TAC = Texas Administrative Code
TWDB = Texas Water Development Board