Even “Improved” Sections of Brays Bayou Can’t Guard Against a 10-Year Flood

The red areas toward the upper half of the map indicate Brays Bayou flooding during a ten-year storm event.
The red areas toward the upper half of the map indicate Brays Bayou flooding during a ten-year storm event.
Harris County Flood Control District

It sort of makes sense that uncompleted sections of Project Brays, a years-long improvement project that will allow the 21-mile channel to carry more water downstream and into the Houston Ship Channel, are prone to significant flooding.

But what about the enhanced portions of the bayou that cost a lot of time and money to install?

According to a Harris County Flood Control District map acquired by the Houston Press, the downstream sections of Brays Bayou, despite multimillion-dollar improvements, can’t even hold rainwater during a meager ten-year storm event (not to mention the 100- to 500-year storm event that battered the area last month).

The map illustrates that even with $305 million of so-called corrections by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Harris County Flood Control District, residential areas that hug Brays Bayou between Texas Highway 288 and Buffalo Bayou will collect standing water in the street and inside of homes. 

The document shows that there’s not much of a flooding threat between 288 and MacGregor Park in Third Ward. But that picks up east of MacGregor Park and the University of Houston. It continues past the Gulf Freeway, Forest Park Cemetery and all the way out to the intersection with Buffalo Bayou at Loop 610 South. 

When the Press asked Harris County Flood Control District executive director Mike Talbott about the impact of ten-year flood events on the upgraded Brays Bayou, he said, “We haven’t really focused on the ten-year floodplain.”

Talbott says there’s a reason for that. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Flood Insurance Program, an insurance protection purchased by many homeowners in Harris County’s floodplains, doesn’t even look at ten-year floods.

“When looking at flood insurance requirements, you’re either in or out of the 1 percent, or the 100-year floodplain. They don’t focus on the ten years,” says Talbott. “I think the general understanding of the insurance industry, homebuilders and the public is that the 1 percent has been the area of focus. It’s such an obscure concept when talking to people about their risk of flooding.”

Obscure? Really? Because The Netherlands is basically a subterranean country and some smart Dutch engineers and hydrologists have figured out how to stay afloat in the most intense downpours. Same goes for flood control management in cities such as Portland, Oregon.

A ten-year rain in Houston is like a gob of spit in the world's driest lands — even the parched caliche soil of the southern Arizona desert can deal with an equivalent volume of moisture, no problem.

But not around here in poor Houston. Poor, wet, ripping-out-wet-carpet-after-a-ten-year-rain Houston.

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