Harris County Flood Control District Won't Be Sued Over the Memorial Day Floods — For Now

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A local law firm considered suing the Harris County Flood Control District over the Memorial Day floods in Meyerland, but ditched legal action following the publication of a report by a decorated Rice University professor and hydrologist.

But that report doesn’t address crucial, big-picture questions about flood control in Houston, and how a stalled project spearheaded by the HCFCD and the United States Army Corps of Engineers could’ve prevented the drowning deaths of three Meyerland residents

According to The 2015 Memorial Day Event – Brays Bayou Watershed, by Dr. Philip B. Bedient, a civil and environmental engineering professor who teaches hydrology and floodplain analysis courses to undergraduate and graduate students at Rice, Meyerland was in for it no matter what. 

Bedient, using HCFCD data, concludes that upstream sections of the Brays Bayou watershed – specifically, the area between Beltway 8 and Loop 610 – received record rainfall amounts that characterize a 100-year storm event. When Brays Bayou jumped its 51-foot bank around 5 a.m. Tuesday, May 26, hundreds of homes in the notable Houston neighborhood were destroyed. According to Bedient's report: 

After an exhaustive study of the May 2015 event, using extensive measured rainfall data, peak flow date, and high water marks plus surveyed house flood elevations, combined with computer models from [Houston Emergency Center], it is my conclusion that this was simply a massive flood, especially in the Meyerland area outside the 610 loop out beyond Chimney Rock. The tragedy is that many homes were flooded that never flooded before, but this was due to the shear size of the event.

The extreme training effect of the rainfall totals exceeded all of the design levels of Brays Bayou, as described above, and resulted in peak flows that rose quickly above 28,000 cfs and above 52 ft elevation. Levels at Gessner, Rice ave, Stella Link, and Willow Waterhole exceeded all past records, and in addition, based on measured as well as modeled hydrographs within the watershed and near Meyerland, peak flows and levels got up high and stayed up for more than 6 hours, creating a large floodplain storage area outside the 610 Loop. 

The Rice professor acknowledges that the severely delayed Brays Bayou Federal Flood Risk Reduction Project (or Project Brays), a massive $480 million widening project of Brays Bayou that's directed by the HCFCD and the Army Corps of Engineers, needs to get back on track in order to prevent future catastrophes. 

The only hope that exists for any relief in the Meyerland area, where as many as 1000 homes flooded, is to push for a speedy completion to Project Brays so that the channel is widened and bridges are raised to help lower flood levels in the immediate vicinity. The watershed has been overbuilt through the years and various solutions have been advanced to mitigate flood levels, as described above in this report, but now the best bet is to finish Project Brays as fast as possible.

Missing from the report is any investigation into why the HCFCD and the Corps of Engineers abandoned the Chimney Rock Road-to-Loop 610 section of Brays Bayou (which encompasses Meyerland, Westbury and Willow Meadows) immediately to the east of the Texas Medical Center and instead dug a giant retention pond out by State Highway 6. 

Bedient’s findings also don’t bring up the fact that the Harris County Flood Control District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have collectively blown deadline after deadline with improving and widening the 21-mile Brays Bayou, a point that could be helpful when deciding whether or not to take a claim to court. The Meyerland section of the bayou was supposed to completed by 2013 – two years before the Memorial Day floods – but it has now been pushed back to at least 2021. 

Bedient prepared the 12-page report for Reich & Binstock, which, according to emails acquired by the Press, considered suing the Harris County Flood Control District. Robert Binstock of the Houston-based personal injury and class action law firm is a Meyerland resident whose residence was completely wrecked by the Memorial Day flood. 

“My house took in a terrible amount of water,” Binstock told the Press in September about the approximately 30 inches of water that destroyed his South Braeswood home. 

Dr. Bedient, who also directs Rice's Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters Center, didn’t respond to our interview request last summer, and he hasn’t gotten back to us regarding his report for Reich & Binstock. (We’ll update this post if he returns the Press’s message.)

As a result of Bedient’s conclusions, Binstock’s firm 86'd the lawsuit idea, according to emails acquired by the Press.

“The hydrologists took into consideration other factors but have come up with the ultimate conclusion that the flood was caused by an act of God. Believe me when I tell you that the hydrologists looked at every angle possible but again concluded that the heavy rainfall was the ultimate problem,” writes Binstock.

“As a member of the community, who’s house took on over 2 feet of water during the flood, I am sorry that I could not bring you more promising news from a litigation standpoint. As a result of the findings of the hydrologists, I believe that our main focus at this juncture is to do whatever we can to push for the completion of the Brays Bayou Project as soon as possible… we need to look into available avenues to see what can be done to move the Brays Bayou Project along on an accelerated track.”

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