Leading the Way in Texas Flood Planning

Freese and Nichols served as a prime or subtechnical consultant on 12 of the 15 planning regions, representing more than 25 million Texans.

In terms of proactive flood planning, Texas is leading the way before the next disaster strikes.

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) led a pioneering flood planning process across the State of Texas partnered with four Technical Consultants – Freese and Nichols, Halff, HDR and AECOM for water resources services. The team completed Regional Flood Plans (RFPs) for 15 total regions state-wide on a compressed timeframe during the COVID-19 pandemic. This brand-new process for the State of Texas encompassed a complexity and depth of data gathering, assessment and reporting that has never been navigated.

For their efforts and achievements in delivering the completed plans, the team received a Silver Medal from ACEC Texas in the 2024 Engineering Excellence Awards.

This project successfully displayed the need for regional flood planning across Texas to protect lives and preserve property by:

  • Defining areas of greatest need and gaps in regions
  • Creating an understanding of flood risks to structures, roadways and public infrastructure through new and/ or updated maps
  • Initiating a proactive flood planning process to properly allocate funding after disasters
  • Compiling current flood management policies and standards and developing an understanding for entities across Texas
  • Developing one source for flood-related studies, strategies and projects across Texas using the same rules and standards when defining needs
Project Facts At-a-Glance
  • Initiated in 2019 by the Texas Legislature via Senate Bill 8 (SB 8)
  • Overall goal to reduce the risk and impact of flooding on life and property across Texas
  • 15 flood planning regions based on Texas’ major river basins
  • Each region led by Regional Flood Planning Groups (RFPGs) comprised of voting members from 12 interest categories as well as non-voting members from relevant agencies
  • Individual RFPGs selected Technical Consultants that were tasked with developing Regional Flood Plans (RFPs) using Texas’ flood planning framework
  • “Bottom-up” approach focused on regional, watershed-based flood plans with flood management projects (FMP) submitted by local cities/communities to be included in each flood plan
  • Eligibility for future funding assistance through the Texas Flood Infrastructure Fund will require recommendation within the State Flood Plan

A Shift Toward Proactive Flood Planning

You know the saying, “Everything is bigger in Texas,” and this first-ever, statewide flood plan is no exception – not only for the State of Texas but the entire nation. The reach and impact of Texas’ flood planning effort is already making impacts beyond state lines; numerous states are beginning to follow suit, with Oklahoma taking a similar approach, leaning on Texas for input and feedback.

This project represents a never-before-seen, statewide effort to assess flood risk and develop a comprehensive plan to address it. Texas reached the tipping point with Hurricane Harvey in 2017 when widespread flooding impacted an estimated 13 million people, caused $143B in property damage and tragically resulted in 89 lives lost. Numerous prior flooding events due to climate change, hurricanes and sea level rise also set the stage for Texas’ State Flood Plan. Technical Consultants Halff and AECOM completed a state flood assessment in 2018 demonstrating the need for the RFP process. With 20% of Texas’ population residing in an area susceptible to flooding, the need to protect people and property was eminent.

The 87th Legislature established a robust $30M budget to assess and analyze regional and state floods to: 1) reduce existing and future flood risks to life and property; and 2) minimize and avoid increasing flood risk by keeping people and property away from floods.

Technical Consultants assessed existing conditions and flood risk using available data and developed statewide future flood risk mapping. Taking a “bottom-up” approach, team members led planning at a regional, watershed level with input from a large group of stakeholders. In each of the 15 regions, Technical Consultants created data collection tools and websites for transparency and accessibility of information that included an overview of the region’s flood planning process, listing of group members and categories, document viewing, and comment submission. Websites also included questions about flooding and floodplain ordinances and supported document and video uploads.

Interactive maps to geolocate flood events via “pin dropping” provided another tool about when/where flooding occurred from community and interested parties. GIS-based tools with capabilities to georeference points on the fly allowed for seamless data collection and streamlined the curation of public input.

Technical Consultant teams compiled and processed an enormous amount of flood-related GIS data that included stormwater infrastructure, critical infrastructure, LIDAR, and flood hazard mapping. Data used for performing regional analyses then identified exposure and vulnerabilities to flooding as well as flood management and mitigation needs. The TWDB provided key datasets including a “flood quilt” representing flood risk data that the Technical Consultants stitched together from a variety of sources and enhanced with local flood data. TWDB applied population data from the State Water Plan to create uniformity.

Based on compiled data, RFPGs identified flood risk reduction recommendations to mitigate flood risks to people and property that included the following:

  • 3,101 Flood Management Evaluations (FMEs) with a total estimated study cost of approximately $2.6 billion
  • 616 Flood Mitigation Projects (FMPs) with a total estimated project cost of approximately $49 billion
  • 898 Flood Management Strategies (FMSs) with a total estimated cost of approximately $2.8 billion

The TWDB compiled these recommendations into the State Flood Plan accessible via an interactive GIS tool for the public to easily use and navigate. Cities and counties will also be able to extract information for use in future flood planning. This approach elevates flood planning and additional statewide efforts in terms of accessibility and transparency (adherence with the Texas Open Meetings Act) and forecasting (proactive flood planning versus reactive disaster recovery).

Making a Big Impact to Protect the Public

As the first statewide, bottom-up flood plan in the country, this program is making a big impact in engineering by sharing approaches and best practices with other states.

The RFPs identified that more than 5.8 million Texans are at flood risk. That means nearly 1 in 5 Texans lives within a floodplain. More than $54 billion in recommended studies, projects and strategies will reduce flood risk to Texans, communities and infrastructure.

The Technical Consultants’ graphical representation of gathered data has encouraged regional collaboration on projects within subbasins. Further, recommended mitigation projects in RFPs have highlighted secondary benefits not initially anticipated, including nature-based solutions, water supply benefits and recreational benefits.

The regional flood planning process also considered the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) – a national measure of a community’s ability to recover from disasters – when identifying greatest needs and reporting benefits for communities. This aspect combined with tying recommendations to future state funding assistance encouraged community involvement for planned projects and promoted flood planning beyond its past limited means during disaster cleanup.

This element helps protect public safety, in determining who and what is exposed to flood risk throughout the state and where most significant vulnerabilities lie. Data will be used by state and local communities to direct and prioritize flood mitigation.

Applauding the Team’s Efforts

The collaborative, bottom-up effort among the state, RFPGs, and local stakeholders within each region demonstrates a unified investment for improving communities across Texas. The monumental effort totaled less than three years for 15 RFPGs to hold over 550 public meetings across the state, then adopt the first plan (submitted January 2023) and the amended plans (submitted July 2023). The TWDB officially adopted all 15 RFPs in March 2024 and Directors approved the final Regional Flood Plans on July 25, 2023 at the TWDB Board of Directors Meeting (pictured here).

Work Continues Toward the First State Flood Plan

Although the RFPs are complete, the process continues to move forward. Using all 15 RFPs, the TWDB is developing the first state flood plan, with completion set for September 1, 2024. The draft plan is open for public feedback, and written comments are welcome until the deadline on June 17, 2024 using the TWDB website.