Maximizing Funding Assistance for Disaster Recovery

Rolando Ayala

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey’s inundation of Houston in August 2017, Freese and Nichols quickly put boots on the ground to help the Harris County Flood Control District assess the extent of flood damage to the 2,500 miles of channels across the county and estimate the costs of repairs.

However, this was only the beginning of the post-storm recovery efforts that continue more than a year later. An undertaking of this magnitude required a broad team approach: As Program Manager, Freese and Nichols is working as an extension of HCFCD staff to manage the coordination of design consultants and construction contractors needed to repair the identified damages and to help secure multiple sources of federal funding.

This work has built on experience we gained as Program Manager for the storm recovery from Houston’s Tax Day storm of 2016, a federal flood disaster that dumped 18 inches of rain over 24 hours — compared to Harvey’s 47 inches over six days.

Lessons Learned

Disasters typically confront communities with rebuilding expenses that they didn’t anticipate or budget for, so recovery requires integrated services to effectively find and manage disaster recovery funding.

Here are some necessary steps for communities to take when undergoing recovery efforts from flooding disaster in order to maximize outside disaster funding assistance:

  • Understand the potential funding sources and their requirements. The key federal channels are the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, limited projects could be eligible for other federal or state grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Texas Water Development Board, or the Texas Department of Agriculture or from private nonprofit groups.
  • Quickly undertake field inspections to analyze the extent of damage and determine the repairs needed. Conduct eligibility reviews to pinpoint the appropriate agencies to seek funding from, ensure that projects are eligible and get documentation in order.
  • Coordinate and communicate closely with federal and state agencies to assist with timely processing of applications and quick receipt of funds.
  • Carefully track deadlines for applications, supplemental paperwork and completion of projects to comply with all funding requirements. Keep in mind that federal assistance requires extremely thorough and consistent documentation.
  • Seek a consultant experienced with the intricacies of funding procurement. Many communities, particularly smaller municipalities whose elected officials aren’t professional administrators, need guidance on seeking and managing government funding for their stormwater projects. They might lack the staff or consider the application process too complicated or daunting, but they could be leaving money on the table.
  • Consider building hazard mitigation into your program to reduce the impact of future storms. Funding help for mitigation also is available, and some of those needs become evident during the disaster recovery assessment process. It’s important to determine which potential mitigation projects are feasible with state or federal assistance.

Services Expanded

To expand on and better coordinate our abilities to connect clients with water resources and stormwater professionals across our multiple offices, as well as funding resources available to the regions we serve, Freese and Nichols has hired Mark Evans as a designated Funding Specialist. Having spent a decade with the Texas Water Development Board, Mark understands the intricacies of securing grants, low-interest loans and other funding options for water/wastewater, stormwater and water resources projects.

For several years, he served as the primary point of contact for TWDB’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and provided advanced consulting services and technical assistance on federal-state revolving fund statutes, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations and guidelines, and TWDB rules for administration of the CWSRF financing program.