TX County Approves Stricter Flood-Plain Regulations


Commissioners in Harris County, Texas, unanimously approved stricter flood-plain regulations this week just three months after Hurricane Harvey flooded the area with 50 inches of rainfall.

The new rules, which take effect Jan. 1, 2018, will require new homes be built to the 500-year storm plan, instead of the 100-year.

What Does This Mean?

The 100-year flood plains are based on storms that are so severe that there is a 1 percent chance of the storm occurring in a given year. The 500-year plain refers to a bigger storm that has a 0.2 percent chance of taking place each year.

(According to the Associated Press, Harvey was the third 500-year flood to take place in the Houston area just since 2015.)

Flood-plain areas are mapped by modeling where the water goes during those storms and how high it rises.

The new requirements mandate higher elevations for homes—about 8 feet higher in some places—necessitating pier-and-beam construction. The requirement also mandates that homes are able to withstand “a three-second gust basic wind speed of 120 miles per hour,” the Houston Chronicle reports, which could mean reinforcement straps connected to rafters and walls.

It will make the construction of new homes more expensive, some by thousands of dollars, according to Ed Taravella chairman of the Community Developers Council for the Greater Houston Builders Association, which supported the measure.

Even with the probability of risings costs, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the county’s top elected official, thinks that people will see the value in paying more.

"After the regulations we adopted today, Harris County will have the toughest, the stiffest flood building code regulations in the country," said Emmett. "Nobody wants to build a home that's going to flood, particularly (with) what we've all gone through over the last two years. So I don't think there's any controversy about it. I think it's going to be a real selling point going forward for the area."

While development might slow down, especially in different areas of the flood plain, notes Matthew Festa, a professor of land use law at South Texas College of Law Houston, there is still demand in the areas surrounding Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Support with Caveats

While the vote was unanimous, officials noted that the regulations could change again as the Federal Emergency Management Agency is slated to update its flood maps.

This vote, however, was seen as a way for the people of Harris County to take matters into their own hands, Emmett said.

"We can't wait on FEMA to redo all the maps. We need to use what we have and that's why we're erring on the side of caution," Emmett said. "We're getting people well above what we think the flood waters are going to be in the future."

And while the motion received wide support from industry organizations—the GHBA, Houston Real Estate Council, American Council of Engineering Companies of Houston, Houston Apartment Association and the Houston chapter of the American Institute of Architects had all written letters supporting the regulations—Commissioner Jack Cagle noted that he will be monitoring the impact the regulations have on developers, not wanting to place an undue burden.

"But people don't want to buy a house that's going to flood," Emmett said. "Whatever the cost is, that's just the cost of doing business if you're going to live in that area."


Tagged categories: Disasters; Good Technical Practice; North America; Regulations; Safety

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