Facing a looming statewide deadline in January, the Dallas-Fort Worth region became the first in Texas to approve a final draft of its regional flood plan.
Inside the Tarrant Regional Water District’s administrative building Nov. 17, North Texas flood planning officials applauded their efforts to complete a two-year process that, in the future, will take about five.
“It feels good, but at the same time, I think everybody here realizes we can’t just go, ‘OK, job done,’ and then go about our business,” said Glenn Clingenpeel, the group’s chair and a top official at the Trinity River Authority of Texas. “This is really a first step in what is hopefully going to be an ongoing process that is in perpetuity.”
The Trinity Flood Planning Group was formed in 2020 as part of a statewide initiative to address infrastructure challenges and flood threats after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Gulf Coast. The group’s target region stretches the entire length of the Trinity River basin, from Cooke and Wise counties to Liberty County near Houston.
To be eligible for future grants from the state’s flood infrastructure fund, a flood mitigation project must be included in the regional plan. That makes the inaugural draft crucial for cities like Fort Worth, which lack local dollars to fund massive investments in stormwater infrastructure.
The Trinity flood plan recommends seven flood mitigation projects – three in Tarrant County and four in Dallas County – with a combined cost of nearly $176 million. One recommended project, in Arlington, plans for drainage improvements by an “undersized bridge and severe erosion issues” near the intersection of Fielder Road and Interstate 30.
The remaining Tarrant County proposals are located in Fort Worth. A $50 million project would mitigate flooding depths in the Linwood Park and University Drive area by building a storm drain that would empty in the West Fork of the Trinity River.
Another proposal would deploy a new storm drain system near the Norwood, Bledsoe and Crockett intersections in the West 7th area, with plans to run the infrastructure along Foch Street and through Trinity Park to the river. The price tag would come out to about $11.77 million.
The West 7th-University Drive area is well-known for flooding issues, most recently during record rainfall on Aug. 22. City officials were limited in which projects they could submit to the flood planning group because they required extensive evaluations of each proposal, said Jennifer Dyke, assistant director of the transportation and public works department.
“The things that were added to that list were some of the top priority areas where we knew we had significant flooding, and then we actually had the level of detail that they really needed to be able to put something on the list,” Dyke said. “We had to really use projects where we already had that existing information.”
Since the initial draft was released in August, the regional group has evaluated feedback from the Texas Water Development Board, Texas Parks and Wildlife and the National Wildlife Federation.
Several open houses yielded nine written public comments. Three were concerned with flooding in the Fort Worth area and were forwarded to the city because the planning group “does not have emergency response capabilities,” according to planning documents.
The events drew small crowds but resulted in excellent input from residents in Dayton County, Clingeenpeel said. At an Arlington open house, Fort Worth residents who recently experienced flooding were able to learn more about mitigation projects from the group’s consulting team and share their experiences, he added.
“I felt like we really did some good,” Clingenpeel said. “At each one of those events, there was a different audience that we were able to really engage with.”
A final version of the flood plan addressing those comments is due by Jan. 10. During the next several months, Clingenpeel and his colleagues will evaluate potential amendments to the plan, including the possibility of making more flood mitigation projects eligible for state funds.
The amended document must be submitted to the Texas Water Development Board by July 14, which will compile all regional flood plans into an inaugural statewide plan by September 2024.
The plan’s impact will be felt most acutely in counties outside of major metropolitan areas like Fort Worth and Dallas.
About 70% of flood maps in the region are considered outdated or approximate, according to planning documents. Many rural communities lack the foundational information that is necessary to understand how to protect people from property damage and safety risks, Clingenpeel said.
The plan recommends 342 flood risk studies with the aim of providing up-to-date maps for about 9,500 miles of the Trinity. Cities and counties would need more than $961 million in state and federal funds to fully execute the plan – an unlikely number even with a large budget surplus.
Still, Clingenpeel is excited to see how communities will benefit from learning more about the flood risks and the resources available to address them. Most small towns don’t have the funding or the internal expertise to apply for grants, he said.
“This plan is trying to get all of that information together, not so we can put a plan on a shelf and say: ‘We’re done. Didn’t we do a great job?’” Clingenpeel said. “Where we ultimately all want to get to is implementing those projects that are actually saving lives, reducing damage to property and helping people avoid all the negative impacts that come along with flooding.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.
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