Draft of Texas’ First State Flood Plan Will Be Released This May

Nearly 6 million Texans live in a flood plain– one in every five residents. But for decades, the state has relied on a patchwork of local and regional policies to protect communities from flooding that is becoming more and more common with climate change. Some counties had never developed flood hazard data or modeling; others were relying on outdated, hand-drawn flood plain maps. 

In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 8, establishing the first regional flood planning cycle. These flood planning groups, representing 15 different regions across Texas, will inform the State Flood Plan, Texas’ first-ever comprehensive plan to address flood control. The State Flood Plan will be adopted in September 2024, and it will outline flood mitigation projects– recommended from regional plans– that will be eligible for financial assistance and funding through the Flood Infrastructure Fund. The fund consists of loans and grants for local governments to build certain mitigation and drainage projects. To date, 138 projects have been funded with over $500 million committed

On April 4, the Texas Water Development Board held a work session on the flood plan. The Texas Living Waters Team provided comments to the board, particularly on the need to consider and prioritize recommendations from local leaders. 

In the State Flood Plan, the Texas Legislature has tasked TWDB with including legislative recommendations that are “necessary to facilitate flood control planning and project construction.” 

TWDB has divided these recommendations into three categories: 

  • Legislative recommendations made by the TWDB itself 
  • Policy management recommendations for the regional planning groups that do not require legislative action
  • Legislative proposals from the planning group which are not officially endorsed by the TWDB, but recognized as worthy of consideration 
Source: Texas Water Development Board. Access the full presentation here.


While this separation may allow the board to more effectively manage input, we believe that the agency should take its cues from local leaders and stakeholders. To do so, we believe that legislative proposals from the regional flood planning groups  (included in the third category listed above) would benefit from being fully endorsed by TWDB. Without that support, it’s likely that solutions favored by local leaders may fall by the wayside or be neglected altogether. In our comments, we emphasized the following priorities:

Dedicated funding and technical assistance 

We believe that the legislature should establish and fund a targeted technical assistance program specifically for small, rural, and/or socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. WIthout this program, some of Texas’ most vulnerable communities may not be able to access funding on the table. This will deepen inequalities that we already see in flood management. 

We also support the continued funding of regional and state flood planning programs, risk modeling and mapping. These programs will be crucial to making sure that our flood plans are informed by the best available science and climate change models. 

Enhancing nature based solutions 

As the state’s population continues to grow and we continue to develop previously open land, impervious cover will increase– and so will our flood risks. The state climatologist estimates that cities will experience 50% more flooding by 2036. We support the implementation of incentives for cities and developers to incorporate nature-based solutions in flood plans.

Nature-based solutions have the potential to reduce flood risks while providing valuable ecosystem services for our communities as well as our wildlife. Strategies like wetland and riparian restoration, for example, can help enhance water quality and support biodiversity. 

In fact, these strategies are among the most cost-effective solutions for flood management. Research has shown that comprehensively integrating nature-based solutions, particularly in the form of green stormwater infrastructure, can provide substantial, cost-effective flood management. Nature-based solutions were found to reduce modeled stormwater overflows by up to 31%, and they were 77% less costly than upgrading gray infrastructure alone. 

Statewide standards and building codes 

We recommend that the state legislature adopt updated, consistent statewide residential and commercial building codes to reduce flood risk across the board. Additionally, TWDB should recommend that the legislature consider developing and adopting statewide minimum design standards for infrastructure and buildings to reduce loss of life and property from flooding. All statewide design standards must be simple and flexible enough to accommodate the broad range of development needs and flood risk conditions across Texas. In other words, because such standards can be different depending on the area, we would suggest flexibility and not a “one-size-fits all” approach

Currently, the state only mandates that local governments follow 2012 International Building Codes and 2012 International Residential Codes. We believe that the adoption of newer statewide building codes and design standards should be broader than only flood risk, as codes and standards can also be helpful in addressing a variety of issues, from high winds and hurricanes, to wildfires to extreme heat and cold, as well as generally leading to enhanced water and energy conservation. 

Since the state officially follows codes that are more than a decade old, this disadvantages communities applying for federal grant money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. FEMA deducts points on applications for municipalities that follow outdated building codes, making it more difficult to secure federal dollars. 

Delegating counties the authority to protect communities from flooding

With the rapid development of unincorporated areas of the state, TWDB should expand county tools to regulate land use for the purpose of flood hazard mitigation– and clarify the parameters of this authority. 

Of particular need is expanded authority to protect natural Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) features, like karst recharge zones and sinkholes, which mitigate flooding by transferring potential flood waters into aquifers, while also recharging our groundwater supplies. Both setbacks and impervious cover limits can be effective strategies to this end.

Similarly, floodplain managers should be equipped and empowered to manage floodplains as a nature-based solution for flood mitigation since a well-functioning floodplain slows and sinks floodwater. Counties should also be given expanded authority to implement, charge fees and enforce new building codes and minimum design standards for infrastructure and buildings. These could include opt-in provisions for counties that wish to avail themselves of this expanded authority.

State Flood Plan Timeline

The Texas Water Development Board will release the draft plan on May 9. There will be a 30 day comment period following the release. In June, the agency will respond to comments and work towards finalizing the plan by August. The final State Flood Plan is due to the Legislature on September 1.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is State-Flood-Plan-Timeline-Graphic-576x324.png

To read our comments in full, download a copy here.

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