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State and Regional Flood Planning: The Future of Flood Resilience in Texas

By Teal Harrison, Outreach Manager, National Wildlife Federation 

Starting in 2020, Texas stakeholders will have the opportunity to determine the best flood mitigation strategies for their region through a process called “flood planning.”

Regional Flood Planning Groups (RFPG) will lead this effort, as prescribed by Senate Bill 8 which was passed by Texas Legislature in 2019. Flood planning regions will correspond with 15 major Texas rivers and coastal basins delineated by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). Based on the current draft rules, each RFPG will be composed of 11 voting-member interests and 7 state agency non-voting members. RFPG membership will be voluntary, and TWDB will designate the initial members of each region’s planning group based on nominations sent to the Board.

The final rules for Senate Bill 8 are expected to be released in late April or early May of this year, which means the opportunity to nominate members to each of Texas’ Regional Flood Planning Groups is right around the corner. Not to be taken lightly, this upcoming period of RFPG member nomination and selection will set the stage for the future of flood resilience in Texas.

Over the next 3 years, these groups will identify the best flood mitigation strategies and projects for their region. These recommendations will be codified into Regional Flood Plans (RFP) submitted to TWDB by Jan 10th, 2023. The State Flood Plan (SFP), also prescribed by Senate Bill 8, will then be drafted based on recommendations from each RFP and adopted in 2024 with updates every 5 years. A significant document, the adopted State Flood Plan will determine which flood mitigation projects can be funded by the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF).

Why is Regional Flood Planning Group Membership Important?

Participating in the Regional Flood Planning process as a RFPG member is a momentous opportunity to serve Texas communities. By serving as a RFPG member, designees will not only advocate for the flood protection needs of their region, but will also have an opportunity to amplify Texas as a national leader in flood mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. By serving as a RFPG member, designees will collaborate with a suite of regional stakeholders and technical consultants to determine the most appropriate and effective flood protection strategies and projects for their region, including low impact development, non-structural solutions and green infrastructure. The strategies and projects RFPGs include in their Regional Flood Plan will be integrated into the 2024 State Flood Plan and will determine which projects are eligible to receive funding from the Flood Infrastructure Fund.

Regional Flood Planning Group Membership: What to Expect

Based on the draft rules, here‘s what voluntary Regional Flood Planning Group members can expect:

The RFPG voting member interests include: the public, counties, municipalities, industry, agricultural interests, environmental Interests, small business, electric generating utilities, river authorities, water districts and water utilities. Each voting member will receive one vote in the planning group.

The RFPG non-voting members include: Texas Water Development Board, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, General Land Office, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Department of Agriculture, Water Conservation Board, and Texas Division of Emergency Management staff.  Once established with initial members, Each RFPG can add additional voting members, non-voting members, and subcommittees for new interests.

The RFPG members’ main responsibilities include:

  • Working with consultants to create a draft and final Regional Flood Plan and technical memoranda based on the best available science, data, models, and flood mapping.
  • Holding regular regional flood planning meetings, that must at a minimum, meet annually.
  • Holding at least one public meeting per year to gather suggestions and recommendations to inform the Regional Flood Plan.

RFPGs will be asked to undertake a variety of duties critical to the development of their RFP such as identifying flood mitigation goals, floodplain management goals, and region-wide flood risks, as well as recommending flood management strategies and projects.

Based on Texas’ long-established Regional Water Planning process – after which the flood planning process is modeled – RFPG members can likely expect to participate in half-day to day-long RFPG meetings on a voluntary basis and work with a variety of technical data.

What Does Flood Planning Mean for Green Infrastructure and Nature Based Solutions?

Green infrastructure and nature-based projects are effective flood mitigation solutions that capture water at the source and allow the water to infiltrate into the ground, reducing runoff and strain on traditional flood infrastructure during flood events. Flood Planning and Regional Flood Planning Group membership serve as an opportunity to prioritize green and nature-based flood mitigation strategies to protect Texans from increasingly intense and frequent flood events.

Based on TWDB’s draft Regional Flood Planning Guidance Principles, Regional Flood Plans shall include features such as strategies and projects that provide for a balance of structural and nonstructural projects including nature-based features and shall consider natural systems, beneficial flood-plain functions, strategies beneficial to water quality, fish and wildlife, and multi-use opportunities such as green space, parks, and recreation. Active participation in the Flood Planning process can help ensure that green infrastructure and nature-based solutions are featured in the State Flood Plan as eligible and effective flood mitigation projects.

What does Flood Planning Mean for Social Equity?

Natural disasters such as hurricanes and extreme flooding do not adhere to jurisdictional boundaries. However, history shows that socially vulnerable communities, often low-income and communities of color, are left behind in disaster planning, recovery, mitigation and adaptation. Even green infrastructure projects have had unintended consequences of contributing to “green gentrification” further disadvantaging the communities the projects were meant to help. Active participation in the Flood Planning process is an opportunity to set standards and best practices for equitable funding and implementation of ALL flood mitigation projects funded by FIF, including green infrastructure and nature-based solutions.

The Board’s draft Regional Flood Planning Guidance Principles require that Regional Flood Plans are based on decision-making that is open to, understandable for, and accountable to the public with full dissemination of planning results. RFPGs must also be based on established terms of participation that are equitable and do not hinder participation. Further, RFPs must consider the protection of vulnerable populations. An accessible Regional Flood Planning process as well as diverse RFPG member nominations and designations – who represent the socio-economic fabric of each region – are critical to ensuring these guidance principles are implemented to their full potential.

Nominate and Participate!

The commencement of the State and Regional Flood Planning process and designation of Regional Flood Planning Group members represent a critical moment for protecting Texans and our natural heritage from flooding. It is essential for diverse voices, especially those who value nature-based flood resilience and social equity, to be represented on Regional Flood Planning Groups. Regional Flood Planning Groups, and subsequently Regional Flood Plans, will pave the way for flood mitigation projects for years to come. Let’s make sure this path is green and just.

Would you or someone you know make a strong RFPG member and advocate for nature-based flood resilience and social equity? Let us know here.

Want a brief run-down of State and Regional Flood Planning and RFPG Membership? Be on the lookout for our flood planning fact-sheet after the TWDB releases the official rules!

Teal Harrison

Outreach Manager at National Wildlife Federation
Teal contributes to Texas Living Waters outreach efforts helping Texans tackle floods, droughts, and ensure freshwater for every living thing. She is passionate about connecting people with nature and using community outreach, experiential education and media to motivate action. In the recent past, Teal has designed and implemented place-based outdoor education programming in New Orleans, LA, has researched effective practices to motivate water quality stewardship among U.S. farmers in 11 states, and has produced a virtual case study highlighting the socio-ecological implications of dams and their removal in Northern Michigan.
Teal Harrison

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