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After a devastating flood in 1935, the Texas State Legislature created the Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) to accomplish the following mission: provide flood damage reduction projects that work, with appropriate regard for community and natural values. HCFCD complete this mission by: devising the flood damage reduction plan, implementing the plan, and maintaining infrastructure. Contrary to public belief, the HCFCD is not tasked with regulating any sort of development in floodplains or any other areas of Harris County.

The county engineer, however, does have some authority to permit development in floodplains. Harris County publishes its “Regulations of Harris County, Texas for Floodplain Management.” This document outlines the authority given to the county engineer in regard to issuing permits to build in a floodplain. New and existing developments are required to comply with the standards regarding any improvements.

The majority of development authority rests in the municipality. As the largest municipality in Harris County, Houston’s lack of zoning laws attracts much criticism – mainly from those outside the area. This criticism identifies the areas “flooding problem” as being caused by laissez-faire development regulations. However, as other posts will argue, Houston’s development has not affected the natural watersheds. The system of bayous and creeks regularly accomplishes its mission of directing storm runoff into Galveston Bay. It is only the large storms which overload the natural system. This can be expected in any area of the country regardless of development regulations. A year’s volume of rainfall in 48 hours will overload any system.

As city leaders in Houston push for buyouts and restrictions on developing in so-called “flood prone areas,” the greater impact must be brought into account. Restricting development creates scarcity which drives prices up. Higher real estate prices, in turn, will drive the appeal of the area down. This results in the unprecedented economic growth of Harris County to be impeded by skyrocketing real estate prices. As regrettable as a flood of this magnitude can be, it does not justify the condemnation of thousands of homes.