The Political Committee monitors area political activity, promotes the awareness of environmental issues as they relate to the ballot box, and promotes environmentally responsible candidates for political office.  The committee is especially active at election time. 

Houston Regional Group - October 25, 2018

Houston Sierra Club Flood Management Policy

Since its founding in the late 1960’s, the Houston Sierra Club (Sierra Club) has advocated for flood management that not only “Keeps people out of harm’s way” but also “Works with, and not against Nature”. These two principles, along with public participation and transparency for public decision-making processes, are the foundation of the Sierra Club’s “Flood Management Policy”.  The Sierra Club favors a cooperative regional approach for flood management and ecosystem protection, which extends over multiple counties and entire watersheds, in the greater Houston area and Galveston Bay.  The Houston Sierra Club supports:

1)Protection of greenspace– Flood management entities must emphasize solutions rooted in the Houston Region’s natural ecology which includes prairies, riparian areas, forests, woodlands and savannahs, coastal shorelines, wetland areas, estuaries, lakes and ponds, and rivers and streams.  The Sierra Club supports project priority criteria that favor non-structural above structural solutions.

Prioritization for the acquisition, preservation, protection, and management of ecologically important lands and property within and next to floodplains in each watershed, as greenspace, can simultaneously accommodate floodwaters and parks, natural areas, wildlife habitat, and compatible recreation.

The Sierra Club favors off-line detention over in-line detention to protect existing streams and rivers and riparian, bottomland, and aquatic vegetation and ecosystems.  In-line detention widens and channelizes streams and eradicates their ecological values. A program that identifies, maps, and protects agricultural and forest lands in the greater Houston area would be beneficial for flood management and ecosystem protection and should be implemented. 

2)Decisions based on the latest scientific data– Flood management decisions must be based upon the best scientific information that are available or that can be obtained in a seasonable time.  Timely updates of Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) and use of the latest precipitation frequency maps and elevation maps must become the norm.  To make sound, long-term planning decisions, FIRMs must document at a minimum, watershed overflow zones, and show the 500, 250, and 100-year floodplains.  This will empower residents to evaluate their susceptibility to flooding.  Updated FIRMs must be used to evaluate dam adequacy and safety and other flood problems.

3)Prevention of future harm– Flood warning systems must be expanded and include more U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stream-gages, especially upstream of Harris County, to ensure watershed flood modeling, monitoring, and early warning systems on local and regional watersheds work as effectively and efficiently as possible.

4)Neighborhood-centered solutions– To sustain neighborhoods in each watershed, there must be public input to determine flood problems and solutions. Neighborhoods must have significant and effective input when decisions are made about prioritization of residential buyouts versus offering financial support to elevate structures. 

To ensure equality, inclusion, and environmental justice we must identify and support funding mechanisms for economically disadvantaged neighborhoods which create houses that are sustainable in floods, protect people, and are environmentally appropriate.  Flood management entities must emphasize watershed planning, public education and participation, and regulatory enforcement.  Property sales must disclose the flood history of the structure in addition to the FIRM flood zone.  Renters must be told if the property they want to rent has flooded.

5)Maximize transparency and public involvement– Effective and frequent public involvement and political transparency must be required for all significant flood management decisions.  Public meetings and hearings with public review and comment periods of appropriate length must be mandatory.

6)Continued monitoring for optimal decision-making– Audits must be implemented to gauge the degree of flood management success for all permits so that they are consistent with FEMA’s “substantial damage” guidelines.  A system of Post-Harvey flood protocols must be created and implemented to ensure rapid implementation of FEMA guidelines for issuance of construction permits and accurate calculation of substantial damage estimates.

7) Planning – To assist in planning and modeling for flood management strategies, assume a minimum of 80% or greater of impervious surface in areas of high urban development in each watershed.  Conduct and implement the study results about how much pervious surface should be protected and left in each watershed.  Watershed planning should include opportunities for robust public participation.

8) Climate change preparation and implementation– Plan for and implement climate change impact mitigation which reflects an increase in intensity, frequency, and magnitude of storm and rainfall events and sea level rise.  Governmental entities will implement a reduction in carbon dioxide, methane, and other air pollutants which cause climate change. 

9)Sea level rise– Flood management must identify and map sea level rise buffers on low-lying coastal floodplains.  These buffers must reflect at least 100 years of sea level rise on public and private lands. Storm surge and sea level rise can magnify flood impacts on waterways that are tidally influenced.

Current buyout programs are voluntary.  Increased storm surge incursion, due to sea level rise, will render some properties economically unreasonable to protect or insure in the future.  These properties should be subject to buyouts or determined ineligible for federal flood insurance.  This strategy mimics the current ban on building in the regulatory floodway.  Buy-out programs should be based on risk to public safety, health, and ecological health.

Our coastal flood management policy should implement strategies like “strategic withdrawal”, “keep people out of harm’s way”, “protection of our ecosystems”, and “green infrastructure”.

Houston Regional Group - November 1, 2017

 Double EE (Economically and Environmentally Sound) Storm Surge Alternative for Galveston Bay
Houston Sierra Club believes a Storm Surge Alternative for Galveston must meet the following criteria:
1. Protect people from dangerous pollutants, protect the refinery and petrochemical infrastructure from storm surge breach, and protect our remaining important and ecologically sensitive places in and around Galveston Bay
2. Be economically feasible with respect to being successfully funded by federal and/or state funding authorities
3. Allow construction in a timely manner to deliver benefits desired as soon as possible
4. Maximize protection for areas where storm surge would cause greatest damage, while controlling costs and protecting natural resources of Galveston Bay
5. Address the potential for storm surge to cause the release of dangerous petrochemicals from industrial complexes into Galveston Bay and nearby bayous
6. Allow for proper drainage of Houston waterways during a heavy rainfall event that coincides with storm surge
7. Minimize large, structural, storm surge projects which have greater negative impacts on the ecological health of Galveston Bay, its fisheries, and the economies and jobs that depend on the Bay, while we target protection for the most vulnerable areas and maximize natural and restoration solutions
Issues to recognize:
1. Just as it is now accepted that it is not economically feasible to protect some properties subject to repetitive rainfall flooding, it must be recognized that there is inherent vulnerability in the placement of structures deep in the storm surge zone and that it is not economically feasible to protect some of these structures and properties.
2. An alternative maximizing protection while controlling costs would have the greatest chance of support from legislators outside the Texas Delegation. The Houston-Galveston area will not only compete for funds with the rest of Texas which was damaged during Hurricane Harvey, but will also compete with the rest of the United States for disaster relief and prevention funds.
3. A storm surge alternative can be made even more effective when cities, counties, and other public and private entities make improvements such as: adoption of stringent coastal development, building, and planning standards; preparation and use of coastal geo-hazards maps; increased and better coordinated emergency and evacuation planning, equipment acquisition, and implementation.
4. A mandated public participation process via the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is needed, with an environmental analysis for all reasonable alternatives plus the standard “No Action: alternative, when an environmental impact statement is prepared.
Double EE Storm Surge Alternative
Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula Area
1. Protect and expand existing public and private conservation lands.
2. Install a ring levee around the densely populated east end of the City of Galveston.
3. Institute coordinated local, state, and federal programs of voluntary buyouts (strategic withdrawal) in particularly vulnerable, risky, and ecologically sensitive areas in Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers, and Harris Counties.
4. Acquisition of land buffers for public and private conservation lands so that these landscapes can migrate toward and on the mainland as sea level rises.
5. Elevate State Highway 87/FM 3005 on Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island for evacuation purposes only (not storm surge protection).
6. Implement ecological restoration projects for Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula.
Houston Ship Channel Area
1. Conduct risk assessment analyses on storage tanks and units in areas subject to storm surge and implement mitigation strategies to reduce risk.
2. Conduct risk assessment analyses on existing industrial and other levees and storm surge and flood protection structures and implement mitigation strategies to reduce risk.
3. Build and/or improve existing levee structures at individual industrial plant sites and complexes.
4. If needed, construct a levee and gate at or near the mouth of the Houston Ship Channel in Upper Galveston Bay.
NASA, Clear Lake, West Side of Galveston Bay, and Texas City, La Marque, and Hitchcock Areas
1. Construct a levee and gate at or near the Clear Lake and NASA area.
2. Improve and maintain the Texas City Levee.
3. Address storm surge impacts to Galveston Bay’s west shoreline communities with a shoreline or elevated Highway 146 levee system and targeted voluntary buyouts.
San Luis Pass and Christmas Bay Area
1. Implement Follet’s Island Initiative or larger conservation land project.
2. Implement ecological restoration projects for Christmas Bay and other habitats behind Follet’s Island.
3. Elevate County Road 257 (Blue Water Highway) on Follet’s Island for evacuation purposes only (not storm surge protection).
Baytown Area
1. Maintain and expand the levee system around Exxon/Mobil and other facilities.
2. Expand levee protection to appropriate areas of the City of Baytown.
3. Conduct risk assessment analyses on storage tanks and units in areas subject to storm surge and implement mitigation strategies to reduce risk.
East Side of Galveston Bay Area
1. Protect and expand existing public and private conservation lands.
2. Institute coordinated local, state, and federal programs of voluntary buyouts (strategic withdrawal) in particularly vulnerable, risky, and ecologically sensitive areas in Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers, and Harris Counties.
3. Implement ecological restoration projects for the East side of Galveston Bay.