Feb 26, 2019

Harris County, Texas, Explores Deep Tunnel Flood Protection Plan

The county has applied for a federal grant to evaluate a potential flood protection plan

Harris County, Texas, pursues study of deep tunnel flood control plan
Harris County, Texas, pursues study of deep tunnel flood control plan

Harris County, Texas, has applied for a $320,000 federal grant to evaluate a potential flood protection project that includes deep tunnels to transport storm water to Houston’s ship channel. The grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration would be used to study if the tunnels are a cost-effective option without overburdening the area’s bayous.

According to NBC Dallas Fort Worth, the district has already moved forward on flood control projects funded through $2.5 billion in bonds that votes approved last summer. Those projects, however, do not involve underground tunnels, which require further study due to the region’s flatness, soft soils and high water table.

"The study is basically to look at our ground conditions, including our groundwater table, and compare that to existing technology in the tunnel industry to see if there's a match," said Russ Poppe, the flood control district's executive director. "If that's true, then we can start looking at costs, routes and opportunities we can potentially pursue."

The potential project would include tunnels at least 20-ft-wide and 150-ft-deep that would use gravity to move water from upstream bayous to the ship channel, up to 30 miles away, according to The Houston Chronicle. While neighboring San Antonio, Dallas and Austin have all built storm water tunnels, the unique soils and high water table in Houston present an engineering challenge.

“People are getting really excited about it,” Poppe said. “We’re hopeful this can be a new tool in our toolbox.”

County officials may approve the study as early as Feb. 26, which would also include up to $80,000 in matching funds. The final price tag of the project, if approved after the study, could range from $40 million to $163 million per mile, with a total cost of several billion dollars.

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