Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2017TX510B

Analyzing the Impact of Land Use Changes on Urban Flood Risk in Northwest Houston, Texas, and Prediction of Future Flood Vulnerability

Institute: Texas
Year Established: 2017 Start Date: 2017-03-01 End Date: 2018-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $5,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $10,000

Principal Investigators: Philip Bedient, Avantika Gori

Abstract: In recent decades, Houston, Texas has become one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country and is projected to continue expanding in the next several decades. While development is beneficial in many ways, there is substantial concern that changes in land use have exacerbated urban flooding from large rainfall events, and that future development could worsen impacts to vulnerable areas. Many highly developed watersheds in Houston have already become susceptible to catastrophic flooding (Bass et al, 2016), and other rapidly developing watersheds could face similar situations in the coming decades. The recent Tax Day extreme rainfall event (April 2016) resulted in catastrophic flooding in northwest Houston, and throughout the county flooded almost 10,000 homes and almost 3,000 apartments (Lindner, 2016). Furthermore, the storm resulted in 8 flood-related fatalities. The magnitude of damages and loss of life caused by this event has motivated serious re-assessment of current flood infrastructure and flood policy in Harris County. This study seeks to understand the relationship between development activity and flood risk by assessing long-term changes in flood risk under evolving land use conditions for the Cypress Creek watershed, which is located in northwest Houston, Texas. Distributed hydrologic and 1D hydraulic models are used to quantify changes in the floodplain for historical land use conditions, and to analyze the spatial relationship between increased development and increased flood risk. Specifically, this study will attempt to quantify increases in the floodplain attributable to land use changes and analyze the relationship between areas where development occurs and areas that experience increased flood risk. Finally, this study aims to predict future potential flood risk by modeling projected land use conditions in 2040. The results of this study can inform decision-makers and urban planners about vulnerable areas in the watershed, could motivate efforts to proactively mitigate future increases in the floodplain, and could even guide changes in development policies.