By: Dan Frosch

A man carries salvaged food from his flooded two story home in Spring, Texas, a northern suburb of Houston in August last year.
A man carries salvaged food from his flooded two story home in Spring, Texas, a northern suburb of Houston in August last year. PHOTO:MICHAEL WYKE/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

HOUSTON—A year to the day since Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas, Houston area residents are set to vote on whether to overhaul the region’s beleaguered flood-protection system, an election that local officials have cast as critical to the area’s future.

On the ballot in Harris County is a $2.5 billion bond backed by property taxes that could more than quadruple the annual funding available to help shield Houston and the surrounding cities from flooding. The proposal, set for a special election on Aug. 25, is the largest bond measure ever offered in Texas’ most populous county. If approved, proceeds from the bond would help fund a range of projects aimed at significantly bolstering the area’s aging network of bayous, which serve as a drainage system for the flood-prone county.

At stake, public officials say, is whether Harris County can ever realistically hope to protect itself from another storm of Harvey’s might.

“It is the most important local vote in my lifetime,” said Judge Ed Emmett, the county’s chief executive and one of the architects of the measure. “If Harvey came next week, we’d be in a world of hurt.”

The storm caused 36 flood-related deaths in Harris County and flooded more than 159,000 homes, apartments and other dwellings, while also damaging thousands of commercial structures and businesses. But even before Harvey hit, some officials and experts had warned that flooding was going to worsen in the Houston area and that upgrading an antiquated drainage system would be costly.