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Harris County, TX initiates AI flow data collection to better forecast flood risk

Harris County Flood Control District

Harris County, TX

From 2019 to 2020, Harris County Flood Control District deployed 54 Next Generation non-contact Radar Discharge Sensors into their existing Flood Warning Network, delivering continuous real-time level, velocity and discharge data providing Harris County FCD with new insights into the forecasting of flood events.

Topics Covered

Stormwater Management
Open Data



Project Status

Operational since 2019

Gov Champion

Harris County Flood Control District, Houston Texas

Problem Addressed

With its urban and suburban areas at increased risk of flooding, Harris County Flood Control District needed to improve its flood forecasting tools. 

Harris County in Houston, Texas experiences a major flood approximately every two years. The county’s population growth has put its rapidly expanding urban and suburban areas at increased risk for flood events due to changing weather patterns. Despite flood damage reduction projects, these natural disasters have made Harris County the number one flood insurance funds purchaser of all National Flood Insurance Program-participating communities.

Officials in Harris County Flood Control District had historically identified flood threats using simple water level and rainfall sensors. While these sensors can be used to develop a stage/discharge rating, they require manual measurements to be carried out at every site using mechanical or acoustic current meters over a period of 1 to 2 years or longer. This process has been the industry standard for decades. While effective, this process is complex, time-consuming, and very expensive.

By continuously measuring level and velocity, the new technology offered by the RQ-30 radar discharge sensor provides real-time level, velocity, and flow/discharge data from the moment it is installed. This allows city and county managers to retrofit existing stations or expand the number of stations in their flood warning network at a fraction of the cost of the traditional method.

The ability to expand a flood warning network in a more cost-effective manner means more data at more locations, improving flood forecasting and access to real-time data.

Solutions Used

The district's installation of 54 RQ-30 sensors has allowed the county to more accurately anticipate and prepare for floods.

In 2019, Harris County Flood Control District began upgrading its monitoring and flood forecasting processes through the installation of 54 RQ-30 sensors.

HCFCD has incorporated the sensors into its existing Flood Warning Network, giving staff broader access to real-time conditions. The RQ-30 produces flow/discharge data from the moment it is turned on, providing highly accurate water level, velocity, and flow/discharge through the use of non-contact Pulse and Doppler radar technology. The sensor functions by determining the water level through the use of a radar signal and measuring the flow velocity of the water surface by means of the Doppler frequency shift. Measurement using a contact-free method, allows the sensors to be installed on bridges or extension arms, rather than in or around the channel or river.

After calculating the flow/discharge using AI-based machine learning, the RQ-30 wirelessly transmits the collected data to a central hub where it is processed and posted to a web-based system for visualization, analysis, and real-time action. The real-time data that is collected is used to support flood forecast model calibration. With more accurate flood forecast models, the county can better anticipate where flooding will occur.

This enhanced data collection will also more directly benefit the community-at-large by giving residents access to flood forecast insights through the same Flood Warning System they already use to view flood risk and predictions.

To ensure confidence in the data collected, the sensors self-check with a status and error report. If any change to the sensors is required, HCFCD staff can access them remotely for all configuration and data acquisition needs. The sensors are also low power and solar-ready to maximize their usage in the field before requiring maintenance.



Harris County Flood Control District can better monitor and forecast flood risk, creating greater security for its residents' lives and property


Deployment of this technology allows a substantial expansion of a flood warning network at a significantly reduced investment


The AI learning capability of the RQ-30 provides Harris County with a significantly improved real-time picture of stream conditions


Automated measurement and delivery of water data allows district officials to recoup staff time that can be used for other tasks


HCFCD has new tools to better forecast floods into the future as changing weather patterns increase their likelihood

Who Should Consider

Urban and rural counties, along with water management districts, that experience floods that threaten public safety and damage property.

Last Updated

Mar 25th, 2022
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