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Midtown square bagby

Midtown Square development on West Gray, Houston. This development doesn’t flood, and it doesn’t contribute to flooding. It is a high-interaction neighborhood that builds social capital. (Google Map)

The impacts of Harvey still have our full attention.  We are all agreed—we don’t want to live through another Harvey.  We want to be so much better prepared for the next one. In that case, we better hope the next big one isn’t coming our way anytime soon.

“Do something!” seems to be the watchword of the day. The question is whether or not we will do the right thing. We are clearly taking some good steps in the right direction, but I fear we may lack the necessary organizing principles to build a Houston that is resilient for the next 100 years and beyond.

I suggest two watchwords that could lay the foundations for a robust resilience: watersheds and walkability. Watersheds are the template upon which we build. We must understand both the limitations and the advantages of our watersheds.  Walkability builds the social capital that provides the glue for strong communities. Both the city we build and the watershed we build it on must be healthy in every way if we are to remain vibrant into the next century. Continue Reading »

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Houston has in place a natural flood detention and conveyance system that could handle another Harvey, sitting right here in plain sight. Our bayous, creeks, and streams, and their associated floodplains have carved out, over millennia, a very robust and capacious system. This legacy system did not fail during Harvey. We failed, over the years, because we put so many people in harms way. In fact, over 40% of all FEMA-designated floodplains in Harris County have been developed to one degree or another, with more than 500,000 homes and apartments in these hazardous zones. Few floodplains within the beltway are undeveloped.

[also at Gray Matters]

Continue Reading »

A recent talk given to the Houston chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas.

 

For the past couple months I have been removing invasive Island Apple snails (Pomacea maculata) and their egg clutches because they consume aquatic vegetation and destroy wetlands, estuaries, and other habitats. They have a very high reproductive rate of up to 500 eggs per egg clutch that hatch every 10-15 days. Also the adults can mate many times after they become sexually mature (2-3 months); this quickly stimulates the creation of Island Apple snail monocultures. Island Apple snails originate in Latin America and have few predators which causes rapid overpopulation and decreases diversity of species. Their egg clutches range from pink to white and the paler the egg clutch the closer it is to hatching. These egg clutches are located on reeds, plants, and other support items above the water’s surface. I have seen them mostly on the Pickerel weed in 1A. Together we can make a difference by removing as many of their egg clutches as possible when we see them to protect the Exploration Green we have all worked hard to create. Continue Reading »

NYT floods Houston

New York Times map of flood damage, Hurricane Harvey, Harris County

also at  Gray Matters

Flooding during Harvey was not a random occurrence.  Heavy rainfall—averaging 35 inches in Harris County –was widespread, but the flooding was not.  The deepest flooding, the kind where rescue boats were needed, was where the bayous and creeks overflowed their banks, flooding low-lying zones along our bayous and creeks.  There were also many areas that flooded as a result of poorly maintained or designed urban drainage systems. But these were a small fraction of the overall flooding.

The low-lying areas along our waterways are the natural floodplains excavated by bayous and creeks over many thousands of years. It flooded here long before we, or even the Karankawa, ever showed up. Over the millennia, the bayous naturally widened their valleys, or floodplains, to where the system could easily absorb a storm like Harvey.

That system is still here—and it handled Harvey very well.  We were the ones who didn’t handle it well. If we had not given over most of our floodplains to development, Harvey would still have caused us grief—but it would not have much more than a nuisance.  We would have had to stay home for 2-3 days, but we would have avoided a great deal of trauma. Continue Reading »