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The Day the Dike Breaks

maeslant barrierMaeslant Barrier, Netherlands. Google Earth, December 2018

The US Army Corps of Engineers has just chosen the Ike Dike as the Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP) for coastal protection on the Upper Texas Gulf Coast. There is controversy over this choice, but all are agreed that “something must be done.”  We have put people and facilities increasingly in harm’s way over the years. Putting something between people and the harm, like an Ike Dike or one of its progenies (the Rice Mid-Bay Dike for example), seems like the most obvious thing to do. Continue Reading »

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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 »

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 »