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Archive for the ‘planning’ Category

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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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DSC_2228

Development in League City threatens wetlands

Hurricane Harvey was tough on wetlands, and even tougher on wetland scientists like me. I have spent a career focusing on wetlands along the Upper Texas Gulf Coast. Like the Lorax, I speak for the wetlands (and the prairies and forests and all the rest of it!). I have devoted considerable energy to expounding all of the virtues of wetlands, including their ability to decrease downstream flooding. So much so that at least one top flood official accused me believing in “magic wetlands”. He didn’t think wetlands did all that much in terms of stormwater detention (or anything else apparently).

As with many other aspects of our lives, Harvey changed everything. It modified my views on upstream wetlands and flood control. Harvey totally overwhelmed every single prairie-pothole wetland on the Katy Prairie, and on every other prairie in our area for that matter. All of these wetlands filled with water very quickly very early in the storm and all of the soils in or out of the wetlands became saturated very early as well, such that virtually all the rain falling anywhere, even on the sandiest of soils, ran off the landscape and into our creeks and bayous. And then the water in the bayous rose and the rest is burned into our memories. (more…)

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Harris County Floodplain Development

Map showing development in the Harris County Floodplains. Click here for a full size copy

“No amount of prevention could have prevented this kind of flooding.” “Houston did not do this to itself.” “There is no city, however it is governed, that could handle a Harvey.” 

The preceding are just a small sample of recent comments from prominent local leaders about Harvey, generally accompanied by statements implying another Harvey is not likely, and that just a little more of the same in the way of previous flood control is all we need.

If we cannot imagine another way to live with floods, then we had better hope that the last three years are a total anomaly and that we will not soon see another storm like Harvey.  On the other hand, if we think that Harvey would make a better benchmark for planning than the FEMA-defined 100-year floodplain, as some of our best minds do, then we need to radically reimagine how we coexist with big floods. (more…)

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Image result for +never flooded for sale +sign houston

A sign of post-Harvey times. © Houston Chronicle

The collision of big data with Hurricane Harvey could unleash a free-market reappraisal of floodplain development that would make the most draconian of floodplain ordinances look like a 90-lb weakling.  The signs are already on the horizon. (more…)

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