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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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We can’t stop growing. But to avoid flooding, we’ve got to be smarter about it.

By John S. Jacob, for the Houston Chronicle | April 20, 2016
23 ( First Published in GrayMatters)

This piece was published one year ago, right after the Tax Day flood –bears saying the same thing again! I am a bit less sanguine now about the ability of wetlands to make much of a difference in a Harvey-size flood. On the other hand, all man-made detention basins also overflowed during Harvey. The overriding  message needs to be to stay out of harm’s way! Don’t build in floodplains–100yr, 500yr, or Harvey floodplains.

Let’s review the facts before this teachable moment fades away.

We live on a very flat coastal plain — much of it only a four-foot drop over a mile. And much of it with very clayey, slow-to-drain soils.  We also live in the region of highest-intensity rainfall in the continental U.S. So it is going to flood. Mother Nature will continue to deliver floods no matter what we do. Don’t count her out.

Flooding does not occur uniformly across the region. There are floodplains, and areas near the floodplains. There are low areas and there are higher areas. We need to know where these are. Obviously! — and yet we don’t seem to know.

But humans have screwed things up royally.

First, we have placed development in harm’s way — in low-lying areas, including floodplains. Incredibly, we continue to do so.  Arbor Court Apartments — so much in the news with the heart-rending pictures of rescued families —  is in the floodway of Greens Bayou. The floodway is the deepest part of the floodplain. The flooding at this point was inevitable — but the human tragedy was not. This was a disaster by design.  Not Mother Nature’s fault!

Read the full piece at GrayMatters

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Were the impacts of Harvey in Houston a result of no zoning in the city of no limits? This assertion seems to be the catch-all phrase used by Houston’s detractors for all that was exposed by Harvey in terms of planning or the lack thereof.  On the other hand, critics of regulation like to point out that zoned cities fared just as badly as Houston during Harvey. Our Mayor famously said that “zoning wouldn’t have changed anything. We would have been a city with zoning that flooded.” (more…)

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A wildscape is a landscape created to provide habitat for your local wildlife. Wildscaping can be created by planting native plants and by providing wildlife with their essentials for life – food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young. Look for drought tolerant plants and other highly adapted non-invasive plants to use. Choose plants of varying heights and densities.  And remember to group plants according to their water needs. Select plants that provide seeds, nuts, nectar and berries throughout the year to ensure there is always food available for wildlife. Be sure to add a water source to your wildscape. This could be in the form of a pond or bird bath. Adding a bird feeder or bird house is also great ideas to incorporate into your wildscape. Keeping or adding a brush or rock pile can provide shelter for wildlife.

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