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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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For many Texans, this week will be unlike any other because they got flooded. Getting on track will be long and heartbreaking. People will find their strength, but I also know their savings will be drained, debts created, and life’s plans disrupted. For many others, including myself, this week is the same as any other because my house did not flood. Water came close, but it receded in hours. For my wife and I, our nerves are frayed, but our finances and home life are whole. And, we will help friends and strangers recover.

The accounting in this disaster is simple: I and others who were spared received the Harvey dividend, while those flooded paid the Harvey premium. You don’t need to own stock to get a Harvey dividend. Live in the right place and build in the right way, and the payout for being resilient is virtually automatic. And, you don’t need to have insurance to owe premiums. Each day away from school and work, each dollar spent ripping out moldy carpet, each month that passes to get life right-side up is a premium paid.

This may seem like an unfair lottery for those that got flooded, but this is no lottery. Where we build and what we build matters greatly. The term business-as-usual is shorthand for lack of vision and courage, and business-as-usual is putting people in harms’ way. It is impossible to know when the next accounting will take place. But, here we are again, the third 100-year event in three years.

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Three exotic snail species at Exploration Green: Apple snail (Pomacea spp), Chinese mystery snail (Cipangopaludina chinensis malleata), and Giant ramshorn snail ( Marisa cornuarietis)

Mary Carol Edwards will lead a one-and-a-half-hour tour that focuses on invasive plants and animals at Exploration Green park in Clear Lake City. The tour will be co-led by Jerry Hamby, Texas Master Naturalist and lead volunteer at the Exploration Green tree nursery.

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