Houston Lashed by Critics Over Harvey

A Roundup of Harvey Flood Reporting and Commentary

Sept. 18, 2017

Not since the Enron scandal in 2001 has Houston faced such a deluge of criticism and bad publicity. Abundant praise, yes, for the generous and courageous response of neighbors helping neighbors and strangers. But according to our critics, flaws in the civic character—greed, incompetence, short-term thinking, a disrespect for nature—created an urban landscape that allowed maybe the worst storm ever to hit a metropolitan area to become a catastrophic flood, damaging or destroying some 136,000 homes, businesses, and other structures, maybe a half a million cars and trucks, taking fifty lives, damaging and disrupting the lives of many thousands more.

Here are links to some of the more thoughtful and informative articles published.

On Flooding Causes and Solutions and Working with Nature

Development, Drainage, and Destruction of Wetlands

Houston’s Flood is a Design Problem

The Atlantic, Aug. 28

Debo advocates that urban design mimic rural hydrology as much as possible. Reducing impervious surface and improving water conveyance has a role to play, but the most important step in sparing cities from flooding is to reduce the velocity of water when it is channelized, so that it doesn’t deluge other sites. And then to stop moving water away from buildings and structures entirely, and to start finding new uses for it in place.

Houston’s Flooding Made Worse by Unchecked Urban Development and Wetland Destruction

Quartz, Aug. 29

The Harvey-wrought devastation is just the latest example of the consequences of Houston’s gung-ho approach to development. The city, the largest in the US with no zoning laws, is a case study in limiting government regulations and favoring growth—often at the expense of the environment. As water swamps many of its neighborhoods, it’s now also a cautionary tale of sidelining science and plain common sense. Given the Trump administration’s assault on environmental protections, it’s one that Americans elsewhere should pay attention to.

Houston’s ‘Wild West’ growth

How the city’s development may have contributed to devastating flooding

Washington Post, Aug. 29

Houston drainage grid ‘so obsolete it’s just unbelievable’

AP, Aug. 29

Experts blame too many people, too much concrete, insufficient upstream storage, not enough green space for water drainage and, especially, too little regulation.

“Houston is the most flood-prone city in the United States,” said Rice University environmental engineering professor Phil Bedient. “No one is even a close second — not even New Orleans, because at least they have pumps there.”

The entire system is designed to clear out only 12 to 13 inches of rain per 24-hour period, said Jim Blackburn, an environmental law professor at Rice University. “That’s so obsolete it’s just unbelievable.”

Also, Houston’s Harris County has the loosest, least-regulated drainage policy and system in the entire country, Bedient said.

Houston’s development boom destroyed wetlands that naturally absorbed flood water — and left thousands in Harvey’s path

New York Daily News, Aug. 30

Read the rest of this post.

Looking upstream from a high bank in Memorial Park on Sept. 11, 2017, at around 2:30 p.m. Flow was still about 7,000 cubic feet per second.

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