Opinion: More concrete ditches and paved-over prairies? Houston must pivot to nature-based flood mitigation

By Amanda Fuller and Jordan Macha, Houston Chronicle

August 6, 2020

SBB editorial note: On July 15 Amanda Fuller gave a presentation on “Incorporating Nature into Houston-Area Flood Mitigation” to the Houston Galveston Area Council’s Regional Flood Management Committee. You can watch the presentation here.

With damage already felt from Hurricane Hanna on the middle and lower Texas coast, and the potential for a devastating hurricane season upon us, the fear of a repeat Hurricane Harvey is top of mind for Houston-area residents and local elected leaders alike. However, many are unaware that leaders in the region have an unprecedented opportunity to set Houston and Harris County on a more resilient and equitable path when it comes to mitigating the impact of future flooding events. With long-standing conventional projects waiting in the wings, there is growing concern that the window for innovation is closing.

After Harvey, many scientific and technical expert groups were formed, reports commissioned, and the public was convened — all in search of solutions. A common theme emerged from all of these efforts: we can’t keep approaching flood mitigation in the same ways and expect a different result — the powerful role of the area’s natural systems, plus a focus on the equitable distribution of funds, must be part of the answer. Continued development in floodplains and reliance on outdated hard infrastructure, such as reservoirs and drainage channels alone, coupled with the paving over of the Katy Prairie, have proven to be a recipe for disaster as the impacts of climate change intensify in the region, especially in communities that have been underinvested in over time.

The good news is that billions of dollars for mitigation activities are pouring into the state by way of $4.3 billion from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Mitigation Fund (CDBG-MIT), administered by the Texas General Land Office, which is taking applications until Oct. 28. That’s in addition to the opportunity to compete for hundreds of millions of dollars from FEMA’s new Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Program (BRIC), which will begin accepting grant applications this fall.

Read the rest of this editorial in the Houston Chronicle.

Fuller is director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Texas Coast and Water Program. Macha is the executive director of Bayou City Waterkeeper.

Greens Bayou flows near a neighborhood that is part of Harris County’s home buyout program on Thursday, November 21, 2019, in Houston. Photo by Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle.

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