In Praise of Open Ditches (Opinion)

By Susan Chadwick, Houston Chronicle Outlook, May 27, 2023

For several years in Houston, an unfortunate controversy has swirled around open drainage ditches.

The underlying idea is that roadside drainage ditches don’t work — or at least, not as well as concrete street curbs that send water through metal drains and into buried concrete pipes. Many people think that earthen ditches are backwards — too rural, rudimentary, unfinished. Concrete is surely more engineered, more advanced! 

But this is wrong. Except in dense urban areas completely covered in concrete or other impermeable surfaces, earthen stormwater ditches mitigate flooding better and more cheaply than concrete street curbs and buried pipes.

First of all, they have much greater capacity. Open ditches can hold more than ten times as much stormwater as buried pipes. A typical 3.5-foot-deep roadside ditch 1,000 feet long holds 325,900 gallons of stormwater, according to a representative of the City of Houston Department of Public Works. By comparison, 1,000 linear feet of 24-inch diameter pipe holds only 23,488 gallons

Read the rest of this editorial in the Houston Chronicle.

An open ditch on East 18th and Harvard Streets in the Heights is planted with canna lillies and other water loving plants. Photo by Sharon Steinmann, Chronicle Staff Photographer