50 miles north of Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico, Houston rests inside of a shallow bowl. The city is built on top of a swamp. Over the past decades prairies north and northwest of Houston have been developed into concrete mega zones that include homes, schools, shopping malls, hospitals, businesses, roads and an occasional retention pond.
Flood control has long been a challenging issue in Houston, dating back to the city's infancy on the banks of the Buffalo Bayou when its first flood was recorded more than 170 years ago.
Major reservoirs built in the 1940s helped alleviate some of problems, but a population explosion and urban sprawl since then enveloped the reservoirs. Experts said the city's efforts since then have fallen woefully short of the massive needs. And there is climate change, which has increased the frequency of large rainfalls, climatologists said. The result this week was that sudden downpours overwhelmed infrastructure and inundated whole sections of the city, leaving at least seven people dead.
As we know, there are few politicians in this Republican state that will acknowledge the existence of climate change. This tacit denial exists among local, state and U.S. lawmakers. Most Republicans reject science for purely political purposes, as most of us should know by now.
To throw up your hands and say we're going to be vulnerable and have hundreds of millions of dollars of impact every year in Houston just because it rains a lot is not the attitude we need to take," said Sam Brody, a professor of regional planning at Texas A&M University at Galveston. "We are not thinking about the big picture.”
Nope. Money obsessed opportunists never think about the big picture. The focus is on the present and short-term deal making schemes that line certain pockets.
Thousands of people were routed from their homes and major highways when Houston's spaghetti-like web of bayous spilled over banks after rains that began Sunday night.
Then on Tuesday, creeks getting runoff from nearly 18 inches of rain in some spots in outlying northwestern Harris County rose quickly over their banks, prompting a new round of evacuations, including rescues of some residents in wheelchairs from an assisted living facility.
It didn’t have to be this way.
There have been at least three dozen significant floods since Houston's founding, including one in 1929 and another in 1935 that prompted construction of reservoirs in the western part of the county, Barker and Addicks, in the 1940s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"They were way out in the country," said Wayne Klotz, a former American Society of Civil Engineers president who has a Houston engineering firm. "They were going to solve all the problems. The city continued to grow. And Barker and Addicks now are like in the middle of town."
Few notable flood-control efforts have been implemented since then, said Philip Bedient, a Rice University engineering professor who has been studying flood control in the area for more than three decades.
Houston's leaders "sort of forgot about it for the next 20 years, and it was the wild west," he said. "They built and built like there was no tomorrow.”
Tomorrow is here and it is drowning Houston.
Apparently our city and state leaders can’t think when it comes to spending on flooding and infrastructure projects, except for building more roads and freeways.
Among Houston's recent efforts is a voter-approved program aimed at rebuilding its streets and drainage systems to better cope with floods. The city says it has collected and spent more than $1 billion since 2012, improving 900 miles of roadway.
Brody says more could be done, including an effort to buy out homeowners flood-prone areas and turn the land into open space. He also suggests upgrading building codes to mandate elevating structures in flood-prone areas, as some suburbs have done.
"You need to think," he said. "And we're not."
I voted for the Rebuild Houston drainage fee. The majority of us supported this effort but it didn’t take long for the state to find a way to interfere with and impede that for which the majority of us voted. One should not be too shocked to learn that a right wing anti-tax Republican sued to have the drainage fee blocked.
I don’t want to write that I hope Paul Bettencourt, the state Senator who killed the drainage project, paid a personal price for his narrow minded ideology. Sadly, it is only when misery becomes personal for certain politicians, that lessons can be learned by dug in ideologues and shills for those who trash and burn our environment.
Apparently Houston voters don’t have the right to weigh in on whether or not Houston and its people can undertake efforts to mitigate flooding.
Meanwhile the hurricane season is around the corner. After Hurricane Ike in 2008 one would think our local, state and U.S. leaders would have taken drastic action to prevent a rerun. But when one lives in a Republican state, residents should be prepared to be on one’s own. We can count on our neighbors but not on our state government and it’s vision for the future. The GOP state legislature’s knee jerk belief is what is good for business is good for Texas.
Life is cheap in red states, especially those in the South.
See what I mean? The article on the left reads Medicaid cuts to remain in effect. “Providers: Ruling devastating to disabled kids.” $350 million will be cut for services for handicapped kids.
In a city that ignores its flooding problems, rivers, reservoirs and Lake Houston continue to swell after a week of torrential rains. More flooding is ahead for some areas.
Yes indeed, life and property are cheap in right wing small government, low taxes, low services state. We are on our own. Even helpless kids can be kicked to the curb in a hard right red state.
All of that said, Houston’s mayor has reached out to the Red Cross, private charity foundations and the federal government in order to relocate those who have few resources to help themselves.
While our state government fails us, our city and county leaders can and will pull together to serve the people they represent and protect.
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