Houston Needs A Regional Effort To Defeat Stormwater, Because It Will Flood Again
The many political subdivisions in the Houston area sometimes do, and sometimes do not, cooperate when it comes to the problem posed by flooding to the entire region, the speakers at Bisnow's Houston State of the Market event said.
The trouble with a fragmented approach is that stormwater doesn't know anything about political boundaries. It goes where it goes without regard to political considerations.
The key to defending the region against flooding, the speakers said, is regional cooperation. Unfortunately, that is difficult for a number of reasons.
One is that even a flood like Harvey affects only a relatively small percentage of the community. Coverage of the storm gave the world the impression that all of Houston flooded — which is a problem by itself — but that of course wasn't the case.
Most people simply had a lot of rain that day and then got on with their lives, which makes it easier for them to forget that someday their property might flood.
Another challenge is that stormwater often goes without regard to where flood plains are believed to be. Over half of the structures that flooded in the Houston area during Harvey were not in the flood plain. Those maps evolve over time.
There is also political resistance to spending money on preparing for floods. Such infrastructure work isn't glamorous, and it is expensive, but if the Houston area is ever going to overcome the threat of stormwater, it will have to spend more on the problem, the speakers said.
Passing the bond later this summer for $2.5B for flood risk reduction projects throughout the county will be an important step, the speakers agreed. More than 150 potential projects that are candidates for bond funding would provide flood risk reduction benefits.
Such projects supported by the bond issue would include channel modifications, major repairs to flood-damage drainage infrastructure, and drainage improvements made in partnership with other cities, utility districts or other local government agencies, including partnership agreements with the federal government.
A key part of spending on flood mitigation, the speakers said, is voluntary buyouts of flood-prone properties. Some places simply are never going to be free of a major risk of flooding, and shouldn't have been developed in the first place.
But that isn't a total solution. Some people don't want to move, regardless of the risk, and multifamily properties are a lot harder to buy out than single-family ones, especially affordable housing built with federal subsidies.
Also, the speakers said, new construction and regulations evolve over time to better deal with the flooding risk. Most of the flooding from Harvey was in older structures.
The new Harris County regulations, which mandate higher levels of new construction in the 100- and 500-year flood plains, will help, but since that is only unincorporated Harris County, they will only go so far.
Our expert panelists discussing stormwater were Walter P Moore Director of Civil Engineering Charlie Penland, Harris County Flood Control District Director of Hydrologic Operations Division/Meteorologist Jeff Lindner, Harris County Engineering Department County Engineer John Blount, CivilTech Engineering Inc. President and CEO Melvin Spinks, City of Houston Chief Resilience Officer Stephen Costello and Sherwood Design Engineers principal Steve Albert.