Houston has a problem and it is partly geography and partly design. Probably it is too soon to bring this up, but why would the taxpayers help people rebuild in the middle of a flood and hurricane zone? All we know of climate change says this may not be a good idea.(More)
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The Atlantic has an article on the design problems in the water management systems in Houston.
Roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and other pavements, along with asphalt, concrete, brick, stone, and other building materials, combine to create impervious surfaces that resist the natural absorption of water. In most of the United States, about 75 percent of its land area, less than 1 percent of the land is hardscape. In cities, up to 40 percent is impervious.
Houston poses both a typical and an unusual situation for stormwater management. The city is enormous, stretching out over 600 square miles. It’s an epitome of the urban sprawl characterized by American exurbanism, where available land made development easy at the edges. Unlike New Orleans, Houston is well above sea level, so flooding risk from storm surge inundation is low.
In Houston’s case, catastrophic floods have been anticipated for some time. The combination of climate change, which produces more intense and unpredictable storms, and aggressive development made an event like this week’s almost inevitable. The Association of State Floodplain Managers has called for a national flood risk-management strategy, and the Houston Chronicle has called flood control the city’s “most pressing infrastructure need.” A lack of funding is often blamed, and relaxed FEMA regulations under the Trump Administration won’t help either.
Of course I wish all the victims of Harvey well. I do have to wonder when we, the collective we, will start to ask the questions about when rebuilding at the edge of the sea coast is the best decision we could make. How many super storms, how many hurricanes, before we rethink our rebuilding promises? Sooner or later, the sea will win. How long will it take us to realize that climate change will require us to change our practices?
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