Saturday, November 11, 2017

Lessons from Hurricane Harvey: Houston’s Struggle Is America’s Tale

The Texas city’s response to a powerful storm says much about polarized visions of the country and diverging attitudes toward cities, race, liberty, and science.

Houston ship channel (Photographs Credit: Josh Haner) Click to Enlarge.
Harvey burst the tall banks of Buffalo Bayou Park, flooding the city’s theater district and City Hall.  It collapsed riverbanks and left dunes of silt that buried pedestrian paths, playgrounds, and fields.

“This will take a lot more than tweaking,” Mr. Hagstette told me.  He meant not just repairing and fortifying the park, but also adapting Houston to the new normal.

For starters, that will require fresh numbers. Harris County demands that new developments retain enough rainwater on site to neutralize the effects of a 100-year storm.  But those 100-year numbers date back years.  They are based on mitigating a storm that averages 13.2 inches of rain in 24 hours. Harvey brought 25.9 inches in 24 hours.  The Memorial Day flood dropped 11 inches in three hours.  The Tax Day flood dumped 17 inches in 12 hours in the Katy Prairie.

“We need to get climatologists, politicians and policymakers talking to each other,” Jeff Lindner told me.  “They’re not.”  As meteorologist for the Harris County Flood Control District, Mr. Lindner spent five sleepless days and nights during Harvey as an unshakable, tousled expert in a blue, button-down shirt, going on television and providing Houstonians with useful information.  We met at the flood control district office one morning.

“There’s little question the earth is warming,” he said, adding as a qualifier:  “Regardless of whether it’s a natural cycle or human-induced, hotter air holds more moisture.  And so for Harris County that means the potential for more extreme events.”

Mr. Lindner’s concern, he said, is that “by the time policy is in place it will already lag behind the latest information.”

Considering that most people whose homes flooded had no flood insurance, getting everyone to buy it might solve one problem — but would increase another.  “We ought to call federal flood insurance what it actually is,” as Phil Bedient, an engineer and colleague of Mr. Blackburn’s at Rice, put it.  “It is subsidized floodplain development.”  The Netherlands — the global gold standard for water management — does not offer a national flood insurance program for just this reason.

Read more at Lessons from Hurricane Harvey:  Houston’s Struggle Is America’s Tale

No comments:

Post a Comment