Fix Houston

How to Mitigate Flooding

10 tips to help prevent future disaster.

By Jeff Balke January 30, 2020 Published in the February 2020 issue of Houstonia Magazine

THERE IS NO GREATER RISK to our region than flooding. That is the message of Jim Blackburn, the co-director of Rice University's Severe Storm Prediction, Education, & Evacuation from Disasters Centers. It is past time for us to address this growing threat. “If we keep doing the same thing over and over again, nothing is going to change,” he says. “Our actions are the actions of a community that does not have a flooding problem.” Going forward, the city must make flooding our number-one issue, environmentally and economically. Here are 10 ways to do that:

1. Put limits on development.

Too often the city has allowed developers to build structures unchecked, with no consideration for flood mitigation. That must end.

2. Discuss flooding openly with homeowners.

Clear Lake removed flood-surge-warning signage put up after Hurricane Ike soon after its installation, over fears property values might decrease. “What that says,” Blackburn explains, “is we are more concerned with selling homes than we are with protecting residents.”

3. Build the wall(s).

SSPEED’s Galveston Bay Park Plan and the coastal barrier proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers are huge, ambitious, compatible programs that will stem storm surge and protect coastal areas.

4. Factor climate change into future planning.

Rising sea levels may not inundate the entire city, but they’ll still affect us. “It will worsen every flood event coming in from the coast.”

5. Expand the reservoirs.

“The Addicks and Barker reservoirs were identified as two of the six most dangerous reservoirs in the country going back to 2009, and we didn’t do anything about it,” Blackburn says. We still haven’t.

6. Beware of our most flood-prone areas.

“Flood plains have always been considered an impediment to development,” Blackburn laments, “rather than a danger signal.”

7. Give water room to flow. 

Blackburn advocates for widening and deepening bayou channels, even going so far as to suggest blocking any development and buying out homes adjacent to area waterways. (Ed note: Not everyone agrees on exactly how to fix Houston, of course. Susan Chadwick, executive director of Save Buffalo Bayou, has her own idea.

8. Encourage water-holding landscape design. 

Homeowners can create landscaping that not only is beautiful but absorbs a good deal more water than a typical lawn.

9. Create more retention and detention basins.

Collecting water when it rains—and even retaining it afterward—reduces flooding and creates new greenspace.

10. Change our relationship with water.

The Netherlands has integrated flood control into its landscape, and Houston must do the same. “We need to learn to live with water," Blackburn says. 


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