Future-proofing Texas from flooding
Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast Aug. 25. We are now in December and there is still a lot of future-proofing to be done. Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp, spoke of future-proofing Texas after he was chosen to oversee Texas’ hurricane rebuilding efforts.
Future-proofing is the process of anticipating the future and developing methods of minimizing the negative effects while taking advantage of the positive effects of shocks and stresses due to future events. For Texans, it means to be ready and take preventative measures for the next disaster that comes along. Harvey may have blown into Texas at wind speeds above 130 MPH, but funds for recovery are entering Texas in short, quick bursts. Causing almost $200 billion in damages, this has been the state’s most costly storm and future-proofing Texas is the best way to avoid having a costlier clean-up in the future.
The Harris County Commissioners Court approved rules that will take effect Jan. 1 in unincorporated parts of Harris County to increase the elevation for new homes and other structures to avoid floodwaters. Some new structures could be elevated up to 8 feet higher than current regulations require. The rules will not apply to the city of Houston, but a task force is reviewing the city’s stormwater regulations.
The new building regulations are part of a 15-point plan Harris County Judge Ed Emmett unveiled in October as a way to help prevent future flooding like during Harvey. The plan included new building regulations as well as adding a third reservoir to the northwestern part of the county and buying out or elevating homes in the 100-year flood plain or that have repeatedly flooded.
More than 3,000 Houston residents are taking advantage of the city’s home buyout program. Houston hopes this buyout will help to better protect itself against future floods in low-lying areas. There is also an initiative called Exploration Green and the first of five construction phases was just completed at a 178-acre former golf course near Clear Lake City. The golf course has been turned into a wetland park and floodwater reservoir. The project, to be completed in 2021, will drain up to half a billion gallons of storm water and protect up to 3,000 homes. Houston has nearly 200 golf courses and will require an additional 52,000 acres to protect the city from a 100-year storm, but there is not enough funding to acquire all of this land. Mayor Sylvester Turner wants to build a third reservoir and wants financial assistance in the amount of $500 million from Washington D.C.
Port Aransas Mayor Charles Bujan has said that city facilities alone suffered at least $47 million in damage. The city will raise all of its public buildings by 15 feet and wants the city council to require all new construction be raised. That move would mean homes could no longer be constructed on concrete slabs. And to protect the city, it needs a seawall on the bay side of the island.
Fulton Mayor Jimmy Kendrick plans to recommend that school districts create a database in the future to keep track of how many faculty and students are staying in rental homes or apartments in town. The information would help keep better track of just how much of an impact a future storm could have on the school district and area, as well as better plan for temporary housing needs. Kendrick also said he would urge state legislators to help local entities get better communication from FEMA when city leaders try to check on local residents who might be in need. Often, that is not possible due to federal privacy laws.
Fort Bend County officials are considering the creation of a flood control district. The county has a drainage district and 19 levee improvement districts. A flood control district builds new infrastructure to prevent flooding and improve drainage. Fort Bend County is capable of adding drainage measures, but will need to pass a bond measure at the polls. Once approved, the project is then implemented through a contractor rather than by the district doing the work.
City of Richwood officials are compiling paperwork for about $150,000 in reimbursements to submit to the FEMA by the Dec. 18 deadline. Some of the residents and business owners have formed a flood and drainage advisory committee to evaluate the city’s weak spots and make recommendations on how to fix them. Committee members have decided to select an engineer to commission a study, as well as develop an action plan of possible emergency pumping systems. The plan includes dredging Bastrop Bayou to control the path of future floodwaters and looking for retention ponds both locally and upstream to stem the flow from Houston.
Following Hurricane Harvey in August was Irma, which hit almost the entire state of Florida on Sept. 11. Maria caused widespread destruction in Puerto Rico on Sept 20.