According to this article in the Memorial Examiner, the Memorial City District Drainage Coalition commissioned an independent study to look at flooding and drainage problems in the area. Larry Dunbar, an engineer and attorney, conducted the study. The results are in, and “‘we flood'”.
I don’t mean to make fun of the study. The Memorial City District Drainage Coalition worked REALLY hard to do this study. I attended several super neighborhood meetings in Spring Branch during the early stages and saw how hard they worked for this.
The problem is that we have study after study, and all of them show that Houston is prone to flooding, whether you live in the floodplain, floodway, or outside both. Then you have even more studies showing various ways to fix this problem. Houston even went so far as to ban building on existing structures and on vacant land in the floodway. The Houston Floodway Coalition fought on this issue and took it all the way to the Texas Supreme Court. (See case here). It makes no sense to ban additional building in Houston as long as it is done responsibly. The City can always use property tax money from new buildings and sales taxes from new stores to put into flooding projects.
The root of the problem is that our drainage system and pipes are old. I’ve heard they are anywhere from 30 to 100 years old (you know from all those studies out there). Regardless of how old they are, they are old. So we have a bunch of problems and heedless solutions swimming around. As Dunbar says himself, “‘the objective is to fix the problem.'” The solution can’t rest in a short-term fix to make an elected official temporarily look good. We must be prudent. Since there are so many other “solutions” out there, I’ll throw another out too, one that will actually work: update our old system and put in a new one.
It sounds simple, so why aren’t others suggesting this? Probably because it will take a lot of money, probably in the multi-billion dollar range. It will also take years to implement this, but that doesn’t mean that we should scrap it altogether. It means that we start NOW and hope to be done before the next rain event. On top of that, we have to constantly monitor our system so that in 30 years Houston doesn’t have to do this again.
So where is the money going to come from? First we need to implement the sunset review committee I explained in a previous blog (see here). This should free up money to use on this project. The next step is to freeze unnecessary new spending until we save up enough money to update our system. To me, safety and infrastructure are the tenets of government, so flooding projects should be a priority.
Newly elected Council Member Costello is an engineer and worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He is also the Chair of the Flooding and Drainage Committee, which was a great choice. Keep in mind that he is not going to fix this problem over night, but I am hopeful that he and the rest of the council members will make this a top priority.