Friday, September 1, 2017

Lack of zoning did not flood Houston...

Reason's Hit and Run (as usual) comes up with very objective reasons why Houston flooded.  First, Houston was hit by a massive amount of rainfall.  Fifty inches of rain over about a week. Second, Houston's geography contributed to flooding to some extent.

To put this in perspective:  New York City gets on average 42 inches a year. Rainy Seattle gets around 39 inches a year. Miami gets around 60 inches a year.

If you dumped fifty inches of rain in a short period of time over any land region you would have massive flooding. Hilly or mountainous areas might even be more devastated because instead of rising waters over a large area (like we saw in Houston), you would have concentrated floods, accelerating down slopes and racing and scouring down valleys (think Johnstown Flood).

Legal Insurrection: Houston Flooding

To the extent that Hurricane Harvey may end up breaking records on property damage, that is not surprising either: There is a lot more property to damage. 100,000 flood damaged homes add up. Hurricanes today (at least in the USA) do not have massive losses of life like we have had in the past.  As bad as Harvey was, the 1900 Galveston Hurricane was far worse.

That is not to say zoning and building codes do not matter. There is risk in building in a riparian flood zone (I am thinking homes downstream from Houston's reserviors). I am sure we have all seen areas of the country where the same houses and areas flood again and again (and we subsidize and encourage this behavior by flood insurance and other programs).

We have developed areas like sea barrier islands where it you get hit by a big nor'easter or hurricane you are going to get walloped (they are locations where you should arguably not build in the first place). There is a strong policy argument to be made not subsidize people who choose to build in such locations.

Texas Almanac: The Galveston Seawall

Following the 1900 storm, the City of Galveston constructed a massive sea wall and raised the elevation of the city to resist future storms. Galeveston did this on its own. This was all done before there was anything like FEMA.  

TOM: No arbitrary timelines

Goodstuff's Cyber World: Harvey's Heroes

Pirate's Cove Blog: Harvey and climate change

History: Great Hurricane of 1780 (it killed 27,000+ in the Caribbean)

EBL: Send Anteaters to Houston, Linda Sarsour is Asshat of the Day, Dealing with Looters, How To Contribute To (Legitimate) Hurricane Harvey Relief, American Exceptionalism and Waffle House, Fish In House, Harvey Girls and Harvey's Peggy Dow

1 comment:

  1. Good post Evi. The areas still flooding were built early on. The overflowing reservoirs and dams were built to actually prevent these parts of Houston from flooding (while also providing irrigation water for the rice fields of Katy and sugar cane crops of Sugarland). The problem here is the mass of rain. Local meteorologist question the 50"+ rain totals, but all agree that it is at least 40". That's more than 3 feet of rain over every inch of the city. If this was a blizzard, every home would have been covered in snow.

    Mayor Turner said it best when asked if Houston had zoning, "It would be a city with zoning that flooded." And there is a difference in zoning and regulation. Houston and Texas do have building codes that are heavily regulated. Those building codes are why you don't see buildings collapsing into the water.

    There is some truth to politicians not acting, but that blame goes directly to Mayor Anise Parker, Lesbian (Houston mayoral race is non-partisan by law. Parker would likely be a Democrat, but the one thing she made sure everyone know, was that she was a Lesbian!). After Ike, the City of Houston passed a controversial flood fee (like Obamacare, they couldn't call it a tax, so they called it a fee). It was controversial, because opponents claimed the city already received taxes intended to be set aside for sewer and flood control, but had mismanaged those funds. The legislation even allowed the collected fees to go into the general fund. But it passed, and as expected, no extra funds were spent on improving drainage. Citizens even sued the city for failure to properly use the funds it collected.

    Their was one regulation change, and I think it helped. The "fee" was any new development that pour concrete had to either offset the lost of absorption by the concreted area with a retention or detention pond (we learned something new, retention ponds retain some level of water at all times, such as a fountain) adequate to hold the runoff or pay a fee. You pretty much couldn't avoid the fee, because there is only so far you can dig a hole in Houston before you hit the water table. Still, the extra ponds bought time and saved most new development. The majority of flooding was in older developments.

    BTW, I'm waiting for the lefty outcry that conservative Texas let the homes of the poor flood to protect the rich and protected. The fact is, the land around Buffalo Bayou west of downtown is the most expensive per square foot. It includes the Energy Corridor (the evil Oil Companies!), the Memorial district (new money), the Galleria, and River Oaks (old money). And then there is the Meyerland area that flooded, I'll let you guess which non-PC ethnicity developed that location. The city and storm really doesn't fit the national media narratives.


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