Monday, August 28, 2017

In Which We Learn

that all of Houston is in a floodplain.

Expect lots of thumb sucking articles about why Houston flooded and who is to blame.  These articles will ignore flooding as far inland as Austin and San Antonio, and the devastation the Cat 4 hurricane wrought on coastal Texas (flooded fields of agricultural crops not the least of it), and the simple fact Texas rises from water's edge to Hill Country mid-state, an area covered for centuries by sea water.  Houston floods because Texas floods because Texas, until you get to Austin or up to Tyler in East Texas, is flat.

That tweet above is about the reservoirs that have to be drained because of record rainfall.  Those reservoirs are huge, but they aren't big enough for the billions of gallons of water which have fallen on Houston.  And yes, Houston has put down too much impervious cover, and yes Houston has been stupid about flood control, and yes, the head of flood control for Harris County (basically Houston) is an idiot:
Of the astonishing frequency of huge floods the city has been getting, he said, “I don't think it's the new normal.” He also criticized scientists and conservationists for being “anti-development.”

“They have an agenda ... their agenda to protect the environment overrides common sense,” he said.
But you don't see this attitude being voted out of office down here because, basically, most people who live here are happy with the way things are; until they get flooded out, that is.  And then they don't vote; they just move.

But much of the discussion of impervious cover talks about the prairies of Katy, west of Houston.  How the hell water that falls on downtown Houston or even my neighborhood, a good 20 miles from downtown Houston and another 20 miles from the Katy prairie, is supposed to fall there and then be transported west to be absorbed by that prairie even without more impervious cover on it, is a mystery to me, a mystery no one writing such articles can explain.  So far as I know water still flows down hill, and it's downhill from Katy all the way to the coast on the east side of that city.

Houston is on a coastal plain, with an average elevation 50 feet above sea level.  The only place more prone to flooding I've ever been is San Antonio, on the flood plain of the San Antonio river.  Houston is too goddmaned big and too goddamned flat and has too much goddamned impervious cover, but whose fault is that?  The Mayor's?  The County Judge's?  Maybe none of us should be here, but then again, maybe nobody should be in New Orleans.

And I really don't think we should ignore the rest of the Texas and Louisiana coast being affected by this storm.  There are more people affected by this than just the residents of Houston.

"First, do no harm."  Some of us in Texas are actually relieved by these pictures.

More flooding is ahead for the Houston region, forecasters warn, and an already dire situation could soon become desperate: An area the size of Connecticut is expected to receive at least another 20 inches of rain through Friday, though the rain is expected to let up intermittently through the week. Officials said that by the time the storm ends, Harvey could dump up to 50 inches of water on some parts of the affected area, which includes 54 counties.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said he anticipates that at least 30,000 people in Texas will be displaced to temporary shelters.

“This is a landmark event for Texas,” Long said. “Texas has never seen an event like this.”

The county of Matagorda, where Hurricane Harvey came ashore, is closed.  A mandatory evacuation was imposed, displacing 16,000 people.  Texas has 254 counties, so this storm is affecting roughly 20% of them.  And then, if predictions hold, it will go back into the Gulf and then head due north to Oklahoma by Friday.  This is far, far more than Houston's problem.

There is an excellent article at Vox about what "100 year flood" means (not what you think it means) and how Houston wasn't prepared for a storm like this.  Then again, the NWS has called this storm unprecedented, and the money quote in the article has little to do with the devastation of Harvey, a hurricane that has yet to properly get near Houston:

In 2016, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune collaborated on a project detailing how bad the damage from an Ike-caliber storm would be — and how little Houston had done to mitigate it. “We’ve done nothing to shore up the coastline, to add resiliency ... to do anything,” Phil Bedient, a Rice University professor who co-directs the Storm Surge Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center, told ProPublica.
Yes, there are areas where Houston should not have allowed development, but that's the story of Houston.  I know people who lived in dry houses for decades, and then development happened upstream of them, and all that once absorbed water came down to their neighborhoods.  The solution was for the county to buy out those neighborhoods, because in Houston it is development uber alles.  So, yeah, we've got those problems.  But shoring up the shoreline might help the refineries and Galveston Island and places on the coast; but it would have no effect at all on the 50 inch rainfall Houston is rapidly accumulating.  Slate has an article titled "Houston Wasn't Built to Withstand a Storm Like This" (I really would have preferred "Houston, We Have A Problem," but even I'm not using that cliche), which makes me want to ask:  what city is?  50 inches of rain is over four feet.  Who designs for that?  Who can?

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