Ironies That Harvey Revealed

During the 353 days since Hurricane Harvey, I’ve observed many ironies. Below are my favorites.

Irony #1

We need multi-million dollar studies to figure out stuff a five-year old in a bathtub knows – for instance, to let the water out, you open the drain.

One study suggested that adding more gates to the Lake Houston Dam could let water out faster. Another will tell us that putting sand in the drain causes water to back up. Yet another will tell us to take sand out of the drain.

Irony #2

The state allows sand mining in floodways so that we can have cheap concrete. That encourages upstream development, which causes more downstream flooding, which raises costs to government, which raises taxes on everyone.

Quick. Somebody call an accountant. We need a study on that.

Sometimes it feels that this is the standard Flood-Mitigation Decision Matrix. For a downloadable PDF of this graphic click here

Irony #3

Disaster mitigation is a disaster.

Let me give you a parallel that illustrates the complexity of the process that we have engineered. Imagine that  someone is breaking into your house. You call the police, but the 911 operator tells you to hang tight while the governor and president declare an emergency; Congress appropriates funds; Emergency Management devises a response plan; FEMA reviews your claim; three other agencies hire consultants who conduct an area-wide threat survey; TDEM prioritizes your needs; the Army Corps of Engineers studies bids; and the City works out an inter-local agreement with the County to raise matching funds, so that HUD can provide the money to buy out your house … when you’re dead and buried. Who would tolerate an emergency-response system that responds that way? 325 million Americans. That’s who.

Irony #4

The storm that brought us together is now dividing us.

During Harvey, there was an outpouring of human kindness that inspired the world. A year later, people who didn’t flood want to forget what happened and get back to their normal lives. People who did flood can’t.

Irony #5

The state’s “Rainy Day Fund” was never really for rain.

Even though Austin may soon loosen the purse strings on some of that money, the real intent seems to have been to save enough money to make the state’s balance sheet look better to Wall Street.

Irony #6

Our mothers taught us that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We ignored that advice.

Decades ago, engineers urged us to dredge the San Jacinto to avoid flooding. We didn’t. Billions of dollars in damages later, Mama looks pretty smart. Ain’t no one smarter than Mama!

Irony #7

No one budgets for disasters in an area prone to natural disasters.

When a disaster strikes, everyone goes looking for matching funds. That delays flood mitigation measures, sometimes to the point where we lose our sense of urgency and spend the money on candy instead. What was that Mama said?

Irony #8

We’ll spend hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up a mess that could have been reduced with the stroke of a pen.

Had we only passed some common-sense legislation that prohibited sand mining in floodways!

Irony #9

Cooperation during a disaster turns into cutthroat competition after the disaster.

Fifty counties flooded in Harvey. Now, every county and city along the Gulf Coast is chasing the same matching funds.

Irony #10

Our disaster mitigation process requires groups to fill out an application to fill out an application.

It’s true. The city had to file an application with TDEM to file a FEMA application to fund additional flood gates on Lake Houston.

Irony #11

Some pretend that storms like Harvey are a statistical aberration when experience tells us they are not.

There often seems to be a conspiracy of willful blindness between developers, politicians and home buyers until the next big storm hits. Then developers call it a 100,000-year storm. Home owners look for buyouts. And politicians talk about creating green spaces from land that should have been green space all along. Since 1994 (24 years ago), we’ve had five so-called five-hundred year storms – 1994, Allison, Tax Day, Memorial Day, and Harvey. Who says grown-ups can’t live in a make-believe world?

Posted on August 17, 2018, by Bob Rehak

353 Days since Hurricane Harvey