The developer of a proposed new high-rise resort in Kingwood plans to develop the marina portion in an area that was once the riverbed of the San Jacinto west fork.
Aerial photos taken in 1943 clearly show the outline of an old meander about .4 miles north of the current riverbed.
Google Earth lets users trace a path and then save it, like I have with this orange line.
Here is the same path superimposed over current conditions.
Dangers of Building in Old Stream and Riverbeds
During major floods, water often follows these old streams and riverbeds. Many neighborhoods in Houston discovered this danger during Harvey. Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett often questioned the wisdom of such developments because of their susceptibility to flooding – even after mitigation.
Here are two examples that show such developments encroaching on waterways and separating them from their floodplains. In the first example, the waterway was obliterated. In the second, White Oak Bayou, the waterway still exists. However, the flood plain has been developed. Despite mitigation efforts during development, the neighborhoods around White Oak Bayou have suffered severe and repeated flooding.
Why Do We Continue to Develop Flood Plains?
This brochure, Why We Continue to Develop Floodplains: Examining the Disincentives for Conservation in Federal Policy, is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the financial logic behind developments like this one. A group called Earth Economics developed it. Zachary Christin, Project Director for Earth Economics, and Michael Kline, from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, authored it with support from the Kresge Foundation. This report investigates whether current federal policy is structured to prevent future flood damage or if incentives lead to further floodplain development.
The basic premise may rub many Texans the wrong way, but you should still read it. “Flood risk management,” the authors argue, “seeks to enable communities to live nearby by controlling rivers with levee systems and other structures. This false sense of protection places families and infrastructure at risk in a climate that is changing beyond our capacity to maintain protections against its effects. Rather than attempting to control our country’s powerful rivers, we should instead control how and where we allow human activities.”
Confining streams, they argue, merely shifts flood risk downstream. The authors explore the benefits and the natural protective qualities of healthy, functional floodplains. They then discuss the causes of floodplain destruction and investigate the policies that further incentivize their development. Finally, they outline paths forward to create new floodplain policy. You may disagree with the premise. But it contains many powerful observations and statistics.
As always, these represent my opinions on matters of public policy. They are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP statute of the Great State of Texas.
Posted by Bob Rehak on January 2, 2019
491 Days since Hurricane Harvey