City of Houston Releases “Living With Water™” Report

More than 850 days after Hurricane Harvey, the City of Houston has released a 170-page report called Living with Water™. (Caution: 60-meg download.)

A Primer on Green Flood Mitigation

In many ways, Living with Water is a primer on flood mitigation in the Bayou City. It lays out many of the problems we face as a region. It also points to many innovative solutions. It even takes three neighborhoods within the City (Greenspoint, Kashmere Gardens, and Independence Heights) and shows how various “green” strategies could reduce flood risk.

So far, nothing to argue with. The primary value of Living with Water lies in raising awareness of opportunities that can be used to solve problems throughout the region.

High-Level Ideas with No Actionable Plan Yet

But if you were looking for specifics – case studies, costs, plans, timetables, and budget line items associated with recommendations – you will be sorely disappointed. This isn’t that kind of report. And the absence of those specifics 887 days after Harvey will frustrate many who believe we should be far past brainstorming at this point.

Living with Water contains many magic-wand solutions that people in workshops often develop.

For instance, they identified “cooperation” as a strategy. Yet they failed to identify how to get upstream interests to factor downstream impacts into their development costs willingly.

From 2001 to 2016, most new development took place outside the Houston city limits. Yet during the first two decades of this century, the region added approximately three million people, nearly doubling in size. This creates development pressure in low-lying and risky areas that can impact downstream areas.

Another example: the creation of “interceptor streets.” They are never fully defined, but have something to do with storing stormwater under historic streets. Ten years after the implementation of the drainage fee, have we had one such project developed anywhere in the City?

Finally: a recommendation to “Bring back the prairie.” Great. Now how?

The Benefit: A Shared Vision of the Future

Regardless, it’s important that we share a possible vision of the future if we are ever to agree politically on solutions. Living with Water paints a positive vision of what that future could be. It also provides many tangible examples of how we could get there.

In the end, people will remember Living with Water for one thing. It shows how we could turn stormwater from the enemy into a series of amenities that enrich City life.

Whether this effort turns into reality or “credenza-ware” will depend on how quickly the City can implement pilot programs that demonstrate practical, achievable, cost-effective, flood-reducing benefits.

Posted by Bob Rehak on February 2, 2020

887 Days after Hurricane Harvey