Sowing the Seeds of the Next Big Flood

To paraphrase a Biblical saying, “You reap what you sow.” This quote has both positive and negative connotations. In a positive sense, it means “The more seeds you plant, the more you harvest.” In a negative sense, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”

Parallel with Flood Control

That’s quite true of flood control where, as a society, we seem to have a knack for eroding margins of safety by paving over wetlands, clearcutting trees, understating detention requirements, avoiding floodwater detention, destroying riparian vegetation, building in floodplains, developing next to rivers, sand mining in floodways without minimum setbacks, and more.

Examples from Recent Posts

There’s the development in Spring that chopped down trees along the Spring Creek Greenway.

Where Breckenridge East Crosses Spring Creek Greenway
Where Breckenridge East Crosses Spring Creek Greenway is circled in red.

A new development next to Kingwood along the West Fork that will pave over wetlands.

Northpark South
Future site of Northpark South subdivision at Northpark Drive and Sorters-McClellan Road. Grassy area in forest is wetlands.

Where 131 homes will be built 9-to-the-acre, five feet apart, right next to a tributary of Bens Branch.

Preserve At Woodridge Forest. Looking West.

The 17-acre RV Park whose engineering plans show that the amount of impervious cover didn’t change even after adding 25% more paving to the site. And whose detention pond will be 50% smaller than current standards thanks to a technicality in the submission date of the original plans.

Drainage from Cleared Area will be funneled toward Lakewood Cove homes in foreground.
Drainage from cleared area will be funneled toward Lakewood Cove homes in foreground. Detention pond will be about half of current standard.

Avoiding construction of detention ponds by exaggerating the infiltration rates of soil types.

Lack of detention ponds in Colony Ridge contributed to wash out FM1010 in Liberty County near Plum Grove. Soil surveys claimed soil was more sandy than clay-based, which contradicted USDA findings.

Sand mines that build stockpiles in floodways.

Stockpile at Triple PG Mine in Porter lies at the confluence of two floodways – Caney Creek in foreground and White Oak Creek in woods in background.

Engineers who try to “beat the peak” of a flood by getting their floodwater to the river faster so they don’t have to build detention ponds.

2200-acre Artavia Development in Montgomery County dumps floodwater and silt into West Fork after channeling drainage through sand mines.

Developers that build new homes closer to the river than destroyed homes now being bought out just a mile upstream.

Kings Harbor Condos within feet of West Fork

Ex Post Facto Analysis Won’t Be Needed After Next Flood

I could cite hundreds of more examples, but you get the idea. This is like death by a thousand cuts. When the next big flood comes along, someone will ask, “How’d that happen?” And the answer will be, “We reaped what we sowed.”

It’s been 1536 Days since Hurricane Harvey. If ever there was a wake-up call, Harvey was it. 

  • More than one out of every ten structures in Harris County flooded.
  • 60,000 people had to be rescued by government agencies.
  • Civilian resources rescued tens of thousands more.
  • 300,000 vehicles flooded.
  • 22 major freeways were cut off and impassable.

Damage totaled $125 billion. FEMA:

  • Processed 47,000 flood insurance claims.
  • Made 15,800 small business loans…
  • And approved 177,600 individual assistance grants.

68 people died directly in Harvey, most from being caught in fast-moving floodwaters.

And we’re spending more than $5 billion on flood mitigation projects in Harris County.

“It Didn’t Have to Be that Bad”

The saddest part is…it didn’t have to be that bad. 

A lot of death, damage and destruction could have been avoided…FOR FREE. If only we had learned to listen to and respect Mother Nature more.

That’s a conclusion I have reached after four years of research into flooding in the North Houston area.

My voyage of discovery turned into this website where I share what I learn virtually every day and sometimes twice a day. 

The next step in my journey will be to condense everything I’ve learned into a book that hopefully becomes a case study in how to reduce flood damage.

The major themes will be:

  1. Understanding the causes of flooding
  2. How nobody ever wins an argument with Mother Nature.
  3. Learning to respect rivers and giving them room to roam.
  4. Ending the war on wetlands.
  5. Respecting individual property rights while recognizing our interdependence.
  6. Finding a workable balance between upstream and downstream interests.
  7. How conservation and preservation can be so much more effective than mitigation.
  8. How quickly we forget…and trick ourselves into thinking next time will be different.

In the coming weeks, I hope to explore solutions to some of the problems above. If we can learn to work together, we can live together. And if we protect Mother Nature, Mother Nature will protect us. Let’s reap what we sow in a positive sense next time.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 11/16/21 with grateful thanks to Bayou Land Conservancy and its supporters

1540 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.