Sunday, May 9th will mark a special day in the history of flood mitigation. We will have spent more time responding to Hurricane Harvey – and accomplishing little – than it took us to win World War II. December 7, 1941 to VJ Day on August 15, 1945 was 1349 days. On May 9, 2021, it will have been 1349 days since Hurricane Harvey ravaged Texas and the Gulf Coast.
What Happened to American Determination and Unity?
After Harvey, we stood united in a sense of grief, loss and determination. We vowed to implement measures that would make us more resilient against such storms in the future.
In the Lake Houston Area, we had a three part mitigation strategy:
- More upstream detention to help offset future releases from Lake Conroe.
- Dredging to eliminate blockages in the rivers.
- Additional flood gates on Lake Houston so we can shed water as fast as Lake Conroe sends it downstream.
Less in. Faster through. More out.
Grading the Report Card
So how have we done?
- We identified dozens of locations for public-sector upstream detention sites, but have yet to put a shovel in the ground at any one of them. We’re still in the grant application phase. For ONE.
- We’re still dredging the mouth bar on the San Jacinto West Fork that backed water up into thousands of homes and businesses.
- We have yet to start dredging the mouth bar on the San Jacinto East Fork.
- We are still debating a bill to form a Lake Houston Dredging and Maintenance District in the State legislature.
- We just finished a preliminary engineering study to add more flood gates to the Lake Houston dam. The second phase of the engineering study is just starting. The City hopes to finish it by September 2022 – five years after Harvey.
- We’ve completed a 3,600-page San Jacinto River Basin Master Drainage Plan, but have yet to prioritize, fund or implement one of its recommendations.
- We’re still waiting to hear about grants to study sedimentation; joint reservoir operations for Lakes Conroe and Houston; and more.
- We’re still fighting with each other over which neighborhood gets its flood mitigation projects started first.
- Upstream officials still turn a blind eye to violations of their own flood regulations designed to protect public safety…in order to attract new development.
- We haven’t yet finished distributing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to help people living in homes destroyed 1349 days ago.
- The winners of a HUD Hazard Mitigation Grant competition for Hurricane Harvey have yet to be announced.
- And the vast majority of money appropriated by Congress for Hurricane Harvey relief in February of 2018 has yet to work its way down to the local level.
We Need More Emphasis on Action
Imagine if we had still been studying an appropriate response to Pearl Harbor after 1349 Days. Somehow, we’ve confused studying problems with fixing them. Thought has become disconnected from action, or worse, substituted for it. This is not America’s finest hour.
We have compounded a natural disaster with:
- “Paralysis through analysis”
- Divided responses on the federal, state and local levels that have no central coordinator
- Contradictory priorities between upstream and downstream interests
- Complex, often contradictory, organizational requirements.
We CAN Be the Solution
We need to re-engineer business processes to focus on what matters:
- Helping people rebuild their homes, businesses and infrastructure…
- And reducing the risk of future disasters…
- In the least amount of time possible.
That’s it. It’s that simple. The first two are clear statements of intent to unify purpose. And the third is a simple goal by which everyone involved can measure individual efforts.
In the coming days, I will publish a series of articles on how to streamline the business processes built up around flood mitigation and disaster relief. One will be authored by George P. Bush, the state’s highest disaster relief official. And another will be anonymous to allow several people to speak freely and frankly.
My goal is to stimulate a public dialog that can help us get closer to the goals listed above.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/7/2021
1347 Days since Hurricane Harvey