Tag Archive for: Living with Flooding

Living With Flooding

“Living with Flooding” by Jim Blackburn, J.D., answers many of the questions ordinary people have about flooding in Harris County. For instance:

  • What are the different causes of flooding?
  • What should I look for when buying a home?
  • How much of the county is really in a flood zone?
  • Do I need flood insurance?
  • How high should my home be above street level?
  • Am I in a floodplain?
  • Are floodplain maps accurate?
  • How far inland can storm surge from a hurricane spread?
  • How high should I elevate a house if I am in a coastal zone?
  • Why did I flood if I’m nowhere near a stream?
  • Who is responsible for fixing flood problems?
  • Whom should I call if I need help?
  • And more. Much more.

School districts throughout Harris County should make this required reading before graduation from high-school.

“This document should be considered as a beginning—an attempt to put in one place the type of information that will help Houston and Houstonians come out of the next flood in reasonably good shape,” says Blackburn.

About Jim Blackburn

Blackburn is Professor in the Practice of Environmental Law, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Rice University. He is also Co-director of Rice’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disaster (SSPEED) Center and a Faculty Scholar at the Baker Institute.

Minor parts of the document are dated now; Blackburn wrote it just months after Hurricane Harvey. For instance, it lists several officials who lost elections in 2018. But, by and large, he offers durable advice.

Learning to Live with Flooding

The premise behind Blackburn’s primer: we can never fully control flooding, so we need to learn to live with it. In that spirit, he offers 32 pages of practical advice.

A Vision for the Future

In addition to addressing the questions above, Blackburn lists several high-level, necessities for living with flooding.

Flood Smart Citizens Who Participate

“…we need to have an informed, flood-literate, and engaged populace. We get the government that we demand.” And “If we don’t demand and fight for a high-quality flood management, we will not get it.”

Make Room For Bayous and Creeks

“We have built too close to most of the area’s bayous and creeks.” “If water is given more space, we will discover, much like the Dutch, that we can co-exist with the water. But we should always respect it.”

Flood-literate Politicians

“We need politicians that are flood-literate, who can think for themselves about these issues.” Flooding is one of the greatest threats to “public health, life, and economic prosperity in this area.”

Focus on Those Who Are Here Now

“Our leaders must focus on those who live here now rather than those who are coming.” “Our attention should be on fixing the problems of existing, developed areas.” Not building the Grand Parkway to assist new development.


“Nothing is more important going forward than transparency in our flood control efforts and thinking.”

It’s hard to argue with any of these recommendations. Just a week before the third anniversary of Harvey, the greater Houston area still grapples with many of these issues.

  • Developers encroaching on floodways and floodplains.
  • Politicians who see lax regulation and enforcement of flood regulations as a tool to compete for new development.
  • The Grand Parkway expansion, arcing like an arrow across flood-prone farmland – with no vision for how to handle the runoff it could bring from hundreds of thousands of acres of new development.
  • Politicians diverting money from where voters intended it to go.

If we had another Harvey next week, scholars like Blackburn would write post-mortems that look very much like Living with Flooding. Except the intro would start with “We told you so.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 08/18/2020 with thanks to Jim Blackburn and the Baker Institute

1085 Days since Hurricane Harvey

Living with Flooding Copyright © 2017 by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University.