I smelled it before I could see it. While flying up the San Jacinto West Fork on 6/16/2020, acrid smoke from burning trees filled the air for miles. Then I saw it. The comforting, green blanket of trees that surrounds Houston had another massive gash in it. This is one of the main ways flooding starts. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to destroy nature to profit from it.
Death of a Thousand Cuts
You’ve heard it. A thousand times. “What I do on my property is my own damn business.”
Extrapolate that out a hundred years. Multiply it times millions of people. Before you know it, you have…Houston. And flooding. Often born out of lack of awareness of alternatives.
How Trees Reduce Flooding
Google “role of trees in reducing flooding” and you will get 240 million results. Here are some of the main ways.
Trees reduce flooding by:
- Soaking up water. According to the USDA, a typical medium-sized tree can intercept as much as 2380 gallons of rainfall per year.
- Anchoring topsoil. They reduce erosion which can clog rivers and streams.
- Slowing down floods. Forests create friction that reduces the speed of floodwaters. That increases the time of accumulation and reduces flood destructiveness. The runoff coefficient for a watershed is the fraction of rainfall on that watershed that becomes storm water runoff. Forests reduce it.
- Breaking up heavy downpours. Leaves and forest canopies catch rain and let it drip gently to the ground, again reducing erosion.
- Increasing surface area where rainfall can land and evaporate. A forest may provide hundreds of leaves where water can land and stand between the sky and ground until evaporation takes it away.
This page by the EPA contains an excellent summary of the benefits and dozens of documented case histories from all over the county.
Alternatives to Clearcutting
Whole industries are set up around clear cutting. Try to build something someday. Most likely everyone from architects to engineers, land clearing companies, and building contractors will tell you that trees are a nuisance during construction. They say it’s best to get rid of them and replant when you’re done building.
I’m not a professional developer. But I did construct an award-winning office building in the forest without killing everything around me. I even managed to preserve a small patch of wetlands with a seasonal pond on the property. It became the focal point of the main entry. Deer routinely grazed outside my windows. Hawks hunted on the property. Everyone felt connected to nature.
You Don’t Have to Destroy Nature to Profit From It
The Texas Society of Architects named it one of the top 25 buildings in Texas the year it was built. And the American Institute of Architects gave the building its highest award for Environmental Design. People loved the relaxed atmosphere of working in the building; nature has a soothing quality. My company’s productivity and profits soared. And when it came time to retire, I sold the building for a nice profit that lets me live comfortably.
All it took was a vision and the determination to build a team of contractors who shared it.
These are the kind of stories you don’t hear from people who make their money with bulldozers.
Oh, and by the way. The building never flooded. Never even came close. Nor did anyone ever say that I was making their flooding problems worse.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 6/27/2020 with thanks to Melton Henry Architects and Crawford Construction
1034 Days after Hurricane Harvey