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Nick Anderson's Editorial Cartoons

Published 2017-09-18 (Image 163054)

Hurricane Harvey was a wake-up call for Houston, the state of Texas, and for the entire United States. Sploosh. In the wake of Harvey, we are facing the prospect of multi-billion-dollar clean-up and flood control projects. Damn. Damn! Price tag. Many local officials an armchair pundits ridicule the idea that development contributes to flooding. Phooey! But what we fail to recognize is that weve been systematically destroying the existing flood control system: Wetlands and prairies. They are mother natures flood control system, and she provided them to us for free. I was hoping for a Porsche ... In fact, the reason that wetlands even exist is because of periodic flooding. They absorb water during a flood and slowly release it during dry periods, and they filter out toxins and pollutants in the process. We are literally developing land that nature has designated as flood-detention reservoirs. Then we wonder why theres water in our houses. With porous soils and vegetation that has complex and deep root systems. Wetlands act as giant sponges during a flood. Sponge Power!! But, instead of seeing them as the extraordinarily valuable assets they are, we see them as impediments to growth. We fill them in, pave them and build on them. In Harris County alone, almost 30 percent of freshwater wetlands have been lost to development between 1992 and 2010, according to Texas A&M scientist, John Jacob. He calls the situation "unconscionable." And climate change is complicating our situation. "More people die here than anywhere else from floods. More property per capita is lost here. And the problems getting worse," says Sam Brody, a Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher who specializes in natural hazards mitigation. Climate change is a hoax. The models predicting the chances of these floods happening need to be updated. Warmer water means more evaporation and more water vapor in the air. "The exact same storm that comes along today has more rain associated with it than it would have 50 or 100 years ago," said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech. As wetlands have been lost, the amount of impervious surface in Harris County increased by 25 percent from 1996 to 2011, Brody added. To be sure, the sheer amount of rainfall Harvey dumped on Houston would result in massive flooding no matter what. But measures can be taken to make it less catastrophic. When developers destroy wetlands, they are required to create new ones to offset the ones lost. But, according to a Texas A&M/HARC study that reviewed permits issued to local developers by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, more than half were not in compliance. Those permits required the developers to take steps to mitigate wetlands destroyed by their construction. But apparently the work was not done. Permit. Permit. Permit. Permit. Permit. Permit. Local officials and boosters love to tout Houstons relatively low housing costs. But is it cheap when we have to spend billions on flood control after the fact? Is it cheap when we factor in higher insurance costs and taxpayer-subsidized federal flood insurance repair of houses built in floodplains? And it is far, far cheaper to preserve these valuable wetlands and greenspaces than it is to build flood mitigation infrastructure later on. Houstons population is expected to grow by three to four million over the next 30 years. Are we going to continue the same policies or will we learn from our mistakes? Again? Disclosure: This cartoon was underwritten by Bayou City Waterkeeper, whose mission is to ensure the aquatic integrity of the Loser Galveston Bay watershed by focusing on the protection of wetlands and other critical habitats, advocating for adequate mitigation of lost wetland resources and enforcing all aspects of compliance with the Clean Water Act. It is based on research by The Texas Tribune/ProPublica and Bayou City Waterkeeper scientists.

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