Floods

Floods  greg gerritt August 19 2016

I was at a convention in Houston recently and spent most of my spare time heading over to the bayou and the greenway. Houston has had some very damaging floods this year, and since this is a trend, you see quite a bit of work aimed at greening the stormwater system since otherwise the floods will just get larger. I do not remember the name of the bayou or greenway but it was along McGregor near the University of Houston. I do remember how hot it was walking around in Houston in early August.

The layout was 15 foot high sloped concrete walls periodically interrupted by very large drain pipes with stormwater coming from the neighborhood. The manhole covers in the neighborhood said stormwater. Above the 15 ft walls was a gassy terrace on both sides of the river. Obviously constructed, and the construction was continuing downstream towards the gulf. Then the land sloped up another 10 or 15 feet to the street. The river had to rise at least 25 feet to get to the houses. The last morning I was there I ran into a woman the exact same age as my late mother walking her dog. We started talking about the amazing Alligator Gar in the river. The Gar are a very primitive fish and in this case there were about 50 of them hanging around on this stretch of bayou, ranging in size from 1 foot to 3 foot. She was a native. She told me that one of the recent floods the water had come within a few feet of her door. The floods have been noticeably more frequent. Houston was not a very large city in her youth.

Now we have Baton Rouge. 40000 homes damaged, some lives lost, many people losing just about everything.

People paying attention to issues of stormwater and climate in the community know what is happening. But the anti science climate denying agenda funded by the Christian right, the fossil fuel industry, and the Giant Agro /chemical companies, with an assist from the real estate industry, speculators, and the auto and construction industries, do not want the truth to come out and have managed to suppress the debate so far. But the facade is cracking. And the resistance to the fossil fuels and building in wetlands is growing and ever more successful.

Increased flooding is caused by over paving, destruction of soils and forests, and climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels. We remove the trees, grasslands and soils that absorb the rain. We straighten rivers and channelize them rather than allowing them room to roam. People have good reasons to live by the water, but when many people do it damages the resource and makes the community less resilient. But Americans are not allowed to create thriving economies without more and more paving and building. Real estate players have captured much of the local governance in the US and that means no respect for the water.

The worst thing to do would be to rebuild in the same places. It will flood again. It will also lead to gentrification as the poorer folks have to sell the land because they can not afford to rebuild without the flood insurance that only a few had. What we need to do is reforest the land. Houston was a forest. Live Oaks and pine and all manner of things that are mostly gone. The land around Baton Rouge was similar. Pre european lots of forest, lots of farmers in the flood plains, lots of swamp and bayous and rivers. Lazing to the sea as it was so flat. Buildings on the high ground or designed to let the water through.

The land holds much less water when it rains. Deforestation and the automobile have altered the climate. The rainstorms are even larger. Kind of logical that when you keep adding energy to the system, you get more powerful storms. They run on heat. I remember some great storms and massive rains when i went to school in Athens GA many moons ago. It rains a lot in many parts of the the Southeast. Along the coasts and in the highlands. And I remember that the great storms were 8 , 10, maybe 12 inches of rain, not 24. This is climate change. The storms are bigger and our communities are ever more vulnerable.

For places like Houston, Baton Rouge, and even Providence to survive the rising seas and worsening storms, we are going to have to retreat from the waters, reforest the watersheds, stop building fossil fuel projects of any kind, and commit to building smart resilient communities that are based on green energy, ecological healing and economic justice. The retreat from the waters must be done equitably and communities must have real choices beyond staying in the way of disaster or being gentrified.

The politicians that dominate the air waves these days are either in denial about climate change whole hog, or accepting of climate change without ever thinking about what we now HAVE to commit ourselves to doing if our communities are to thrive in the brave new world. If we do not, expect more floods. This time, instead of cutting trees to build an ark, we have to plant them to soak up the carbon and the water.

Vote Green in 2016