Urban sprawl and climate change create an environmental double-threat for many cities throughout the United States. Increased infrastructure, housing projects and roads prevent the slow, natural, absorption of rainwater into the ground, and often require vast networks of drainage corridors to disperse water as quickly as possible. This, in conjunction with more intense and more pervasive weather events, creates a real problem for cities.
In Houston, city leaders are now addressing this through a series of new green infastructure projects that will reclaim nearly 200 miles of natural waterways, and thousands of acres of green-spaces. The goal: to provide rainfall a place to naturally reincorporate back into the ecosystem, thereby mitigating the damaging effects of flooding.
The project is about more than water. The new green spaces will provide economic dividends, drive property values up, and will help naturally filter pollutants from tainted water sources. The new project is also facilitating new levels of community engagement—connecting residents with their municipal officials to plan for disasters before they happen. When city officials lead, residents respond, and the municipal leaders in Houston provide an excellent example of community preparedness in the drive towards the Path to Positive Communities.
Memorial Day barbecues and parades were thwarted this year in Houston when a massive storm dumped more than 10 inches of rain in two days, creating a Waterworld of flooded freeways, cars, houses and businesses, leaving several people dead and hundreds in need of rescue.
But it was a predictable disaster. That’s because, thanks to a pro-development bent, the magnitude of stormwater runoff has increased dramatically as Houston has sprawled across 600 or so square miles of mud plain veined with rivers, sealing under asphalt the floodplains and adjoining prairies that once absorbed seasonal torrential rains and planting development in harm’s way. Land subsidence from groundwater pumping and oil and gas development and, now, sea level rise and more frequent and severe storms are applying additional pressure from Galveston Bay, which sits just east of the city of 2.2 million.
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