The Terra News
16Jun/17Off

Houston fears climate change will cause catastrophic flooding: ‘It’s not if, it’s when’

Human activity is worsening the problem in an already rainy area, and there could be damage worthy of a disaster movie if a storm hits the industrial section

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Houston has more casualties and property loss from floods than any other locality in the US. Photograph: David J Phillip/AP

    Friday 16 June 2017 06.00 EDT

    Sam Brody is not a real estate agent, but when his friends want to move home they get in touch to ask for advice. He is a flood impact expert in Houston – and he has plenty of work to keep him busy.

    The Texas metropolis has more casualties and property loss from floods than any other locality in the US, according to data stretching back to 1960 that Brody researched with colleagues. And, he said, “Where the built environment is a main force exacerbating the impacts of urban flooding, Houston is number one and it’s not even close.”

    Near the Gulf Coast, Houston is also at annual risk from hurricanes: it is now into the start of the 2017 season, which runs from this month to November. Ike, the last hurricane to hit the Houston region, caused $34bn in damage and killed 112 people across several states in September 2008.

    There is little hope the situation is going to get better any time soon. Earlier this month, days after Donald Donald Trump announced the US will withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, a new report warned that rare US floods will become the norm if emissions are not cut.

    Brody, a professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University’s Galveston campus said the requests for help in Houston from people moving homes inspired him to create a forthcoming web tool so that people can type in an address and get a risk score.

    “If you can see your crime statistics, shouldn’t you be able to see your flood risk also? And other risks as well, human-induced risks?” he said. The site will be named Buyers Be-Where.

    In May 2015, eight people, many of them motorists, died in Harris County when a storm dropped 11in of rain in parts of the city in 10 hours.

    Last year, another six lost their lives in an April storm that hurled 240bn gallons of water at the Houston area. An inch of rain fell over the county in only five minutes, with a peak of 16.7in in 12 hours.

    The events damaged thousands of homes, turning major freeways into canals and piling up vehicles as if they were in a junkyard. The 2016 flood cost an estimated $2.7bn in losses and prompted more than 1,800 high water rescues.

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    Homes and property are flooded due to heavy rains in Richmond, Texas in June 2016. Photograph: Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Significant rains have always been a feature of life in south-east Texas. What bothers Brody and local environmentalists is the extent to which human activity is making things worse.

    “Houston is situated in a low-lying coastal area with poorly draining soils and is subject to heavy rainfall events and storm surge events, which makes it very prone to flooding. And the climate is changing. In Galveston Bay the sea level is rising. We know the area is experiencing more heavy downpours,” Brody said.

    “It pales in comparison with the other driving force, which is the built environment. If you’re going to put 4 million people in this flood-vulnerable area in a way which involves ubiquitous application of impervious surfaces, you’re going to get flooding.”

    In other words: there is a lot of concrete in Houston. In 2000, 4.7 million people lived in the Houston metropolitan area. Now the population is about 6.5 million. While efforts are under way to densify and improve public transport in the urban core, much of the growth has been suburban, where houses are big and cheap and commuters drive long distances on some of the world’s widest freeways. The city keeps loosening its belt: a third ring-road cuts through exurbs some 30 miles from downtown, spurring more expansion.

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/16/texas-flooding-houston-climate-change-disaster

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