With Hurricane Harvey barreling towards the Texas coast, this might be a good time to revisit “Hell and High Water,” an excellent multimedia project on Houston’s dire flood situation that was put together by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune late last year.
The project explores how a combination of climate change, governmental incompetence and unfettered urban development has worked together to increase Houston’s risk of suffering from catastrophic flood events.
As the fourth largest city in the nation, the devastation of Houston in a catastrophic flooding event would have far reaching consequences, not just for the city, but also for the rest of the nation.
A massive storm, like the one currently barreling towards our city, could potentially devastate the Houston Ship Channel, which is one of the worlds busiest shipping lanes.
Nearby the channel are 10 major oil refineries and dozens of chemical manufacturing plants.
The ProPublica project points out that “the Ship Channel is a crucial transportation route for crude oil and other key products, such as plastics and pesticides. A shutdown could lead to a spike in gasoline prices and many consumer goods — everything from car tires to cell phone parts to prescription pills.”
According to Patrick Jankwoski, vice president for research at the Greater Houston Partnership, such an event would affect supply chains across the U.S.
“It would probably affect factories and plants in every major metropolitan area in the U.S.,” Jankwoski told ProPublica.
In addition to the havoc that would wreak on the nation’s economy, certain neighborhoods in and around Houston, like Meyerland and the Clear Lake area, would be totally devastated by catastrophic flooding. Clear Lake, home to the Johnson Space Center, is of particular concern. ProPublica estimates that “Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses there would be severely flooded.”
The project also points out that public officials in Houston have done little in terms of planning for ways to help protect the area from potential mass flood events, in spite of the fact that its already been eight years since Ike devastated the Houston area.
“We’re sitting ducks. We’ve done nothing.” said Phil Bedient, an engineering professor at Rice University and co-director of the Storm Surge Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center, to ProPublica “We’ve done nothing to shore up the coastline, to add resiliency … to do anything.”
If you haven’t read the piece, now is definitely a good time to familiarize yourself with its findings. Moving forward, massive flooding is going to continue to be something Houston residents are going to have to contend with. That is unless the city acts fast to mitigate its vulnerability to such events.