After breathing a sigh of relief once I got word my best friend and his wife were safe after the initial damage from Hurricane Harvey (the secondary rains were falling when this issue went to print), I wanted to understand if some of the damage in the Houston area could have been mitigated.
Sure enough, according to a Wall Street Journal article by Dan French and Cameron McWhirter, it seems if the city’s drainage infrastructure was stronger the region might have been able to handle the rains better. Harvey would still have been a crippling storm, no doubt, but any relief would have been welcome.
The Wall Street Journal notes Houston’s recent construction boom impeded drainage capabilities. The city has undertaken many large-scale projects in recent years, such as apartment and office complexes, shopping malls and road construction that increased the amount of pavement in the region. Because of these developments, the heavy rains of Harvey flowed into other neighborhoods rather than the soil.
The newspaper article notes Houston’s drainage system was outdated, a network built in the early 20th century to sustain 10-year flood levels. Finally, French and McWhirter note building regulations don’t take into account historic flooding levels. New buildings in Houston are required to be built at 12-in. above 100-year-flooding levels. This means there is a 1% chance the area would be slammed with flood-level rain in one year.
Unfortunately, that 1% chance came in and then some. As of press time, Harris County had reached 500-year flood levels.
There is no doubt development is crucial to our industry and our nation, but maybe for the first time infrastructure upgrades are even more important. If Houston improved its drainage capabilities, the devastation would have been slightly less harmful to the residents and businesses in Houston.
It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to fully come to grips with the damage Hurricane Harvey brought to Houston, but this is another warning sign that the U.S. needs a major reworking of its water infrastructure.
Crossing Ts and dotting Is
In happier news, make sure to check out our profile on Randy Olson, P.E. Olson, a partner with Minneapolis-based engineering firm Dunham Associates, is pme’s 2017 Plumbing Engineer of the Year.
Olson is one of the most thoughtful people I have met during my time in the industry. His love for understanding how products work showed through when I saw how carefully he considered each of my questions during our time together in mid-August.
Olson makes sure to look at everything he does from all angles to come up with the ideal solution for a project, whether talking with me about his time in the industry and his job responsibilities, learning how PEX products can be married with CPVC and cast iron to create a plumbing system for an apartment complex or how to keep his car running smoothly with more than 175,000 miles on it.
Olson pays attention to the details and our industry is lucky to have him.