Rice Professor Says Do As The Dutch Do

A Rice University Engineering Professor believes Houston-Galveston officials should learn from the Dutch when it comes to hurricane flood prevention.

After the North Sea storm of 1953, the Netherlands needed a way to protect the largest port in Europe. They came up with a large flood gate that stays open most of the time and can close during a high storm surge.

Philip Bediant at Rice University believes the same should be done to protect the Houston Ship Channel.

"Now we find ourselves in a situation where the Houston Ship Channel is the premier energy center, pretty much in the U.S. and Ike warned us and told us that the ship channel area is quite vulnerable to this type of flooding."

Bediant and his team of researchers at Rice have four proposals they believe will help minimize the damage cause by future hurricanes. The flood gate idea may sound obvious for an area that can be prone to flooding, but until now Bediant says it hasn’t really been talked about.

"Katrina is what turned everybody’s head, you know turned everybody around. Katrina and the surge — the 28 foot surge — and then our surge, which was 18 feet, those two events sort of generated all this interest in us starting to think about what we might be able to do about it."

The gate he proposes would be about 3-tenth of a mile. While it would take lots of money plus time to be approved, he believes it can happen a lot sooner than another idea being proposed: the Ike dike, which is basically a long barrier that would protect the Galveston Island and Bolivar Penninsula.  Bediant says that project would likely take decades to get approved and completed, while a flood gate could be built in just a few years.

"We’ve taken the concept out and visited with the Port of Houston and we visited and presented this idea to various industrial groups along the ship channel and it's generally been received very positively. We haven’t figured out the funding mechanism yet and we haven’t figured out all of the details yet but from a general concept stand point it’s been very well received in the community."

So how does something like this get built? The professor isn’t exactly sure because the funding and approval would likely come from sources on the federal, state and local levels. But for now he and his partners at Rice plan to continue talking with public officials, community members and whoever wants to listen.

For more information, read Learning the Lessons of Hurricane Ike: Preparing for the Next Big One.