Houston Voters Against Flooding

A local attorney, who specializes in environmental issues, says the city of Houston is being redesigned by flooding, one home and one neighborhood at a time. As Houston Public Radio's Paul Pendergraft reports, neighborhoods that never used to be affected by high water, now experience flooding with regularity. The problem is being blamed on upstream development.

That's the claim of Jim Blackburn who is organizing a group called "Houston Voters Against Flooding". He says their mission is to educate voters and candidates running for office and he wants flooding concerns to be an issue in the upcoming election. Blackburn says Houston is completely reliant on a series of relatively small bayous, creeks and other watersheds. And over the years, Blackburn says our growth and extensive development has replaced green space with concrete.

"We've sort of expanded outward in concentric rings and we're dumping more and more storm water back on where we left. We're spoiling our own nest with floodwaters as we expand."

Blackburn says the remarkable upstream development in west and northwest Harris County has produced unintended consequences downstream.

"On White Oak Bayou, in the 1996 flood plain map, basically showed from say Loop 610 down to I-10, in sort of the Houston Heights area back up in there...basically it's a concrete channel through that area. And the flood plain was shown to be restricted to that channel. The flood plain today is over a mile wide in many areas in there."

Blackburn says there are solutions, but they'll require a real change in how local governments and the office holders regulate upstream development.

"Flooding is a land development phenomenon. And our concern about property rights has led Houston to have relatively little regulation and there's certain types of regulation we need."

Blackburn says the county now requires detention ponds as a part of any new upstream development but in many cases they're not working as designed or in some cases, not even built at all….and the unsuspecting victims downstream are being flooded for no fault of their own.

"Houston is being redesigned by flooding and you will see over time the evacuation of these flood prone areas because as houses get flooded two or three or four times, the federal government will get tired of paying flood insurance payments and will come in a buy ‘em out or Harris County will buy ‘em out. It's the right thing for Harris County to do. They're partly responsible for the problem, but I think more importantly, it's a major policy initiative and will be a major design aspect for the future of the city."

To that end, Blackburn's group plans candidate and voter forums in the coming months as the election season heats up. Paul Pendergraft, HPRNews.

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Paul Pendergraft

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Paul Pendergraft is KUHF-Houston Public Radio’s Senior Producer for News & Public Affairs...