Houston, Texas, is a classic example of tough choices that face the good folks who are in municipal planning. Having spent the last 25 years involved with Planning Commissions and Zoning Boards and getting halfway through a Master’s in Public Administration, and working in two different states, I have seen the hard choices first hand.
The way to handle the risk primarily is to set a limit; an area must survive a 40-, 50-, or even a 100-year flood. Houston is an example of a storm no one could have planned for. Some early estimates place it as a 500- to 1000-year event. To my knowledge no government in the world is prepared for a 1000-year storm.
We are starting the carping and harping about whose fault it is; the Mayor of Houston, a Democrat, told the folks not to evacuate. His rationale was sound, and if the storm had acted as predicted, like thousands of storms before it, he would have been correct. The Governor of Texas, a Republican, ordered an evacuation. At this point pointing fingers and fixing blame is an exercise in futility, but it will be done in earnest.
No one in municipal planning whom I have ever read or studied advocated a standard of protection from a thousand-year flood. To require that level of engineering and construction would cost an enormous amount and just be plainly impractical. In Allegan County, the good folks who plan for flood control are the Allegan County Drain Commissioners’ office. In my experience, they do a good job; however, it is not easy for them. Folks just do not want to spend money for retention or detention ponds on ground that the owners know has not flooded in 30 years. Builders and contractors do not want to spend the extra dollars for flood protection/prevention. Most folks do not want to clean out the drainage system; indeed, they often use them as dumping grounds.
The thing that folks do not understand is that floods are an accumulation event; your property may not flood, but the water coming from the impervious surfaces on your property will flood folks out downstream. Depending on your location, you may be downstream.
To this day we maintain bugout bags; living overseas in Asia and Europe they were required. Today we are not directly concerned with the Russians attacking through the Fulda Gap, or the North Koreans invading across the Han River, but the concept of the bugout bag is still good. Natural disasters may occur, and forearming your family with the basics of life is a sound idea. A supply of food and potable water for a few days is recommended by FEMA. We prefer to keep a few weeks supply on hand.
Prevention is still the best cure for any disaster. Every square inch of impervious surface you construct adds to the flooding problems: roads, drives, roofs, barns, patios, parking areas. As Martin, Moline, Dorr, Wayland and Hopkins grow, we all add millions of gallons of storm water runoff to the drain system. It is in our best interest to support a very aggressive and protective Allegan County Storm Water Management plan.
A flood of the magnitude we find in Houston cannot be controlled, but aggressive management just may protect our families and property from a lesser storm. It is short sighted and old-fashioned stupid not to vote for the needed funds or openly support the good folks who are protecting us from flooding. A few dollars spent in prevention are worth thousands in disaster recovery. All good municipal planners know that we do not plan for today, but for generations yet born.
Robert M. Traxler, Dorr Township