September 8th, 2010
Don’t Jump the Shark (or the High Water)
I have a decent drive to work each day. I go the opposite direction of traffic and usually only deal with backups right in the downtown area. However, my commute involves I-10 East or “The Beast” as it is affectionately known. Like I-45, I-10 East has a nasty habit of flooding during moderate rain storms. While driving yesterday and experiencing high water I wondered why roadway flooding is such a problem in Houston and what the city actually does about it.
Flooding in Houston has always been somewhat of an issue due to the bayou system, but it has been compounded by the growth of the city and the lack of upkeep on certain roads. Already I can hear the yelling, “but Stephan, city growth is a good thing!” Yes, growth certainly is a good thing, but it requires responsible planning and foresight.
In the early days of bayou modifications the goal was to get the water to drain faster from the watershed area and out to sea. This meant the use of concrete to channel the bayous and move the water along in a somewhat controlled manner. You see this today still, and it would be fine except for the fact that with increased growth in the far reaches of the city there is increased runoff. With more water in the bayous it becomes more difficult for water to drain from the streets at a rate consistent with rainfall.
The bayous are not the only problem though, the city is partially to blame as well as the we, the residents. There are numerous areas where the drainage system is either backed up or is not big enough to handle the large amounts of water. I-45 at Tidwell is one of the first that comes to mind. That area seems to be flooded any time there is more than an inch of rain. I-10 at Wayside also has issues with drainage but the city seems to have caught on and updated it slightly. And major intersections aren’t the only flooding prone areas, just look at Montrose and Allen Parkway or good chunks of Westheimer near Lamar High School or even North Main north of Cavalcade.
The city seems to take these flooded areas seriously, but only while they’re flooded. After the water is gone a collective amnesia comes over the public works folks and nothing is done until the next heavy rain event. I give the city workers credit though, I saw them out unclogging drainage grates yesterday and they were working as quickly as possible. Without full responsibility resting on the city workers we have to look for another culprit to share the blame.
This is where we, the inhabitants of our city come in. Throw your trash away. Pick up trash that you see on your street. Pick up yard clippings and debris. All of this contributes to street flooding by clogging the drainage grates on neighborhood streets and in some cases freeways. At I-10 and Lockwood yesterday there was a lot of high water. The city workers came out and used long steel poles to unclog the drain and within five minutes there was no water on the roadway. Maybe we just need that Star Wars thing – not the Rancor nor the burger that carries its name – that lived in the giant garbage compactor sitting in the drain pipes, fixing all of our problems.
There are a lot of culprits in the high water times of Houston and of course we can do our part, but should we be pushing the city to do more to fix these issues? Maybe a visit to a council meeting is the next step. I mean, some find it entertaining to watch the news at night and see people pushing their cars through four feet of water at a busy intersection, me, I just see it as unnecessary. Sure, those people should know better than to drive through that much water, but there shouldn’t be that much water on the road in the first place, especially not during what most would consider a “normal” rain event.
Maybe I’m just worried about bull sharks swimming up our bayous and devouring me, but I think the street flooding is something the city could certainly take a serious look at and consider fixing.