Keeping Houses Out of Texas Floodwaters Could Cost Billions

We may have hit a dry spell with our weather but there are warnings that Houston — and Texas — should be making long-term improvements to deal with flooding. One preventative measure sounds amazingly simple.

Cypress trees uprooted along the Blanco River in Wimberely, Texas. This photo was taken on May 31st, a week after the May 24th flooding.


Back on May 26th, Houston woke up to flooded freeways and neighborhoods as bayous overflowed their banks. In the Texas Hill Country, homes and bridges washed away and levees broke.

But super-heavy rainfall is nothing new in Texas and in fact, it was years earlier that experts had warned that the state was doing dangerously little to minimize flood damage.

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“We gave flood control the grade of D,” said Curtis Beitel, president of the Texas chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

For years, they’ve been giving Texas bad grades for what they say is far too little spending on projects to reduce flood damage like channels, detention ponds, and levees. The Texas Water Development Board estimates there are nearly $14 billion dollars in such projects needed statewide.

Maybe that’s one reason Texas was once ranked number one in the nation for highest flood damage claims and in recent years has been surpassed only by Louisiana.

Civil engineer Beitel says studies have found that one of the most effective ways to reduce flood damage are building codes requiring that new structures be at least a couple feet above the expected flood level.

Houston’s code is now one foot.

“And we know that now. I really wish we’d known that a hundred years ago,” Beitel said.


Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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