Houston Matters

Houston Has Too Much Pavement — But Could Permeable Materials Help?

Permeable pavement allows water to seep through to the ground below, preventing it from overwhelming storm drains.

Permeable Concrete
Michael Bratton of Piper Whitney Construction holds a sample of water-permeable concrete.

Too much pavement. That was one of the oft-cited reasons Houston flooded so badly during Harvey – and why it seems to flood so easily during other times of heavy rain.

The next logical conclusion is to pave over less of our green space, right?

Well, yeah. But even if we dramatically expanded light rail and thousands of additional Houstonians committed to taking the bus, we’re still in this massive, heavily-populated metropolitan area that continues to grow and still needs lots of roads and parking lots and sidewalks. And that means pavement.

So, what do we do — are we stuck in this cycle forever?

Permeable Grass Demo
A demonstration of how permeable surfaces, such as a flexible walkway material (upper left) and artificial grass (upper right) are sometimes layered over structural support (in this case a grid made from recycled tires) and a layer of rock on top of soil. The configuration allows water to pass through the top layers and into the ground, keeping them from rushing storm drains during heavy rainfall.

Not necessarily. There is, after all, permeable pavement — roads, driveways, parking lots, and walkways paved with materials that allow water to seep down into the soil below, keeping them from overwhelming storm drains during heavy rains.

Houston construction company Piper Whitney specializes in those materials, from concrete, to bricks, to artificial grass.

In the audio above, Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty visits with co-founders Kryshon and Michael Bratton to find out how permeable pavement works and the challenges and potential limitations of using those materials more often.

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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