The exponential growth of Houston has created a city at risk to devastating floods, according to Sam Brody, a flood impact expert and professor of urban planning at Texas A&M, in a June 16, 2017 article in The Guardian, where he said “it’s not if, but when” a natural disaster will strike the metropolis.
“Houston is situated in a low-lying coastal area with poorly draining soils and is subject to heavy rainfall events and storm surge events, which makes it very prone to flooding,” Brody told The Guardian’s Tom Dart. “If you’re going to put 4 million people in this flood-vulnerable area in a way which involves ubiquitous application of impervious surfaces, you’re going to get flooding.”
According to data assembled by Brody and colleagues at the Texas A&M Center for Texas Beaches and Shores, Houston has had more casualties and property loss from floods than any other locality in the country since 1960. He blames the residential expansion necessitated by a rapidly expanding population. With this expansion, new suburbs built on former farmlands replace water-retaining grasses and soil with non-absorbent surfaces, causing rainfall to run off into streams and water levels to rise.
“It is something that keeps me awake at night every June that rolls around, hurricane season, because it’s not if, it’s just when – and every year we put more people and critical assets in harm’s way,” Brody told The Guardian. “We keep rolling the dice and the stakes become higher.”
The increasing flood threat to the region inspired Brody to create a web tool, Buyers Beware, that enables potential homebuyers to assess the flood threat to Houston-area properties.
The website allows users to enter a street address and receive a graphic and statistical risk assessment for a specific property. Brody said homeowners are largely unaware of potential risks until it’s too late, and the website can provide a critical resource for existing and future property owners.
Houston has been the victim of dozens of hurricanes and storms in the past decade and the area is experiencing more heavy downpours than ever before.
Brody has a joint appointment to the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at the Texas A&M University College of Architecture and the Department of Marine Sciences at Texas A&M-Galveston. He is holder of the George P. Mitchell ’40 Chair in Sustainable Coasts and also director of the Environmental Planning and Sustainability Research Unit and the Center for Texas Beaches and Shores.