This weekend marks a year since I stood at the back door of my home with a broom and a prayer. Most of you did something of the sort on Aug. 26, 2017, when Hurricane Harvey’s transmission fell out somewhere over southeast Texas.
My story is not unique. We have a pool in our back yard, because I’m not sure what else a person should do in Houston when the temperature gauge reads 103 and the actual temperature is 301. As flood waters raced across nearly every street in this city, drainage pipes designed to flow water away became dyslexic and sent water shooting the other way.
True story: During Harvey, I ran our pool pump continuously, draining water into the street as soon as it filled our pool. If I hadn’t, the pool would have continued to rise, burst out of the ground and flood the first floor of our home.
The problem was, the pump couldn’t keep up with the deluge and, to make matters worse, the four drains situated on the deck around the pool were no longer collecting water. Instead, they were spitting water right back at me.
I remember, one year ago, standing at the base of my back door, where one of the drains is the last line of defense to our home flooding, and watching water rise out of that hole in the ground. It kept coming and coming, and like a helpless child, I watched in complete fear.
With no other option, I grabbed a push broom from the garage, and began what I thought was the futile task of pushing that water around the corner of the home, onto a (slightly) downhill driveway, and watching it disappear into the river that was our street.
That exercise – and do I ever mean exercise – lasted almost two hours, until the contraflow of the supposed draining system stopped. I remember the Crocs I wore, the soaked Alabama football shirt sticking to my back like Saran wrap.
It’s one year later, and a few things seem quite certain about the memories of Hurricane Harvey.
First, for those of us who didn’t lose everything, we still sit back in utter awe of the power of that storm. Most of us have never seen rain fall that fast that hard.
Second, for those of us who lost a lot, or maybe everything, we view the anniversary of this storm with depression – maybe anger.
Third, by the end of this weekend, we’re all going to be very tired of hearing stories that relive the horror of Harvey. News outlets in Houston, Texas, the United States and across the world will remind everyone of the storm that wouldn’t go away. And for most of us, we’ve spent the better part of a year trying to move on from the storm that wouldn’t move on.
And last, I think many of us have the same question I’m asking myself today: If another hurricane with that force, and that ability to stall, came through Houston next week, would things be any different than they were a year ago?
I’m not sure there’s a good answer for that. From a local government standpoint, I think Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Ed Emmett led this community through the storm with deft perfection. Compare their responses, their preparedness, with someone like Ray Nagin of Hurricane Katrina fame. Granted, New Orleans sits so low I’m not sure it was ever meant to be a city. But from communication to relief efforts, our city and county did an immaculate job.
This weekend, we’re being asked to vote on a $2.5 billion bond issue that the Harris County Flood Control District tells us will do more to help with the next storm than any other solution. Of course, if we do hand over the bank account and dump this much money on the county, the results of this bond issue may be a generation away.
I still haven’t decided how I’m going to vote, and my guess is many of you won’t bother to vote anyway. The timing of the bond election, as I wrote two months ago, makes absolutely no sense.
The process of democratic elections was always intended to drive the most people to the polls as possible. That’s why we all look to the Women’s Suffrage movement and the Civil Rights movement with reverence. Those historic events became part of our nation’s fabric because they encouraged more people to the polls, counting everyone as equal.
This bond election, on the other hand, is a one paragraph item on a day when we’re trying to get our kids ready for their first day of school. This does not promote turnout, much less a true, democratic election on a very important issue.
But the bigger problem I have with this bond issue is that we’re trying to solve problems that may not have a solution.
For instance, the details of this bond say we’re going to spend $5.45 million to investigate problems related to flooding. If you’re looking for a line of work, go hook up with an engineering company right now. Their pockets are about to get full of “consulting” money.
Another few items on the bond say we’re going to spend about $165 million to study “flooding problems and identify potential solutions to flooding from the San Jacinto River.”
I’ve got some free advice: If you live on or near a river and the sky dumps 35 inches of water on you in a 2-day period, you’re going to flood. It doesn’t matter what kind of study you commission.
What I’ve learned in the past year is that, no matter what we do, or how much money we spend, there will be very little we can do to stop our city from the devastation of Harvey. We need better drainage, we need to use porous concrete, and maybe a few of us should move on out to the country and not build homes along rivers.
There’s a Proverb about building your house upon the sand. We all love this city, but we’ll all be pushing brooms if another Harvey rolls through town.