Dr. William Merrell of Texas A&M University at Galveston led a delegation of 29 Houston and Galveston stakeholders to the Netherlands in September to view that country's storm surge protection system. Jeri Kinnear has published a series of articles on the trip. This is her final report.
After a recent visit to the Netherlands with a group from Texas A & M Galveston to view the Dutch approach to storm surge protection systems, it became obvious that their knowledge and engineering could benefit our entire area. I wondered how their approaches to flooding differed from the Rice SSPEED surge protection plan. When I returned, I went online to investigate.
On their website (http://sspeed.rice.edu/speed/), the Rice plan identifies two major initiatives, The Houston Ship Channel and West Bay Shore.
Houston Ship Channel: We all are aware of how important the channel is to the economic well being of our area, our country and to the security of this nation. The Rice study proposes a gated structure much like Rotterdam’s Maeslant Barrier at the Hartman Bridge to protect the Houston Ship Channel but that placement will leave millions vulnerable to surge.
West Bayshore includes all areas west of Galveston Bay and vulnerable to flooding. The areas presently have 1.5 million people living in hurricane evacuation zones and H-GAC predicts by 2035 the population will be 2.38 million. In order to protect this population the Rice SSPEED study recommends:
Risk Disclosure: Work with local governments and emergency managers to strengthen building codes and alert those buyers that they are in a coastal flood zone. Also, they recommend strengthening the infrastructure to withstand severe weather conditions.
Flood Alert System for Clear Creek: The system would advise residents of potential flood stages and predict how and when to protect critical facilities and communities. This facility would also incorporate storm surge as a first. The surge program will help local governments and emergency management in the recovery and re-entry process.
Surge Barrier: “The most feasible structure will be a levee along SH-146 accompanied by pocket levees, built by private landowners. The levees would “protect the properties and critical facilities and infrastructure west of SH-146 but leaves waterfront properties and communities east of SH-146 unprotected”, however, it maintains “the possibility of waterfront recreation and other environmental and natural coastal features”. The proposed Lone Star Coastal National Recreation Area fulfills that mission but, the Recreation Area does allow that it “would be compatible with either Rice SSPEED program or the Ike Dike.”
Galveston Island: Galveston’s seawall protects it from storm surge but when the Ike surge entered the bay, Galveston and many parts of Galveston County flooded. “The SSPEED Center has determined that the businesses in downtown Galveston, as well as UTMB should be protected by bay-side levees” but west of the Seawall is left unprotected and vulnerable. I have heard it called the “wash-over” for Houston.
Based upon what I saw in the Netherlands, the goal of flood protection should be; protect all of our population, protect our critical industries and businesses, protect and enhance our natural resources and the public’s wellbeing. An alternative surge plan could be:
Move the Surge Suppression Gates from the Hartman Bridge to the East end of the Seawall connecting across the ship channel to the Bolivar Roads. In doing so, you have protected the Ship Channel and the entire Galveston Bay region from surge.
Create a Coastal Spine that runs from the west end of the Galveston Seawall to San Luis Pass with a surge suppression system at San Luis Pass Bridge. In doing so, there would be no need for storm surge warnings, surge risk disclosures or levees as SSPEED proposes. Their levees will only channel the surge causing flood waters to become higher and greater in unprotected areas.
SSPEED’s answer to surge is similar to what the Dutch used prior to the great floods of 1953 when 1,800 of its citizens died. It is flawed and the Dutch abandoned that strategy of dams and levees and devised what they use today, a plurality of flood defense mechanism with a coastal spine. The Dutch protect all of their country and all of its citizens. We should, with their help, do nothing less.