It’s Raining, It’s Pouring

May 1, 2004 by  
Filed under Edit

Would you like your home to have a waterfront view? Just wait until the next big rain; it;ll probably happen.

A wise man once said, “Houston is a nice town – at low tide.” Yes, to be perfectly honest, we do sometimes have flooding problems, like after a heavy dew. So former Mayor Lee Brown had an idea: Each household would pay an extra $3.75 a month drainage fee to cover the cost of alleviating our flooding. The idea was met with such strong opposition that it died. A couple of months later, the new Mayor Bill White had an idea to alleviate our flooding: We would all pay an average of 9 percent more a month on our water and sewer bills, which breaks down to about $4 more a month per household. Everyone loved the plan. Go figure.

At least we are finally doing something about this problem, and it’s about time. Houston is the only city where building inspectors use glass-bottom boats, the animals in the zoo line up two by two at the hint of a thunderstorm, and our TV weathercasters have a 20-percent chance of rowing to work. Where else do city buses have periscopes?

To aid us in our quest for dry land, new federal maps are producing exact measurements to show precisely which parts of the county will be flooded during a storm. These new maps are the result of advanced scientific technology including laser beams from airplanes and, of course, dipsticks. To determine whether your home or office needs to bring in a supply of sandbags and whether you need to unload your property without telling the unsuspecting prospective buyer about your submergible information, go online to

The new flood program will require developers to put in retention ponds to hold excess rainfall. Actually, we already have some retention ponds. They’re called “the Katy Freeway,? “basements” and “the Texas Medical Center.” There will be new restrictions for building in the 100-year flood plain. The “100-year flood plain” means that one year in every 100 it doesn’t flood. If someone is stupid enough to build in the flood plain even after checking the new maps, then federal flood insurance is required. This way, the owner of the inundated property can do as many others in Houston have done: about every three years receive a big payout for flood damage. Hey, it beats working for a living.

When it comes to buying flood insurance, timing is everything because hurricane season starts June 1 when the Red Cross throws out the first doughnut. But we can’t wait for a hurricane to come up the Ship Channel before rushing out and buying flood insurance. There is a waiting period before the insurance kicks into effect – the waiting period usually ending Dec. 1 when hurricane season is over. Today in Harris County there are 103,657 flood insurance policies in effect while the city of Houston has 99,471 policies. Generally speaking, about 90 percent of the policies are for single-family dwellings, 5 percent are for nonresidential dwellings, and the remaining 5 percent are renters.

(Incidentally, carefully check the names for this season’s storms because last year Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said the names given to hurricanes are too “lily white” and she wanted a better representation of names reflecting other ethnic groups including African-Americans. Here comes Hurricane Sheila Jackson.)

Anyway, Houstonians know the importance of getting ready for a storm: buying flood insurance, programming the Coast Guard emergency rescue service into their speed dial and knowing that their car’s air bag can be used as a flotation device. We only have to recall Tropical Storm Allison in June of 2001. That’s when parts of Houston received almost 37 inches of rain, Tanglewood became beachfront property and West U looked like Venice without the gondolas. For days and nights the rain poured on Houston and we flooded, but no one could find the drain plug. Allison was the first named storm of the year and the earliest major storm to hit the upper Texas coast (June 5) since a Category 1 hurricane moved inland west of Galveston back in 1871 (June 3). Allison did some hurt: 20,000 houses damaged, 90,000 vehicles totally or partially damaged, 22 people killed and $5 billion in destruction. When all the bills are in, it might be the costliest tropical storm to ever hit the United States. (Remember, Allison was a mere tropical storm, not a hurricane. Its winds never got above 60 mph with gusts to 70 mph). After the storm, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, paid 9,247 claims for $360,143,609 in Harris County and paid 10,577 claims for $493,921,740 in the city of Houston. Given what we know, $4 a month should be worth the cost. Otherwise, Venice anyone? H

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