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“Houston, and much of the Gulf Coast is living on borrowed time”
Laura Steinberg is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Syracuse University and a researcher on environmental disasters’ effect on infrastructure, including the impact of climate change on both. Steinberg lived through Hurricane Katrina and is available to discuss both the infrastructure failure during Hurricane Harvey and the issues of rebuilding after such a catastrophic natural disaster.
“We are in a new paradigm of rainfall, where the frequency of past events is not a good indicator of future ones. For this reason, our estimates of the 500 year floodplain and the 100 year floodplain are too small, indicating that far fewer people will be affected by these floods than really will be” says Steinberg. “And problem with that is that it perpetuates the idea that floods are not a matter for major concern in Houston and the Gulf Coast. We see this lack of concern in Houston by the lack of preparation for the storm, but also by the willy-nilly development that goes on the city; the dependence on slow-moving, nearly flat bayous to drain the city; and the low percentage of the residents who have flood insurance.”
“Houston, and much of the Gulf Coast is living on borrowed time,” says Steinberg.
Once Houston and the Gulf Coast start recovering from Post-Hurricane Harvey and start to rebuild, land planning issues will become a major issue, says Steinberg.
“These are cities of great sprawl. Repairing and maintaining all the infrastructure that supports these areas will be very expensive. It will be tempting to imagine that it can’t happen again so let us rebuild just as it was. But we know that that is wishful thinking. Will Houston have the stomach to tell residents in the most flood-prone areas (many of whom have been flooded before), that Houston is turning their neighborhood into park i.e. green infrastructure that passively absorbs rainwater? (New Orleans didn’t.)”
“Houston needs to re-evaluate its physical flood control infrastructure. What will it need to survive future storms, including a direct hit from a hurricane? First, there are potentially new infrastructures to be built, like floodwalls along the bayous. Are pumping systems needed? Then, the capacity and safety of the dams and levees that are pre-existing need to be examined,” says Steinberg.
Prof. Steinberg is available for media interviews. Please contact Ellen James Mbuqe, director of news and PR at Syracuse University, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 315.443.1897 or Keith Kobland, media manager at Syracuse University, at email@example.com or 315.443.9038.