Historic Houston Flooding - the day after 

For the second time in one year, the Houston metropolitan area was flooded because of heavy rainfall. 240 billion gallons of water fell across the region; some areas had received 10-15 inches of rain. The flood took eight lives, caused more than $5 billion in property damages in Harris County alone, shut down 100 roads, caused 120.000 power outages, closed all schools and city buildings and many office buildings. Some Houstonians just finished the repairs from last year’s flooding and have to start all over again. Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster for nine counties in and around the Houston area. And this won’t be the last time.

The general view of the city officials is that this historic flooding is beyond control. Houstonians and local media no longer take this opinion for granted and are taking serious steps  to sue the City of Houston. The criticism by the media is focused on the lack of action to expedite big-picture flood improvement projects which allowed Houston’s flooding problems to continue. A lot of these flood improvement projects, even the ones to improve watersheds with an ‘extremely high risk of catastrophic failure tag’, are years and years behind on schedule. From the perspective of the Houstonians -reflected in the media- there’s a real call for help to control the water. Once again, the Dutch Delta works for Flood protection are mentioned and admired in the media.

Also in The Netherlands images of the dramatic rescues, flooded homes and floating cars in Houston were distributed by the media. In The Netherlands we are so used to being protected by dikes and the Delta Works nowadays, we don’t even worry about flooding’s like that. Also the Dutch people have learned it the hard way, but we gained a lot of knowledge on water management and with all this knowledge, the Dutch are experts on flood protection issues like the ones in Houston. Fortunately there are a few projects in which local universities partner with Dutch institutions and other strong partners to share knowledge to better understand how to protect Houston’s people, economy and environment from water.

However, we strongly believe that more help and knowledge sharing is needed, which creates opportunities for The Netherlands to make a real impact. If you believe your company can deliver valuable input in any way on water-management in the Houston area, we recommend you to contact our NBSO-Texas office: www.nbso-texas.com.

Posted by Saskia Pardaans April 21, 2016 Categories: Water

Watch This Storm Surge Protection Video 

A movie says more than 1000 words. Watch this movie and see what can happen if a storm enters the Golf Coast. And more important: what can be done to prevent it!

Texas A&M University at Galveston have been privileged to work with Dutch institutions and other strong partners to better understand how to protect our region’s people, economy and environment from hurricane induced storm surge.

Posted by Saskia Pardaans April 18, 2016 Categories: Water

Dutch envoy Henk Ovink unleashes flood of ideas 

Photo by Tami Andrew

Rice School of Architecture hosts water management expert for talk, roundtable on Houston’s future

Last week Henk Ovink told Rice School of Architecture (RSA) students that without collaboration in advance of disaster, chaos is inevitable. Ovink, the Netherlands’ special envoy for international water affairs, brought to Rice his vision of how the collaborative energy and imagination of architects, engineers, politicians and citizens can help the planet not only prepare for but thrive in a future that he and many others believe will be dominated by the dictates of a changing climate.

Ovink delivered the last of RSA’s synthetic-themed spring lecture series April 4 at Anderson Hall. In her introduction, Dean Sarah Whiting characterized remediation projects as necessarily synthetic, as they are at once synthetizing efforts from multiple disciplines and are artificial insertions in anticipation of or in response to nature. Ovink approaches each community and its issues organically, but with a synthetic manner. Ovink: “For the next decade and the decades beyond that, water will rule the top of the list of crises that are impacting us.”

Rising water is a long-term threat that needs to be dealt with now, Ovink said. “The World Economic Forum put water crises as the No. 1 risk for the next decade. What’s interesting is that failure to adapt and mitigate these risks is No. 2, extreme weather events No. 3 and food crises No. 4. All of these are related to water.

 “So for the next decade and the decades beyond that, water will rule the top of the list of crises that are impacting us.”

Ovink speaks from long experience as a native of the Netherlands, where expertise in managing water is an ancient and ongoing part of the culture. He has worked around the world with large and small communities where water presents what they perceive as a problem – and what he sees as an opportunity.

The envoy, the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature last year, has built a presence in the United States since volunteering to help strategize on remediation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the East Coast in 2012. In his role as an adviser to former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, Ovink helped form a plan that connected and sought input from all the neighboring communities in New York and New Jersey that were affected by Sandy, one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history.

Ovink characterized Sandy as a Trojan horse that enabled the task force to develop systems and communications to manage crises. “We needed a process that was different,” he said.

Along with its role as the federal government’s crisis response team, the task force was charged with thinking about storms to come. “It was the task force and the president who said, How can we leapfrog to the future?” Ovink said. “Instead of only repairing, only rebuilding, only bringing aid to this region, can we prepare this region as an example for other places in the U.S. and perhaps the world?”

Part of that was the formation of Rebuild by Design, which started as a competition to gather ideas for remediation in Sandy’s wake and – no accident – has taken on a life of its own. Ten teams were chosen from 148 international applicants to embark upon three months of intense research into strategies that would not only help the region recover and prepare but could also be replicated by other communities. Ovink described several of the projects that came about as a result of the competition, including the concept of a “Big U” around Manhattan to protect its neighborhoods from floods and storm waters; a rethinking of New Jersey’s Meadowlands to expand the restoration of protective marshlands and add recreational value to the expanse; and a comprehensive strategy to help Hoboken, N.J., survive future flash floods and storm surges. “We wanted the talent of the world to engage with us,” he said of the competition.

 “We wanted interdisciplinary teams from all over the world to come to New York and New Jersey and work with us and a team of partners to try to unravel the region’s vulnerabilities and interdependencies before we jumped to solutions.”

While at Rice, Ovink gave one further demonstration of his commitment to building coalitions when he joined city and county officials, architects, engineers and academics in an April 5 discussion on planning for severe weather in the region.

The breakfast roundtable moderated by Whiting started with three short presentations on strategies for design resiliency by Ovink; Jim Thompson, regional chief executive at AECOM, and Phil Bedient, the Herman Brown Professor of Engineering and director of Rice’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center. What followed Whiting said, was a “robust start to a discussion that needs to be ongoing if we are to design a better future for Houston.”

Ovink’s lecture will be available for viewing on the RSA website at http://arch.rice.edu/Videos/.


Posted by Saskia Pardaans April 13, 2016 Categories: Water

If a storm hits Houston...... 

protection is less costly than recovery

In 2008, Hurricane Ike slammed the Houston-Galveston region, making landfall on the Texas coast with maximum sustained winds of 112 miles per hour and  storm surge of 12-15 feet. Even though the Houston-Galveston region avoided the predicted direct hit, Hurricane Ike killed 80 people and caused economic damages totaling over $39 billion. Imagine the consequences if Ike had made a direct hit.

The clock continues to tick. Major hurricanes hit the upper Texas coast approximately every 14 years. History and science concur that such a “direct hit” threat to the region is not a matter of if, but when, it will occur.

This is not just a Houston-Galveston problem. The nation’s security and economy are extremely vulnerable during a storm surge event. At risk are the livelihoods and well-being of millions of residents, their properties, jobs and businesses. Devastating impacts include:

  • Disrupting transportation, including the interstate system, railroads and waterborne commerce
  • Closing ports, including the Port of Houston, the nation’s busiest port in foreign tonnage
  • Shutting down the nation’s largest petrochemical complex, which supplies 27 percent of America’s gasoline and 60 percent of the fuel used by the U.S. Department of Defense, causing fuel shortages and price increases on goods that use petrochemicals, including pharmaceuticals, plastic resins, detergents, cosmetics, and other synthetics
  • Irreparable environmental damage

Multiple lines of defense are being considered to provide comprehensive storm surge protection for the region. Texas A&M University at Galveston remains focused on further developing the proven method to stop the surge at the coast using a continuous coastal barrier or spine, also known as the Ike Dike Concept, based on proven technologies that have been used in The Netherlands and other parts of the world for decades. Meanwhile, the SSPEED Center at Rice University is concentrating its efforts on suppressing surge using barriers internal to the Galveston Bay system and non-structural alternatives.

Through coordinated and collaborative research efforts, both TAMUG and the SSPEED Center are committed to the development of a single surge protection plan that has multiple lines of defense to achieve the best overall solution for the region from an economic, environmental and social perspective.

For the past four years, regional momentum has been building to implement storm surge protection, recognizing that the region is every bit as exposed today to the devastating effects of storm surge as it was in 2008. More than 30 cities and municipalities, economic and industry organizations, such as the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, the East Harris County Manufacturers Association and the Harris County Mayors’ and Councils’ Association, have formally stated their support for storm surge protection.

It’s imperative that a collaborative plan for regional protection be developed and submitted for congressional approval and funding. First, however, a comprehensive initiative is underway to conduct several necessary studies, including an economic impact analysis; barrier design modeling; landscape integration; a calculation of cost/benefit ratios; and environmental mitigation

Texas has always prided itself on being a “can do” state, never being the kind to look for a handout. Although this is usually looked on as an admirable quality, in the case of storm surge protection, I think that it has been a detriment to our progress. Perhaps a greater deterrent has been the lack of political leadership up until now.

It is crucial that the Legislature supports a coastal barrier system, and it’s going to take strong political leadership to spearhead such a bill through the next legislative session in 2017. The people, homes and industries of the upper Texas coast, as well as the state's and nation's economy, must be protected. We cannot expect Congress to appropriate the necessary funds unless we stand united in this cause.

We can wait until our hopes and dreams, and possibly our lives, are swept out to sea when the next big hurricane hits, or we can do something now. Unfortunately, we too often are committed to recovery rather than protection. Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick.

Bob Mitchell

President, Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership

Posted by Saskia Pardaans March 04, 2016 Categories: Economy Water