Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Blogger Candidate Forum: Rolling Back Flood Protection

http://www.citylab.com; August 28, 2017

Hello Everyone:

It is time for the weekly edition of Blogger Candidate Forum.  Once again, yours truly would like to remind you: if you would like to donate money or supplies to the survivors of Hurricane Harvey (now Tropical Storm Harvey), you can text 90999 (minimum $10) or go to http://www.gothamist.com for a complete list of organization collecting money and supplies.  There is a great need for food, water, medicine, and diapers.  Thanks and stay safe.  

Speaking of Hurricane Harvey, the torrential rains have caused unending flooding, almost submerging the entire Houston area.  Once the water subsides, the residents will left to deal with the overwhelming task of rebuilding their lives and the question of can future flooding be prevented?  

Two weeks ago, during that infamous press conference in the glittering lobby of Trump Tower, President Donald J. Trump opted to focus on the fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Mr. Trump blamed violence on both sides for the mêlée.  Naturally the media took the bait and focused on this comment and his incendiary comments about nice Alt-Right people rather than the true purpose of the event.

Lost in the white hot glare of the spotlight was an item that could not be more timely.  Kriston Capps reports in his CityLab article, "Trump Rolled Back the Government's Best Flood Protection Standard," "Trump signed executive order rolling back various environmental rules in order to streamline approval for infrastructure projects." (http://www.nytimes.com; Aug. 15, 2017; date accessed Aug. 31, 2017). One of those standards was the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.

What is the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard?  This standard signed into effect by President Barack Obama, on January 30, 2015, established:

....policy of the United States to improve the resilience of communities and Federal assets against the impacts of flooding...As part of a national policy on resilience and risk reduction with my Climate Action Plan, the National Security Staff coordinated an interagency effort to create a new flood risk reduction standard for federally funded projects.(obamawhitehouse.archives.gov; date accessed Aug. 31, 2017)

Executive Order 13690 amended a 1977 executive order, signed by then-President Jimmy Carter, "...on floodplain management by asking agencies to seek a 'practicable alternative' to any projects on floodplains that would have either short-term or long-term adverse effects."

President Obama's rule allowed federal agencies three paths to address flood risk through design and construction: using strategies informed by climate science, building two-feet above the 100-year flood elevation, or the 500-year flood elevation.  Using science to find solutions to flooding, what a concept.

Post-Harvey Houston would have been the first test of the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.  Houston may still decide to rebuild within the strict 500-year or 1000-year flood standards.  However Mr. Capps bemoans, "Texas has never shown any such foresight."  The Lone Star state is spending billions of dollars to build a Grand Parkway (http://www.citylab.com; June 3, 2016; date accessed Aug. 31, 2017).  Kriston Capps posted an article over a year ago about Houston's Grand Parkway, the city's "...third and outermost ring road,...By its completion in 2023 (http://www.grandpky.com; date accessed Aug. 31, 2017), the Grand Parkway will form a 180-mile-long encircling greater metro Houston."  This beltway loop is large enough to circumnavigate the state of Rhode Island and consuming greater and greater portions of the Katy Prairie, extremely crucial to Houston's natural flood control.

Obviously President Obama's 2015 Executive Order could not have predicted or prevented the massive flooding and destruction of Harvey.  As late as October 2016, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued Draft Regulatory Amendents to implement EO 13690.  FEMA outlined an 8-step process for considering amendments to the Executive Order:

1. Determine what the floodplain is
2. Facilitate early public review
3. Develop a list of practicable alternative
4. Identify the impacts of the chose alternatives
5. Take steps to minimize impacts
6. Reevaluate alternatives
7. Develop findings
8. Implementation of action
http://www.theleveewasdry.com; date accessed August 31, 2017

Scott Shapiro, managing partner for Downey Brand, wrote in a 2015 blog post for the law firm specializing in flood risk law,

They [Federal Flood Risk Management Standard]' use of these expanded floodplains is scaring the bejesus out of many in the flood risk management community.  (Ibid)

Kriston Capps writes, "One alarmist interpretation of the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard maintained that the federal government would longer back mortgages on homes falling in 500-year floodplain so, as Shapiro notes."  The Obama administration was insistent that EO 13690 applied solely to federal infrastructure projects and intended to bring  standards set by FEMA up to the levels of some municipal government.  It sounds kind of backward-a federal agency's standard needing to be brought up to the standards of a local government-but such is the case.  Anyway, this all moot in the face of monstrous task of rebuilding Houston once the waters recede.

Mr. Trump's visit to Texas on Tuesday came and went without incident, despite the dust up caused by the non-issue of First Lady Melania Trump's choice of footwear.  Really, six-inch stilettos? Not the best idea.  Good thing she wisely traded in the the stiletto pumps for a pair of sneakers.  Mr. Trump was originally scheduled to survey the damage  wrought by Harvey.  However, the day before the planned visit, Texas Governor Greg Abbot announced that the president would visit San Antonio and Corpus Christi.  Governor Abbot told CBS This Morning:

The place he will be going to will not be Houston, so [he] will not be getting into harm's way or interrupting the evacuations or emergency response in the Houston area...He most likely will be going closer to where the hurricane hit land.  (http://www.politico.com; Aug. 28, 2017; date accessed Aug. 31, 2017)

Seriously, would it have been too much to visit a shelter and shake hands with some of the survivors?

Kriston Capps reports, "...Trump's diversion away from Houston will no doubt come as a relief for the beleaguered city."  As of posting, there is a slight lull in the deluge but there is more rain on the way.  Dr. Louis Uccellini, the director of the National Weather Service, told the Houston Chronicle,

We're in a lull right not...but it will get back into moderate to heavy rains today and into tomorrow.  The peak flow and depth of this flood will max out in the Wednesday-Thursday time frame... (http://www.houstonchronicle.com; Aug. 28, 2017; date accessed Aug. 31, 2017)

Be that as it may, Mr. Trump's action two weeks ago will have lasting repercussions when Houston and other parts of the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, battered by Hurricane Harvey, go into recovery mode.

Mr. Trump's post-Harvey legacy has yet to be fleshed out.  If he absolutely insists of funds for that ill-conceived wall along the U.S.-Mexican border (http://www.bloomberg.com; Aug. 25, 2017; date accessed Aug. 31, 2017) in any deal to raise the pending debt ceiling, the government could shut down, derailing federal relief efforts along the Gulf. The president has ensured that the federal government will not be part of making the Houston-area and the parts of the Gulf Coast affected by Hurricane Harvey better prepared for flooding in the future.  Essentially, Houston and the Gulf Coast are on their own.