We are horrified at the ongoing disaster in Texas and other states hit by Hurricane Harvey, and we are trying to help any way we can. At the same time, Harvey reminds us that the chances of floods in Westchester’s coastal areas are increasing. So we would do well to learn from Harvey and focus on how to prepare for floods of our own.
One area to consider are zoning laws. In Houston experts note that the absence of adequate zoning laws is partly to blame for the city’s severe flooding. But what about our own zoning regulations? Do they prohibit building in flood-prone areas? Do they require buildings to have flood protective structures higher off the ground if they are in a flood plain? Are we still allowing development and building in wetland areas that would otherwise help protect us from damaging storm surges?
Another issue in Houston, according to the experts, was the need for controlled releases of water from their dams which were going to overflow. Would our dams be big enough and tall enough to weather a huge deluge like Harvey? Or would they too overflow without controlled releases?
These are just some of the worrying questions raised by Harvey’s rampage. The costs of repair and restoration for Texas citizens are astronomical, but perhaps some of these costs can be avoided by other states and cities in the future by adopting environmentally-conscious local policies and planning.
Joyce H. Newman is an Emmy Award-winning environmental journalist, educator, and gardener. She holds a Certificate in Horticulture from The New York Botanical Garden, and is a tour guide there.