People keep building in flood-prone places like Houston. - Grist


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Built (not) to spill

REUTERS/Richard Carson

People keep building in flood-prone places like Houston.

And all that unchecked development makes flooding worse. It’s worth looking back at an in-depth piece published last year by ProPublica and the Texas Tribune, which made a compelling case that, by turning Houston’s permeable prairie into houses, people have transformed a sponge into a bathtub. It has also put more people in harm’s way.

“More people die here than anywhere else from floods,” Sam Brody, a Texas A&M University at Galveston researcher, said at the time. “More property per capita is lost here. And the problem’s getting worse.”

Of course, it’s not just Houston. We’re doing the same thing along the Atlantic seaboard — rebuilding rather than retreating after Hurricane Sandy. Without regulations in place to force people to plan for floods (or wildfires or hurricanes) they often don’t. And President Trump is trying to make it easier to build without considering rising sea levels.

Eventually we’ll learn from this, right? Right? It’s hard to say “yes” with any confidence. This is the worst flood Houston has seen, but it’s hardly the first. There were also floods in 2016, and 2015, and 2009, and 2008, and 2006 …

We’re making predictable disasters worse. We’ll need to do just the opposite if we are to adapt to climate change.