Over 37.3 trillion gallons of water fell in Texas this past spring after heavy precipitation resulted in substantial flooding. While years of drought were literally washed away, the state experienced significant consequences of the flooding, including 21 deaths according to a report by NPR.
The recent weather patterns exposed vital shortcomings in the state’s flood control infrastructure, which brings into question the appropriateness and level of investment in the state’s flood prevention infrastructure, the network of systems needed to protect the lives and property of citizens of the state.
The rain Texas received during the single month of May broke a previous month’s record from June 2004, according to the Office of the State Climatologist at Texas A&M University. The level of flooding was reminiscent of the 1981 Memorial Day flooding when the state experienced millions of dollars in damage and loss of life. Yet, the events of 1981 did not seem to influence any preventative infrastructure investments, as none have been made during the last 30 years. This was apparent in 2012 when the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave Texas a “D” infrastructure rating in 2012.
No matter if it is roads, bridges, dams, or pipelines, the state of infrastructure in Texas and all across the nation is negatively affecting our safety, mobility, and quality of life. In the case of Texas, the lives lost and damage done is a direct reflection on the poor quality of the infrastructure designed to protect human lives in times of natural disaster. Without improved infrastructure in place, flooding will continue to disrupt homes, neighborhoods, and cities across Texas.
Building to prevent future flood damage requires prevention mechanisms built with a sense of quality over quantity. Natural and man-made levees are effective, but not a foolproof defense against excessive precipitation. These natural levees wear down and sanction seepage and often go unnoticed by state and local governments. According to the Dallas Morning News, state officials have known about dangerously inadequate levees along the Trinity River for over a decade, and while officials have discussed updating these levees; this vital infrastructure remains untouched.
Forgoing the maintenance of foundational infrastructure creates an unsafe and irresponsible environment, which reflects poorly on the state and cities in Texas. This was evident in 2009 when Dallas was one of the first cities ever to receive an “unacceptable” rating for its floodway system from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Further, Texas as a whole has no comprehensive statewide floodplain management plan. This laissez-faire attitude towards failing infrastructure ultimately leads to further damage and deadweight loss for the economy
In the last 37 years, Texas spent over $5.6 billion in flood claims, falling behind only Louisiana and New Jersey for having the highest flood claims. Had adequate flood control measures been in place, damage claims of this magnitude could have been avoided. According to the ASCE, aside from low-interest loans and small grants, Texas does not fund flood control infrastructure.
The lack of this necessary infrastructure leaves citizens vulnerable to deadly floods, and threatens existing and aging energy sources such as power plants, refineries, and transmission lines. Texas is a key player in the energy game, holding 27 refineries and processing over 4.7 million barrels per day. Five major refineries in the Port Arthur area supply almost 50 percent of jet A fuel used in the United States. Critical energy sources of this caliber need to be protected from damaging natural disasters.
Investing in preventative infrastructure is crucial for the state of Texas to safeguard its citizens and to foster a healthy economy. Whatever the weather, the time is now for Texas to take action on its flood control infrastructure, and the longer state officials wait to revamp existing levees, the more costly it becomes.