Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bird's Eye View Critique: Houston's Stormwater Sewer System

by Marley Bice, MCRP '12

I've written about combined sewer systems in America's older cities but what about newer cities that were built around separate sewer systems? Are they any better? I've chosen to look at Houston, Texas. Houston was a historic city that experienced significant growth in the 20th century and is now the fourth largest city in the United States. Houston's severe flooding problem is not a huge suprise:

(1) the city is built on a flood plain
(2) the city's landscpae is overwhelmingly short grasses in compact soils
(3) the city chose to increase impervious surfaces and focus on conveyand as stormwater management techniques

I'm not saying I have a solution (or that green stormwater infrastrucutre would solve all of Houston's drainage and flooding problems - undoubtedly not) or that I would have made better decisions myself given knowledge at the time these systems were considered. I'm just saying... take a look at these images from Bing Maps and tell me what you would recommend.

When formulating your recommendations, there are many constraints to consider:

(1) Houston needs to preserve the neighborhoods that have developed around these bayous, so some sort of controlled water's edge needs to be maintained
(2) Consider improving aesthetics and safety around the bayous
(3) Consider how to capture and treat more of the runoff before it reaches the bayous

My major questions: Why was it necessary to purposefully make your catch basin entirely impervious? Why was it necessary to drain that forested area? Why was it necessary to funnel that natural stream into the cement bayou?

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