You are to be highly commended on your June 8 opinion piece, “If you live in a swamp you have to expect to get wet.” It is most refreshing and gratifying that you had the fortitude to point out the truth, even though it is undeniable, and blatantly obvious. For decades, admitting this compelling truism of potential devastation from heavy and widespread rains has been deflected.
Sadly, it took the extreme flooding last week in Fort Bend County, and the region, to illustrate the fact that billions of dollars of homes and commercial structures have been built on extremely susceptible properties and hundreds of thousands of people and companies were deluded with assurances from an extensive array of “those in the know” that in spite of years of unprecedented development explosion, there was virtually no serious risk of extensive flooding—and definitely not the enormous and devastating damages recently experienced.
In spite of this cavalier attitude, it has been so apparent for so long. I’ve lived here my whole life. Roughly five decades ago, I, and many others, witnessed the same scenes we saw on television in the last two weeks: cows and horses swimming with their noses in the air to keep from drowning! Those unforgettable images occurred on farms and ranches within a few miles of my Stafford home.
Today, on those same lands, there are an abundance of luxurious homes and elaborate commercial buildings. The major difference: Then, less than 10,000 people lived in Stafford, Missouri City and Sugar Land (as evidenced by the 1970 U.S. Federal Census) contrasted with the hundreds of thousands who now live in this highly developed area. Stafford, which has worked diligently on drainage outfalls and construction regulations over the past forty
years, was most fortunate. According to FEMA only three out of the 3,500 homes in the city took on any water, with none rising to FEMA levels for grants or loans. The fortuity of our city is undeniable and illustrates the theme of your article. Decades ago, those three affected houses, along with many neighboring ones, were built in a poorly planned subdivision on “swampy lots”—most at ground level. Unfortunately, the vulnerability of these and similar properties to flooding is repeatedly demonstrated under far less dramatic circumstances than those just experienced.
Irrespective of Stafford’s escape by avoiding the worst of this historic flood, there was far too much foreseeable damage in the area. This most memorable event has delivered a clear and unmistakable message: Building regulations and development standards must be dramatically upgraded. No longer can we turn a blind eye to the susceptibility of these highly vulnerable properties. California recognized, and took assertive measures years ago, to address its exposure to earthquakes. We have no less an obligation to do all reasonably necessary to fortify our communities from future, and most predictable, devastating floods.
Mayor, City of Stafford