On Thursday, heavy rains and thunderstorms caused over 100,000 gallons of sewage water to flood the streets of Dallas -- not exactly good news in the middle of a global public health crisis. But other news might soon change how such floods are handled: just three days before the Dallas floods, the Texas Water Development Board took a quiet, but major, step forward in their work to protect Texans from flooding by including nature-based infrastructure in the brand new Flood Intended Use Plan.
Nature-based infrastructure, like rain gardens, green roofs, and permeable pavement, allows stormwater to absorb directly into soil instead of rushing into waterways.
Imagine a neighborhood covered in green. A futuristic greenscape where grasses wave from roofs, streams run clear through local parks, and rain water flushes toilets and waters lawns.
In this neighborhood, stormwater doesn’t rush down asphalt streets, swelling streams into toxic torrents. Instead, water collects in gardens, forming small ponds among wildflowers and Texas prairie grasses. Rain soaks through streets and medians, recharging and protecting our groundwater. Cisterns fill with water that can be used across the city over the next few days. Everyone’s water bills are lower, summer heat isn’t as intense, the waterways are cleaner and safer to swim in. Dallas imagines such a city in their Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan; a system of nature-based infrastructure spread throughout the city that could keep storms like yesterday’s from spilling sewage onto our streets.
It seems like systems like this should be a no-brainer, but as of now, Texas’s funding and administrative systems for infrastructure projects prioritize big grey concrete projects over green ones. That’s where the new Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) rules come in. The Flood Intended Use Plan is a brand new set of rules governing how the TWDB will give out the millions of dollars in the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF), a pot of funds allocated to flood relief by voters after Hurricane Harvey. One of the stipulations gives nonstructural projects, including rain gardens, green roofs and the like, funding priority. Another stipulation sets aside grant money specifically for “green” projects.
It’s exciting to see Texas doing the right thing, and it’s important to remember that these rules don’t come from nowhere! These rules emphasising nature-based features were hard won. Many organizations, including Environment Texas, other non-profits, and local governments, testified to the board asking for these changes. But in a state where one in every ten of us faces moderate or high risk from riverine floods, we know that flooding an issue that affects all Texans. We have proof these techniques work: during Hurricane Harvey, the only Bayou that avoided flooding was Sims Bayou, where a nature-based project was completed in 2015. We’ve been fighting floods with pipes for so long it’s hard to imagine anything different. But you don’t go fishing with only one lure: we need to tackle this problem with every technique we’ve got.