The Personal Approach to Flooding

Barry Klein of the Houston Property Rights Association has a very good article on Houston’s perpetual flooding problem. Klein’s crucial point is that individuals must take responsibility for flood proofing their own properties, rather than looking to government to solve the problem.

In recent months I have decided that flood proofing needs to be routine for Houston area property owners based on their individual perception of risk. Each property owner would consider their elevation in the landscape, distance from nearby bayous and channels that can overflow, and whether their home or business sits on concrete pads or pier-and-beam foundations.

In contrast to Klein, many are calling for massive government intervention to address flooding. Some, such as Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, want to spend billions to upgrade dams and build more reservoirs. Another group wants tighter land-use regulations to control development.

Undoubtedly, either of these solutions will help reduce flooding in the future. But both come with enormous costs, and before we rush into embracing a solution, we should consider all of the alternatives, as well as their costs and benefits.

The advocates of tougher land-use regulations argue that development prevents water from absorbing into the ground, thereby flooding our streets and homes. It is certainly true that the ground absorbs water much more readily than concrete. But the clay soil found in the Houston region is not the absorbent sponge that many would like us to believe. And most streets include storm sewers that take runoff to drainage ditches and bayous.

For decades, those who want to control development have blamed nearly every problem Houston has faced on the absence of zoning. To listen to them, zoning will cure nearly every ill facing mankind. But zoning, along with any form of land-use regulation, comes with huge costs.

As an example, if large areas of land are removed from development, basic economics tells us that the value of the remaining land will increase. And when land prices increase, the cost of everything associated with land use–housing, businesses, schools, and much more– also¬† increases.¬† These costs will stifle economic growth.

More significantly, as history has shown us, government controls beget more government controls. Land-use regulations might be ushered in under the guise of reducing flooding, but we can be certain that additional controls will be enacted to address an ever growing list of “emergencies.”

The proper way to address flooding isn’t through massive government programs and more regulations. The proper approach is, as Klein tells us, personal responsibility.

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