A report released by an environmental research group a few weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall shows Houston’s infrastructure lags behind Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth in its ability to manage the flow of rainwater.
In its “Texas Stormwater Scorecard” covering the state’s major metropolitan areas, Environment Texas rates Austin at 90 percent — well ahead of other Texas cities — while giving Houston a meager 50 percent.
The study grades each city on its use of “Green Stormwater Infrastructure,” such as using plants and other natural resources to soak up rain water, and its use of “Low Impact Development,” such as rain gardens and green roofs.
The report also grades cities on their policies toward development, such as tax incentives for using more environmentally-friendly techniques and regulations for developers regarding stormwater management. The group gathered responses from city officials, environmental organizations and landscape engineers to come up with the final grades.
Austin earned its high ratings due to its environmental policies regarding stormwater drainage. A new set of city building codes requires developers to install features allowing the sites to retain water on-site, rather than having the water flow downstream and potentially cause other hazards, such as picking up toxic pollutants.
Houston earned the report’s second-lowest score, only beating out Dallas. The report criticized Houston’s dependence on “gray” infrastructure, such as dams and bayous, over “green” improvements that would keep the water in place.
“Even before Hurricane Harvey devastated the city this year with unprecedented amounts of rain, Houston had been struggling to compensate for decades of development built with inadequate drainage,” the report read.
The report also contrasts Harris County’s policies, called “progressive,” with Houston’s, saying the city “should follow the county’s lead.”