To California With Love: Lessons From Hurricane Harvey

For years, Houstonians were told "the Big One is coming." A massive natural disaster followed by torrential flooding had been predicted by experts for a long time, yet when Harvey hit last month Harris County still found itself in a state of shock.

"Virtually everyone has a hard time imagining enormous natural disasters—even when all signs point to the 'Big One,'" writes City Lab's Laura Bliss.  "Hence, perhaps, the lack of a cohesive, coordinated evacuation plan in advance of Harvey. Ditto the backed-up storm drains, the dust-collecting plans for $15 billion coastal barrier, and Houston’s famously unchecked sprawl remaining unchecked."

Most experts agree that the effort was far more coordinated than in the case of, say, Katrina in 2005. But the devastation in Texas should still serve as a wake-up call for Californians who are at risk of becoming desensitized to similar warnings about an impending catastrophic earthquake, or who have become desensitized already. It should not only spurn individual preparedness efforts, but also encourage public officials to act to prevent catastrophe.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board says there are lessons to be gleaned about L.A.’s waters systems in particular. With so much attention paid to the drought in recent years, few people have been talking about flooding. But, contrary to what you may think, even L.A. is not immune. In fact, it has happened before.

Like Houston, Los Angeles is built on a floodplain. The whole reason the Los Angeles River is encased in concrete is to protect against the kind of terrifying, deadly flooding that raged through the region in 1938, caused by a storm the likes of which is expected only once every 50 years. Hurricane Harvey has been variously called a 500-year and a 1,000-year event, so it’s important to remember that in L.A.’s short history, we haven’t yet seen anything like that kind of a deluge. That doesn’t mean it’s not coming.

Here’s the good news: Great work is being done in other parts of the state. The Times points to the Central Valley flood management plan as a model going forward.

Read more about that here



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