The recent devastation of the Texas Gulf Coast by Hurricane Harvey may prompt a few local citizens to reflect on the risks of catastrophic flooding here in Brownwood. The lessons from Houston are particularly applicable here, but I don’t expect to see any changes in local attitudes or policies regarding floodplain development, watershed management, or stream ecology. Despite the obvious benefits and low cost of integrating low-impact design and green infrastructure into city planning and new construction, the City of Brownwood remains committed to conventional “flood control” that will predictably result in the outcomes seen from Harvey: destruction of homes and displacement of residents from flood zones which encompass much of this town.
For example, the City created a small parking strip along Roanoke Ave. at Austin Ave. for the new skate park and splash pad at Mayes Park. Instead of installing permeable pavement over the dirt, seeding it with grass, or filling it with gravel, they chose to seal coat with asphalt, creating another paved surface that will send more stormwater runoff to Willis Creek, which flows less than three blocks away.
On the other hand, after expenditures of over $737,000 over nearly two decades (half that sum paid by the City of Brownwood) to design a flood control channel on Willis Creek, we have a pile of paper, and a plan that is “on hold” according to the Floodplain Administrator. The project is stalled for two reasons. First, the US Army Corps of Engineers has used up the most recent allocation of $400,000 (half paid by the City of Brownwood) to “update” or “re-study” the channelization option. Second, the expansion of W.T. Harris Co. along Willis Creek (on the Camp Bowie side) into the precise area where the flood control channel was proposed. The “Zombie Ditch” that first died when City Council rejected it in 2004, seems to be dying a second natural death.
Meanwhile, FEMA issued a preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Map for the Cities of Brownwood and Early in July, and is soliciting technical information, comments, and appeals related to the map through October 21. You can see the map online at www.riskmap6.com. The online map is dated Sept. 2016, so you may want to confirm that it is the most recent map available.
If the only benefit of natural disasters comes with the lessons learned to help minimize future impacts of similar events, then failing to learn becomes a betrayal of future victims. This is the unfortunate situation here in Brownwood, especially along Willis Creek. Long-range flood mitigation starts with a vision of a different future, including a vision of a different physical landscape in the flood-prone areas, which may not be visible if you are blinded by the seductive dollar signs of “business as usual.”