Many Houston residents were shocked when their homes were flooded by Hurricane Harvey. Homeowners who were unaware of their house’s location in relation to flood maps were caught unawares. Homeowners who did not realize that the U.S. Army Corps could open the local levy and release flood water into their house were caught unawares. Homeowners who had no idea that their house was in range of a reservoir were caught unawares. In short, many Houston residents were more than surprised to learn that their homes were at risk for serious flooding.
Will This Change in the Future?
Families are beginning to rebuild homes and lives—many of them having a better grasp of the potential risks of their homes being flooded. If another flood were to occur in a couple of years, homeowners would not be able to say that they had no knowledge of the community’s propensity to flood. They have lived through a hurricane disaster, and, when insurance and liability matters have settled, these homeowners should now know that their homes can indeed flood.
However, what about in 50 years? Will homeowners of the future be made aware of the flood-risks that they face in buying a home in Houston? Will resident officials again sell homes without telling new occupants about the risks? The city of Tulsa shows that this might be the case.
The History of Tulsa
Tulsa faced terrible floods in the year of 1974. These floods were so bad that the amount of water that had to be released from Tulsa’s Keystone Reservoir was four times the rate of the water released by the San Jacinto River Authority from the Lake Conroe Dam during Harvey.
In fact, one of the other levees actually failed, which led to $142 million of damage to Tulsa County.
The county faced a political standoff after the floods. Home developers wanted to build new homes in the flood plains, and the local government wanted to protect residents. Ultimately, the government won, and housing developers had to move elsewhere to build new homes.
However, new developers have recently made new homes in the contested areas.
While the developers began to build new homes in the area, a sign was created that presented where flooding had taken place in the past. The sign showed that the 1974 floods left 4 inches of water where there were now new housing lots for sale. The sign would have been successful in telling new homeowners that their homes could face 4 inches of floodwater, but it only stayed up for two days. Housing developers made an immediate outcry, saying that the lots would never sell with the flood sign there and that the homes would never flood again. Unfortunately, research shows that’s not true.
The area is at risk of major flooding every 25 years…and it has been 31 years since the flood of 1974.
Houston Can Be Better
The tragedy for many Houston homeowners was that they had no idea about the flood-risks. Many housing officials purposefully kept buyers in the dark so the homes would sell. However, Houston may be able to hold these officials accountable. As investigations into housing operations are ongoing, some housing developers may face lawsuits for their hand in selling homes without sharing all of the risks.
The only way Houston can keep the next generation knowledgeable is by disallowing housing officials from purposefully hiding risks from potential buyers. Signs could be put up, maps could be drafted, but ultimately: residents must speak against these officials now. Stories must be shared and documented so the next generation can understand the risks and protect themselves against similar tragedy.