Address Watershed While the Sun Shines
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
I was reading World Watch, an issues-oriented magazine on "Seven Key Moments" that defined the past 30 years. Among the seven was "The Flood". Not our famous Flood of 1998, but the Yangtze River Basin in China in 1998! The similarity of their experience so paralleled our own that I could not help but share it with you. Thank God, our flood was but a fraction of theirs.
"Chinese developers had cleared thousands of hectares of forest to make space for the country's burgeoning population-thus setting the stage for one of the largest disasters in history. Stripping tree cover reduces the watersheds capacity to slow the flow of surface water. Global warming increases evaporation and thus increases rainfall. When the monsoon of 1998 comes, the heightened volume and velocity of the runoff-and unprecedented numbers of people living in the waters path-drive over 100 million people from their homes."
Those 100 million people who were driven from their homes are over 1/3 the population of the United States! Though on a much smaller scale, your City and County experienced a very unusual 500-year flood. Now, working with FEMA, both City and County have just about completed the buy-out of flooded properties. Next, we turn to planning and implementing plans to prevent a reoccurrence of our experience or at least reduce the flooding effects on some hopefully rational basis. In the process of planning, it is important to note that we are not dealing with water quality or quantity, but with water flooding and its proper management.
There is no doubt that a 500-year flood is truly in a category by itself. What is of greater interest is that perhaps Mother Nature is really trying to tell us something beyond the phenomenon of such an unusual downpouring. What I believe has been revealed is the effects of impervious cover-development and paving in the Northern Sector of the County. In my opinion, failure to seriously address this for our future is dereliction of duty.
So, shortly after the flood, your City and County appointed a County Wide Citizens Watershed Master Plan Committee. On February 12, 2001 Commissioners' Court received the Final Draft of their Report. One of the few good things that has come from the Flood of 1998 here in Bexar County is the acknowledgment of a unified and comprehensive approach to flood control. If the causes of the Flood and prevention of future floods such as the one in 1998 and the lesser more common floods are not treated with a united approach, the solutions will be more expensive and perhaps worst of all, ineffective.
A casual look at the dollars it could take to address this growing concern for safety of lives and protection of property is sobering indeed. (See Table) The County Wide Citizens Watershed Master Plan Committee has recommended $337 million worth of corrective or preventive measures. In addition, but not included on the Table, there is a City and Federal Emergency Management Agency and Texas Water Development Board-sponsored Regional Flood Mitigation Plan recommending $500 million worth of measures.
The challenge and mandate at hand is in my opinion, to coordinate these two separate plans and avoid duplication. The multi-jurisdictional situation cannot allow for less. With just under a billion dollars at stake on top of the primary goal of protecting lives and property, this will challenge even the most talented public officials, agency experts and citizens to do the right thing. Stay tuned!