SocraticGadfly: Would an #IkeDike help Houston? Or be a big ripoff? Say #carbontax (updated)

October 31, 2017

Would an #IkeDike help Houston? Or be a big ripoff? Say #carbontax (updated)

Update, Oct. 31: In a "trick or treat," Gov. Abbott now wants $12 billion for an Ike Dike as part of a $61 billion federal bailout. Yeah, that word's about right, especially if Texas Congresscritters refuse to support a Manhattan Dike, since NYC is a lot more vulnerable to oceanic-related global warming effects than Houston is.

With a storm like the current Harvey, or the old Tropical Storm Allison, the answer is simply no, an "Ike Dike," first proposed after Hurricane Ike, would be of no help. Simply wouldn't. That's not only due to a Harvey primarily being a problem due to inland rain-induced flooding, not a storm surge, but that the surge that Harvey wound up generating on its final run was partially from within Galveston Bay, not being brought from the larger Gulf of Mexico INTO the bay. And, that will be true of other storms that run up the coast rather than coming in from offshore.

Yes, per one of the links that friend Brains posted on Twitter, A&M-Galveston is touting it. Of course they are — it's A&M, a fricking engineering school. And, with the Corps of Cadets centered on the main branch in College Station, it's the state's military school, too. That will tie in here in a minute.

Besides, contra AM-Galveston, there simply is no such newfangled post-Katrina item in New Orleans called the "Greater New Orleans Barrier." There is NO Wiki page for it and less than 200 Google hits. (Actually, less than 40 if you eliminate near-duplicates.) This is a fraudulent attempt to put a label on a nonexistent item, which is actually a group of post-Katrina cobbled-together upgrades, expansions and improvements to existing storm surge barriers.

It's also fraudulent to say that the Netherlands' work, designed to face North Sea gales with normal max 60 mph winds, and almost never above 75-80 mph, is the same as trying to block out a Category 5 hurricane. (The same is true for Venice's tidal gate system.)

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It's also like the Army Corps of Engineers saying yet-higher levees is always the answer for Mississippi River floods, or some newer, higher dam, is always the answer for floods out west.

Per ProPublica, in Houston, city and Harris County officials need to focus on inland solutions — green spaces, permeable ground, and zoning — that are cheaper than dikes that will likely cost $10 billion, not $3 billion, that are hubristic, and that won't help inland flooding, either. And, it's no wonder that a leading private contractor (especially on military stuff) is also touting the so-called Ike Dike. This is the military-industrial complex gravy train at work. And, that same military-industrial complex was at work getting at least one Houston suburb to push for it. (On the "less than 200 Google hits," there's a number of Houston suburbs with city ordinances or similar city council agenda items like that.) Speaking of, the Corps' New Orleans-area work, per Wiki, has long been known to be laden with pork. And, the Corps' post-Katrina levees work, when Isaac came, moved flooding around more than anything else.

And, the Seabrook Floodgate, if that's what's meant, is nothing like a "Greater New Orleans Barrier."

And, again, an Ike Dike would be of ZERO effectiveness against inland, rain-induced flooding.

Something else that would be cheaper? Fixing, or even reversing if possible, ground subsidence.

And, leaders of Sun Belt megalopolises also need to read Ed Abbey (that's YOU, former mayor Annise Parker) and remember: "Growth for growth's sake is the theology of the cancer cell."

But, per my Houston vs Harvey blog post, Houstonians and Harris County voters keep electing "open for business" growth-only mayors, city councilmen, county judges and county commissioners. Your local answer needs to start with "vote the rascals out." And get the new people to fire city and county flood staff.

When President Obama took office, I said he should have used some of the Great Recession stimulus money to make new moves to Phoenix and Vegas go back to Cleveland, St. Louis or wherever as part of buying out underwater mortgages, before climate change made those cities essentially unlivable. To be honest, the same probably needs to happen in Houston, and New Orleans. Beyond all the problems mentioned above, both cities also face land subsidence from groundwater pumping that has turned them into giant bowls.

An Ike Dike as the semi-magic solution to these problems? It's what Evgeny Morozov calls "solutionism." It's what I've called here "salvific technologism." It's the stuff that makes Silicon Valley tech-neoliberals (as well as the military-industrial complex) salivate.

Folks in other places — Baton Rouge and parts of South Florida come to mind — are already at work on inland mitigation effects, including permeability, smart building, etc. Why won't greater Houston, and why shouldn't it?


As for cost? Kuff has numbers with higher estimates, depending on the project, than does Brains. And state Land Commish Pee Bush, per Vox, says $15M. They're still surely underestimates, once the military-industrial complex gets its hands on this. But, at least we are getting somewhat more serious.

Something else that would be cheaper and would help with flooding, though not a storm surge, is an underground conduit draining Addicks and Barker reservoirs straight to the Houston Ship Channel. It was first discussed 20 years ago. Even that would be less pricey than an Ike Dike, though it would still have the Corps involved.

And, neither Brains nor Kuff talk about the other costs, like environmental. How would this affect marine life? At the intersection of environment and business, how would this affect fishing and shrimping? Or simply business — how would this affect offshore oil exploration? (The channel would also have some environmental effect, though surely less than an Ike Dike.)

I mean, this IS the Corps of Engineers we're talking about, that is generally in neck-and-neck running with the Bureau of Recreation for among the most environmentally UNfriendly federal government agencies.

Even that reservoir conduit? It would be like the Mississippi River levees or moving around the New Orleans ones. A blast from it like Harvey's would probably tear up portions of the Houston Ship Channel unless IT was re-engineered. And, for how much?

An Ike Dike is a nice dream. No more than that. Per the above, probably not tremendously more realistic than an air-conditioned dome above all of Phoenix, or geoengineering the atmosphere with soot to try to reduce climate change.

And, if the real cost is $20 billion? Or even close? The only way I would consider paying for that is a national carbon tax, which the wingnuts who run Harris County, and the accommodators who run Houston, would never back.

And, per Ed Abbey and other things, were I the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., I'd refuse to fund an Ike Dike without a carbon tax. AND, I wouldn't sign off without Emmett, Turner et al agreeing to ALSO do mainland mitigation work.

In other words, if I were president, Houston and Harris County would have to pass zoning ordinances before getting money.

This is no different than my supporting single-payer national health care only if cost controls are attached. (And that is why I want the US to adopt at least elements of a British-style NHS.)


This is nothing against Perry, nor against other bloggers on the Texas Progressives list. Per what he said about another blogger, he's in many ways like a brother from another mother, or at least a cousin from another aunt. And, I have other friends, including two college classmates, who also live in Houston.

But, this is also about what's right for the country, what's right for the environment and what's realistic. I mean, we already have a country with unmet infrastructure repairs, improvements and upgrades so crappy in some places, along with income inequality, that an MIT economist recently labeled the US a "developing country."

And, on "realistic" and environmentalism, the Corps of Engineers usually runs neck and neck with the Bureau of Reclamation for lack of environmental concern among federal construction-type agencies.

And finally, no, it's not "too soon" to write this.


PDiddie said...

An Ike Dike would protect against storm surge, which -- prior to Harvey -- was the primary cause, and worry, of flooding from hurricanes. Harvey was similar to TS Allison in 2001, which also camped out over the city and dumped water for days. Harvey can't be considered a one-off on that basis; he might be the new normal.

There's no bayous that can be widened enough when Houston gets Lake Superior dumped on it. Much that should be unbuilt, as you suggest.

The cow's out of the barn, with two hundred-year floods and now a five-hundred year one in the last three years. Whatever Houston does in the future is just a band-aid on a bleeding wound.

Wife wants out of town, so in five years or less we'll be retired to New Mexico. Flooding won't be my concern; fracking will.

This is the right idea, and a good place to start. Not holding my breath on action getting taken next week.

Gadfly said...

Had just read that Guardian piece. I'm with you. Who's on the Ship Channel? The petrochemical folks. Let them pay or be taxed. Will be doing a follow-up.


Oh, and since you're my cousin by a different aunt, don't forget, you have to find me a new job, or make me your Jerry Lewis houseboy, when you head to the Land of Enchantment.

PS: If you're anywhere NEAR Duke City, hope that the crime rate is down by then, more seriously. Follow or read that Joe Monahan blog for details.

Gadfly said...

Oh, I've been prodding Tomlinson and that Idrys Phillys or whatever her name is at the Chronic to write something about environmental justice if they're going to write about how Houston needs to keep making plastics. With you in mind, I invited them to take a tour with tejas after the waters go down.