Beginning in August 2017, three catastrophic hurricanes ripped through the Caribbean and struck various parts of the United States. The first of these was Hurricane Harvey, which hit Houston with intense winds and 51 inches of rain in less than a week. Throughout the city and surrounding areas, massive flooding ensued.
“Our biggest challenge was accurate and timely communication,” says Jill Boullion, the accredited Bayou Land Conservancy’s executive director. “Our staff was on the phone, fielding media requests and talking to people. Everyone was looking for resources and information wherever they could, and we were perceived as a trusted community partner.”
But they also had pressing work issues to deal with. After the waters receded, BLC had preserves covered in sand and sediment deposits measuring anywhere from a couple of inches to 8 feet.
In the wake of Harvey, Houston residents started asking how such a disaster could be avoided. “The storm finally made people realize that we can’t go on the way we have in the past,” says Mary Anne Piacentini, president of the accredited Katy Prairie Conservancy. “Everyone knows that flooding knows no political jurisdictions or boundaries.”
The main issue in Houston is that sprawl-like growth has decimated large swaths of tallgrass prairie and wetlands, replacing these natural resources with subdivisions, shopping malls and parking lots. Instead of seeping into the ground, rainwater runs over a sea of pavement before landing in streams and rivers.
“The community is looking for answers. Land trusts are positioned to help,” says Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation. “It’s important to engage with local officials right after the disaster is over.” Stokes notes that now Harris County officials are considering setting aside money for nature-based flood control measures, whereas before Hurricane Harvey, greater weight was given to engineering solutions.
Having the public on board is critical right now. “People are often not aware of the importance of land conservation or nature-based solutions,” says Boullion. “Watershed education has always been a component of our youth and adult education programs, but now we plan to develop it as a presentation for community groups.”