Two questions about an aspect of public planning and infrastructure appropriations

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Xelor, Sep 13, 2017.

  1. Xelor Registered Senior Member

    "14 days after Harvey, some West Houston homes remain under water."

    In light of the above observation, I ask two questions:
    1. Normative economics question --> Should anything be done to attenuate the duration, thus the impact, of "massive" scale flooding?
    2. Positive and normative economics question --> If "yes," what implementation approach(s) should be used to do so?

    My Answer to Question 1:
    To question one, my answer is "yes." Why? Well, because over some 30 years of managing case studies of my share of Fortune 500 (or similar) companies (a mix of commodities producers/sellers and differentiated goods producers/sellers), it's become very clear to me that "everything goes retro except prices," the axiom "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" bears heeding.

    Flooding is the costliest and most common natural disaster in the U.S., claiming lives, inflicting financial losses on households and businesses, and straining the government agencies that provide flood response and relief. From 1980 to 2013, flooding cost Americans more than $260 billion in damage [3]; from 2006 to 2015, federal flood insurance claims averaged $1.9 billion annually. The pattern continued in 2016, with the federal government declaring 36 disasters involving floods or hurricanes. As of the end of December, the damage from four of the storms that triggered those declarations was estimated to exceed $1 billion each.

    As a result, the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Jan. 17 reported a \$4 billion loss for 2016 and revealed that it had borrowed \$1.6 billion from the federal Treasury to pay National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims. As a result, FEMA commenced 2017 $23B in debt.

    It is critical for the nation to prepare before natural disasters occur in order to increase safety, protect property, and decrease costs. At the federal level, Congress must support increased investment in pre-disaster mitigation as well as in innovative strategies to help reduce costs and save lives in an era of catastrophic weather.​

    My Answer to Question 2:
    Well, I'm no engineer or physicist, but I don't need to be for my suggested attenuation approach.

    Insofar as there is currently an appetite for infrastructure rehabilitation, I think part of that effort should, when repaving/upgrading surface roads, (1) drop the plane of roads, with regard to that of surrounding structures, so they sit lower than they currently do, (2) increase the incline of the roads (to something around 3.5 to 5 degrees) [4] so water flows more rapidly than it currently does along them, and (3) design and implement the incline increases so as to create coherently coordinated city-and-suburb-wide water dispersal paths. [5]

    Quite simply, two weeks for the water to drain off is at least ten days too long given the area of land upon which the water fell. Most of us surely heard the metric whereby Harvey was reported to have dropped enough water -- 33 trillion gallons -- to "fuel" Niagara Falls for about 15 days. That's a lot of water, but that water disperses over the width of the falls which is about 2,200 feet. Houston, in contrast covers an area whereby water has some 630 square miles over which it has a diameter of 23 miles (over 121K feet) across which the water can drain to the Gulf of Mexico.

    Even without an omnibus infrastructure bill, the suggestions above can, as part of routine road maintenance, be implemented over time. Appropriating the money as part of an infrastructure bill would get it done faster, which given the rate at which we've been seeing increasing flood damage and the ever increasing cost of flooding, seems something best achieved sooner rather than later.

    I can say the approach used in the wake of the Great Mississippi Flood to "make people whole" or somehow better is not what I would undertake. That was "okay" to do in 1992. Now that we have more data about the nature, extent and timing of "major" flooding events [6] that we should expect for the remainder of the 21st century, it is absolutely not what we should do going forward.​
    Flooding is going to happen; I'm not in any way trying to stop it from happening. I am saying, however, that once an area floods, it shouldn't stay flooded for days and weeks on end.

    1. This thread is not about the veracity of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory, research or models. Do not post about AGW. Whether humans have caused the warming is irrelevant for this thread. You AGW folks -- regardless of what side you take -- should get on that "soapbox" in a thread other than this one.
    2. See also: NASA GISS: Science Briefs: The Physics of Climate Modeling.
    3. Some perspective on how much $260B is:
    4. I'm not here going to explain the vagaries of fluid dynamics, but for those who care for some discussion on it, I will provide some reference materials one can use to evaluate water flow on roads of a given incline and width.
    5. One may debate about whether the dispersal rates should be predominantly curvilinear (slowing the rate of water flow) or predominantly linear (hastening the rate of flow). Neither, however, do I need to for that a tactical matter, and the discussion here is overwhelmingly strategic: mitigating the duration and extent of flooding. I'm sure there's a balance to be obtained between the rate of water recession and accumulation. I don't currently have a coherent position on the tactical aspect of the matter. What I know is that two weeks is at least 10 days too long for an area to remain flooded after the cause of the flooding has passed.
    6. See also: U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather & Climate Disasters 1980-2017
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2017

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