Last August, Hurricane Harvey turned the Greater Houston area into a vast lake, inundating homes and businesses that had never flooded in previous storms. Experts called the disaster a 1,000-year event. However, due to urban development in floodplains, Houston tends to flood in any case during heavy rainstorms, turning streets into impassable rivers and wreaking havoc. The prospect of more of the same has government officials’ attention and is causing them to think outside the box to make sure that another Harvey never happens again,

The Addicks and Barker reservoirs.

The Addicks and Barker Reservoirs were built several decades ago to help alleviate the possibility of floods in the Houston area.

However, during Harvey, they proved to be woefully inadequate. Indeed, some of the worst flooding occurred when officials were forced to release pent-up water from the two reservoirs lest the damns burst, causing an uncontrolled release. Apparently, the capacity of the two reservoirs needs to be augmented.

While one option being contemplated is the construction of a third reservoir, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is exploring the possibility of dredging the two existing ones, removing many tons of silt and soil from the bottom. One estimate suggests that the capacity of the two reservoirs could be doubled. As a bonus the excavated soil could be used by developers for construction projects, depending on its quality.

Tunnels under the city

Another long-term solution being looked at is the construction of tunnels underneath Houston’s system of bayous to drain flood water and carry it out to the ocean. Houston’s network of waterways called bayous are designed to contain flood waters but have often proved to be inadequate. Heavy rains, not to mention a biblical disaster such as Harvey, have caused water to overflow the banks of the bayous and flood nearby homes and businesses.

The problem is that building the tunnel system would take many billions of dollars and take a considerable time to complete. More than one person has directed their attention to Elon Musk’s latest business venture, the Boring Company, which claims to be able to reduce the cost of creating tunnels by a factor of ten. The Boring Company was established to dig underground traffic lanes and routes for Musk’s intercity transportation solution, the Hyperloop.

A series of tunnels that just have to carry water and nothing else should be relatively straightforward.

The cost of flood control

The cost of all of these Flood Control projects is likely to run in the tens of billions. However, alleviating the damage wrought by flooding, not to mention another Harvey, is expected to save hundreds of billions.