Here’s the best way to limit the risk of ‘widespread’ hurricane damage
- Hurricanes Irma and Harvey show how vulnerable the coasts are to widespread damage from hurricanes.
- The National Flood Insurance Program increases that risk as it offers subsidies to home owners, encouraging development in flood zones.
- While Congress will be under pressure to increase funding now, it’s high time to end the program.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, various armchair quarterbacks were quick to blame Houston’s lack of zoning laws—rather than the 50 inches of rain that inundated the area— for the unprecedented flooding.
Perhaps Hurricane Irma—which just ripped through Florida—will help focus attention on a bigger reason the East and Gulf coasts are prone to widespread storm damage: the National Flood Insurance Program.
Truth be told, no amount of government zoning and urban planning could have prevented the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. But the damage might have been less widespread, in both the Texas Gulf and Florida, if the government didn’t subsidize flood insurance, which encourages building in low-lying areas.
Houston is unique because it’s the largest U.S. city without traditional zoning laws limiting development. And development continues to boom, with a 23 percent increase in the population since the last record flood from tropical storm Allison in 2001.
Critics of Houston’s laissez faire development model claim the additional buildings and pavement decrease the ability of the ground to absorb water, creating the runoff that caused the flooding. While additional pavement undoubtedly increases the amount of impervious surface, there is nothing unique about Houston’s lack of zoning that made the flooding any worse than a government planned city would have experienced.