To prepare for devastating storms, Texas in 2018 should act like Galveston in 1900, a state report released Thursday argues.

Drawing a direct line between a massive project to raise the island after the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history and Hurricane Harvey, Gov. Greg Abbott’s Commission to Rebuild Texas outlined how the state should prepare for future hurricanes.

After the 1900 Storm, the people of Galveston took future threats seriously, wrote Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, chairman of the commission.

“They elevated an entire island and built a seawall,” Sharp said in the executive summary of the report. “We should recognize that those lessons remain vital and relevant to Texas today.”

The 178-page after-action report, “The Eye of the Storm,” calls for numerous changes in the way Texas responds to storms and puts particular emphasis on preparation.

The report describes Hurricane Harvey as a wake-up call for Texas. The storm, which made landfall Aug. 25, 2017, caused an estimated $125 billion across 53 counties.

The commission recommended the state create a permanent recovery task force made up of extension agents with Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension Service to be perpetually ready to react to disaster; to make a single website to consolidate information about disaster recovery; and to develop a statewide debris management plan.

As Galveston once future-proofed itself against hurricanes, the rest of the state should now do the same, Sharp said.

“We must make the Texas Gulf Coast — and indeed the entire state — more resilient and better able to withstand future disasters,” he said.

The commission also recommended the state create “systematic coastal protection” on barrier islands like Galveston, including the construction of floodgates and storm surge barriers.

It speaks in positive terms about a proposal for a coastal spine for Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula. The coastal spine described in the state report differs from the one that has been the subject of recent public hearings by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The coastal spine in the report would cost $8 billion, and would not include a ring levee around Galveston.

Some of the changes recommended in the report already has been made, Abbott said.

The Texas Department of Emergency Management has been integrated into an emergency management system operated by Texas A&M University, and the state’s emergency management director has been made a vice chancellor in the Texas A&M System.

The report also recommends the state create its own system of enrolling disaster victims for recovery services. Doing that would require permission from federal agencies, Abbott said.

For the most part, the report lauded Texas’ response to the storm. Texas was already a “model for disaster recovery,” Abbott said.

But Texas isn’t perfect at disaster response, Sharp said.

“Our rescue operations are considered the best in the United States of America,” Sharp said. “What we think this will do is make the recovery part of it, the response part of it, the best in the United States of America.”

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

(8) comments

Paul Hyatt

Until bayous and diversionary canals are cleaned up so that water can flow down them quickly to the bay the coastal spine, the Ike Dike what ever you want to call it will not help one iota....

PS Robbins

It is really that simple is it not? But for whatever reason the folks in charge esp in Dickinson cannot find a way or time to take care of this essential task. Apparently neglected for literally decades. Shameful

Randy Chapman

The water from Harvey was not able to flow uphill to the bay because of the high tide from Harvey. Nothing would have helped in Harvey's situation as there was no where for the water to go. Clean all the bayous and ditches you want, but if the tide in the bay is higher, as was during Harvey, it will not help. We simply do not have enough elevation change in this coastal plain to drain water effectively. The Ike Dike will prevent the bay level from rising if closed before the storm has a chance to push tides into the bay...read days here. That will help in a direct hit with a huge storm surge, but not a sneak attach from the west and north with rainfall. You are talking about two completely different issues.

George Croix

The listed average elevation above sea level for Dickinson is 10', although obviously many areas of it are lower.
It's true that during a high storm tide water flow to the bay will be restricted more as it approaches the bay, and slowed anyway due to not much drop in elevation as Randy said, magnified by an extremely high tide. With a huge surge, a big flow inland will occur.
But it's also true that if the existing drainage was capable of flowing at it's designed flow, read cleaned out, it would drain faster once that elevated tide receded, and during normal or low tides would drain better all the time.
I suppose some deciding needs to be done as to whether it's better to clean up and drain as designed in all but very high tides, or let the drainage ditches stay overgrown and/or silted up and spend the time and bucks on The Big One remediation.
Me...I'd get started with clean things up, because it can be done without consultants and meetings and such.
Where I live in TC, the stepchild west side, the last ditch cleaning was 30 plus years ago. We NEVER had flooding on our end of the street until a couple years ago the water from bad rains started covering the road, and last year some houses down the street where it's lower elevation got water.....and all due to the ditches filled with silt, as easily seen by eyeballing.
Thing is, unless the whole system is cleaned out, you just end up with a lot of standing water as the cleaned ditches hit the uncleaned ones and water back up.
Essentially, it would be a full time, daily job to work on, for months/years.
Which I suppose explains how we hit 30+ with zip done.....

Gary Scoggin

I think this hits on the idea that the dike and solving the drainage issue are not mutually exclusive. Keeping water conveyances cleaned, maintained and upgraded as needed to account for growth is quicker and (relatively) cheaper move than building big long walls. And it addresses one of the two flooding scenarios. Building the dike will take decades if it happens at all. One challenge will be sustainable funding for drainage. Given that it will generally be locally funded, do we have the discipline to budget and tax accordingly to keep these conveyances up to snuff?

Steve Fouga

Imagine, 50 years from now, if the “Ike Dike” is as poorly maintained as our current infrastructure. Which it might be, given that it will also be expensive to maintain, and on top of, rather than instead of, what we already fail to maintain. Then what?

Randy Chapman

Steve, we'll be dead and gone by the time the Ike Dike is built, and it will be built. The infrastructure here is too valuable to the entire country not to protect. It's not about protecting homes, although that might happen as a by-product.

What can be done in the meantime is a meaningful multi-county approach to managing rainwater, including no longer ignoring the required cleaning of ditches and bayous. That will help, but again, I'm pessimistic that any amount of man-made technology would help prevent all flooding in another 50+ inch rain event. You can't beat Mother Nature. She's going to do what she wants and we will have to expect that and prepare for it by at least having the insurance to repair our property.

George Croix

No reason to call it pessimistic...you're just realistic......
NO way that anything this side of a magic wand could get rid of a 50" rainfall along a coastal plain with such a large area in a relatively short time with zero damage.....not ever gonna happen....
With mega bucks spent and BIG removal systems in place, with such a disaster can only reduce some of the really bad maybe back to just miserable, and eliminate a lot of somewhat bad to no damage....still a worthy effort, saving a LOT of misery for many, many people.
But after a year and a half not even the can-do-it-right-now basic step(s) of fixing up the already in-place drainage system(s) has been attempted with any but token effort......
After Claudette dumped 40+" it couldn't happen again......until the 35+" from Allison, which couldn't happen again.......until the 50+" from Harvey......
Note what seems to be a pattern..............

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