Gulf of Mexico
Midjourney generated image of Houston underwater / CleanTechnica

TX - Houston Wants Feds To Waste Billions On Dike To Protect It From Climate Change

The Oil Belt will join the Rust Belt in the economically withered parts of America. Throwing money at protecting it makes no sense.

What if you built a massive dike and it was a complete waste of money? That’s what Texas wants the US government to do for Houston. Ike’s Dike’s already massive budget projection of $34 billion just ballooned to $57 billion. If it gets approved and built, it will be the biggest civil engineering project in American history. Does it make any sense?

Let’s start with the bleedingly obvious. Houston is oil and gas central in the USA. It holds more responsibility per square mile, per capita and per dollar of GDP for the USA’s contribution to global warming in the past century than any other. Its billionaires and firms have funded more climate change denial than any other part of America and its biggest businesses have intentionally ignored climate scientists’ warnings for decades.

It’s also absurdly more vulnerable to climate change than most American cities, something that’s become very clear to everyone who lives there, or who watches any news out of the place.

Map of Houston with bayous and watersheds courtesy Resilient Houston report
Map of Houston with bayous and watersheds courtesy Resilient Houston report

While its average height is 50 feet above sea level, great swathes of it are reclaimed former swamps at sea level. The meandering bayous that define it are indicative of the bad planning and denial of the city for pretty much the entirety of the 20th century and well into the 21st.

Perhaps the biggest wake-up call was 2017 when Hurricane Harvey did a bunch of very unusual things due to climate change. The warmth of the Gulf of Mexico’s waters — due to global warming — meant that it expanded in size and power quickly. The instability of the polar jet stream — due to global warming — meant it made shore and then just stopped over the city. The much higher levels of water vapor over the Gulf of Mexico — due to global warming — meant that it just scooped up Gulf water and dumped it inland.

Hurricane Harvey poured about 127 billion tons of water on Houston. Scientists know that because of how deformed the earth’s crust was by the extra weight. Those 127 billion tons of water turned all of those meandering bayous and all the sprawling homes, buildings, and normally car-laden roads into flooded disaster zones.


Read also

Texas “Ike Dike” coastal barrier project could cost $57 billion with inflation, Army Corps says

Texas Public Radio / September 30, 2023


The next year, pretty much the same thing happened because of a combination of rain upriver from Houston and an extended period of rain on Houston itself. In fact, there were six major flooding periods in the five years leading up to the Resilient Houston report. The city is pretty flat. When it floods, there just isn’t anywhere for water to go except into the sea, which is now — due to global warming — higher. Sea levels in the Houston area are about five inches higher than they were in 2010, on top of the several inches in preceding decades. Houston is pretty much leading the world in sea level rise, in part due to thermal expansion in the Gulf’s heated waters, in part due to ice melting elsewhere, and in part due to winds blowing Atlantic water into the Gulf. When there’s a hurricane pushing water inland, it’s on top of about eleven inches of extra water. The rate of rise might change with wind patterns, but the increase in sea level isn’t going to stop.

So what’s the plan? After 2008’s Hurricane Ike, a local marine scientist, instead of doing something wiser, started sketching out a massive barrier dune, dike, and gate system offshore from Houston. It ended up with the nickname Ike’s Dike, after the hurricane. That was given to the US Army Corps of Engineers, which was tasked with coming up with a more comprehensive set of plans for a hurricane storm surge protection system. Lots of Republican Texan politicians — okay, I’m being redundant — love the idea, people like Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, and Greg Abbot. You know, climate change denying Republicans who would love to yank the USA out of the Paris Accord again, and who have a deeply immoderate love of the fossil fuel industry.

Read more.