The Katy Prairie

It’s a free country. I can do what I want with “my land,” right? Well, maybe. Consider Katy, Texas.

Originally, the vast expanse of land northwest of Houston was filled with native prairie grasses. The Buffalo Bayou runs through the area and on into Houston to become the major fresh water source for Galveston Bay. It is two blocks from my sister’s house which has been flooded twice in three years by statistical “500-year storms.”

The native prairie grasses and shrubs have deep roots going down 25 feet. They penetrate the clay layers providing natural channels for water to flow down instead of out. But over the forty years I have visited family and friends down there, I have watched as the prairie became rice fields and then became subdivisions with the latest trend being elevated houses on the floodplain. Native prairie soaks up several feet of water per acre compared to a few inches of water retention by suburban development. The water that used to go down, now goes out to become someone else’s problem.

The water that now runs off the tens of thousands of acres in Katy now becomes many feet of flooding throughout Houston. Earlier storms caused hospitals to move research facilities, animal quarters (for research) and generators from their basements to above-ground locations. Parts of Houston were under ten feet of water. What happened up in Katy?

Residents of older, “original” houses in the area were flooded. Newer subdivisions elevate their homes with earthen platforms causing even more water to go elsewhere. It is a vivid example of how land development patterns designed to attract wealthy buyers causes suffering for others. Meanwhile, pesky government zoning and regulations are nowhere in sight.

Changing former, water-absorbing prairie land into housing for people paying $1M or more has become a cash cow for developers, an arms race of higher houses for the wealthy, and potential disaster for millions of residents of Houston. Where is Jesus’ command to care for the poor and needy when local governments rubber stamp non-stop development of areas guaranteed to cause increased flooding downstream? Why are individual “rights” so much more important than collective rights of the people? Why do we not hear a peep from any church or bishop about this moral travesty?

We all know the answers to those questions. I write this as two storms bear down on Houston. In the old days, the first storms of the season (Allison, Andrew) occurred in late August. This year we are up to “Laura” and “Marco” already. We will run out of English letters and move into the Greek alphabet before the 2020 season ends.

We can only pray that the suffering is not too severe or prolonged before our society, inebriated with the primacy of individual rights, will finally change our ways. Watch and pray.

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