An Environmentally-Friendly Way to Reduce Flooding and Improve Water Quality in Texas

Posted by: Elizabeth Berg on

In recent years, Texas has suffered a string of major floods. In 2016, the “Tax Day” flood killed eight people in the Houston area. In 2015, flooding on Memorial Day weekend killed 12 people in Wimberley. Flood damages cost more than $3 billion in 2015 alone, and over the past 10 years, floods have killed roughly 150 people across the state.

Even when flooding isn’t an immediate concern, Texas faces persistent threats to water quality from stormwater pollution. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has found that more than 430 miles of local waterways have been impacted by stormwater runoff. These risks are serious enough that swimming and fishing are recommended against or even prohibited in many Texas rivers and streams.

In light of these dangerous and expensive threats, our new report, Catching the Rain, written with Environment Texas Research & Policy Center, identifies an environmentally-friendly, low-cost solution: green stormwater infrastructure. These are residential, commercial or public systems that absorb rainwater by incorporating or mimicking nature, including rain gardens, permeable pavement, green roofs and rain cisterns. 

Rain gardens absorb rainfall, filter stormwater and look beautiful! Photo: Alisha Goldstein, EPA


In this report, we looked at past studies on individual forms of green stormwater infrastructure and identified an impressive list of benefits. Previous research has found that these installations can absorb between 50 and 90 percent of rainfall, trap between 45 and 99 percent of solid pollutants, and routinely cost less than building or repairing comparable “gray infrastructure,” such as drains and pipes. Green stormwater infrastructure is also generally pretty to look at, simple to install, and inexpensive to maintain.  

Although green stormwater infrastructure cannot fully prevent flooding, its abilities to limit flood damages and runoff pollution offer obvious utility in Texas. Many business and developers have already realized this and have incorporated aspects of green stormwater infrastructure in locations ranging from a medical school, to a fire station, to a highway. With more heavy rains occurring due to climate change, flooding risk is likely to increase in the future in Texas and much of the United States. By drawing from the examples highlighted in this report and installing new green stormwater infrastructure, local governments, businesses and residents can protect themselves and our communities against the worst damage from flooding.