Experts weigh in on Houston's street flooding dilemma

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HOUSTON – Every time it rains hard in Houston, the streets flood, and it happened on a grand scale Tuesday.

In Kingwood and Sugar Land, traffic remained at a standstill for miles.

In Houston, the streets are supposed to flood. They’re designed as secondary storm channels to hold storm runoff and allow it to drain through storm sewers into bayous and rivers.

Harris County Meteorologist Jeff Linder had an answer for concerned residents.

Q: Why do the streets flood so often?

A: “The streets will flood so the homes don’t flood. The pipes underground that carry the water from roadways to the creeks can handle about 2 inches of rain an hour. So, we start talking about the rainfall rates we were seeing yesterday, 4 to 5, even 6 inches an hour, that’s just a tremendous amount of water that’s going to overwhelm the ability of pipes to carry that water.”

One way to reduce street flooding would be to rebuild smaller storm sewer systems in older neighborhoods to increase drainage capacity.

Some neighborhoods are already in line for the change as part of the $2.5 billion bond issue approved by Harris County last summer.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the problem has been building for decades and won’t be a quick fix.

“They’re decadeslong issues that haven’t been addressed. Now we’re moving to grow with them. We want the community informed of the process.”

New infrastructure won’t alleviate all street flooding because of Houston’s weather and geography.

Former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett weighed in on the matter.

“We can engineer some of it away, but you don’t want to engineer all of it away because you need to use those streets as a certain detention capacity, if you will, when you get the rapid rains,” Emmett said.

That makes staying off the street the best strategy for navigating a heavy storm in Houston. shows you which streets are flooded in real time, rainfall amounts, traffic flow, power outages and bayou levels.

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