Quirks & Quarks

Harvey reminds cities their wetlands are worth money too

A new study shows that wetlands are able to act as a buffer to storm surges and a sponge during flooding, saving millions in flood damage.
Submerged houses are seen by flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Rose City, Texas. (REUTERS)

How do you calculate the cost of a disaster the size of Hurricane Harvey?

You could add up the price of rebuilding Houston into the boom town it had become, but in many cases that prosperity was tied to development. That development of wetlands in particular is being blamed for some of the severity of the storm damage.

So as the flood waters begin to recede, a better question might be, what is the cost of not building? Should we begin to look to nature's solutions - instead of infrastructure - to cope with the next 500 year storm?

Dr. Michael Beck is the lead marine scientist for The Nature Conservancy and an adjunct Professor in Ocean Sciences at the University of California Santa Cruz. He is also a coauthor of a new paper that looks at the value of wetlands in reducing flood damage. 

Dr. Beck and his colleagues found that during Hurricane Sandy, which hit the American east coast in 2012, wetlands were able to act as a buffer, decreasing the intensity of surging sea water. Where flooding did occur, wetlands were able to absorb a lot of the water remaining — something concrete can't do.