Preserving the environment in Houston

By Engr. Edgar Mana-ay

HOUSTON, Texas, USA – A Filipino needs to go to western countries to appreciate the contrast on how we Filipinos preserve and protect the environment compared to people in these countries. A classic example is our beach line from the city proper going out three towns further, say from Fort San Pedro up to the town of Guimbal only. This stretch of about 30-km beach line will never pass criteria for a decent tourist beach destination.

Informal settlers proliferate near the waterline (some houses are even built on stilts over the sea), garbage and human wastes are wantonly discharged and float on the sea that it’s never safe to take a dip in the water almost all along the 30-km. shoreline.

Our government should have been strict 80 years ago in enforcing a ban on structures for at least 50 meters from the shoreline, allowing only the superhighway as a buffer between houses and the sea, but now it’s too late to enforce that.

Galveston Island in Texas was first settled by French pirates in 1816 at about the same time that Fort San Pedro to Guimbal shorelines was also slowly being settled by our Filipino ancestors. But in contrast today, the East to West shorelines of Galveston is environmentally preserved the past 204 years!

Today, only hotel-like beach houses are constructed strictly 100 meters from the water line for a stretch of more than 10 kilometers! In commercial areas along the beach line, there is a six-lane Boulevard buffer with the buildings also a hundred meters away from the shoreline.

Tourists can hire a 6-passenger capacity tricycle with a triple drive pedal which tourists will pedal themselves along a 4-kilometer boulevard. Another 6-kilometer stretch along the shorelines are beach houses for rent and others as vacation villas of the wealthy.

My family rented one for four days to vacation near the sea. These are not like the nipa huts or talipapas or cheap motels and lodging inns we have along Villa Beach but are at least half a million or more dollars beautiful houses on STILTS. Since it is on stilts as a precaution against overwhelming sea waves during a storm, the first floor is purely for car garage and accommodations are on the 2nd and 3rd floors.

Of course, all of these houses have an open porch view of the sea, have standard hotel accommodation such as heating and cooling, four bedrooms with toilet and bath, a kitchen fully equipped with utensils even cork opener for wines and bedrooms stack with bed sheets and pillows, in the living room is a giant 72-inch TV while each room has the standard 18-inch.

For the past more than 200 hundred years, there is tremendous progress of civilization and influx of people into Texas being near the border of Latin American countries but Houston had intelligently planned its growth so that the environment is preserved albeit in a modern way. In the middle of the city proper (if it is Iloilo City, the University of San Agustin’s location) at Memorial Park 4501 Woodway Drive, Houston had allocated a one-square-kilometer wooded area known as the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. It’s an area where random trees and bushes (like the poison ivy which has a warning sign) are allowed to grow naturally with small ponds now and then that are stocked with turtles.

There are no fancy structures, only crisscrossing, all-weather nature trails of over 8 kilometers which people flock seven days a week just to walk around and observe how nature flourishes without human intervention. This natural forest almost approaches a rain forest, original forest conditions that not even one percent of Filipinos have seen. For how can our people appreciate the preservation of our environment particularly our forests if the younger generation has not even seen one?

Our government should painfully allocate precious real estate to create a mini-forest in the middle of a city or town as an object lesson to the populace to appreciate a preserved environment. In fact, a preserved mini-forest I once saw right in the middle of the city of Sydney in Australia has century-old trees. This means when they built Sydney City centuries ago, the authorities had fenced off about 100 hectares of virgin forest and that remained fenced off amid the city until now for people just to see but not to enter the area.

To show how forward-looking is the Houston government on environment protection, it was announced today in the Houston Chronicle that it is expropriating the Raveneaux Country Club in Harris County, an 18-hole golf course with tennis and swimming facilities and a country club resembling a French Chateau that holds weddings and holiday events. The 100-hectare complex will be converted into a storm water detention basin in the area badly submerged by flood during the Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Funding would come from the $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond that voters approved a year after Hurricane Harvey inundated more than 200,000 homes and apartments in Harris County.

In Iloilo, we follow the Japanese hard approach of steel and concrete in controlling flood as in the Jica straight floodway that resulted in tremendous bank erosion upstream of Tigum and Aganan rivers due to the increased speed in river water flow.

In Houston, they use the Soft Approach which is a series of interconnected man-made settling ponds whose size ranges from 20 to 500 hectares (for the entire city which is as large as Iloilo Province) known as the Bayous to control flooding at the same time aesthetically designed to provide recreational and jogging centers for the people.

These settling ponds which recharges the underground water resource also becomes the habitat for wild ducks and birds because most have a small island in the middle. The Bayou system single release to the Gulf of Mexico is controlled to maintain salinity of the sea conducive to the growth of its crustacean (shrimps, crabs, and lobsters) industry.

We can only dream to have something like this even on a miniature scale only in Iloilo. But more than this, what we need is discipline as Filipinos to protect our environment. Look at the ocean of trash and urine scattered on the streets after the Dinagyang festivities. Destroying the environment is a curse we have heap upon ourselves.