The Trouble with living in a swamp: Houston's floods explained

Things get bad when Houston floods. Water swamps homes, takes lives and shuts down the city. But it should be so much worse. There shouldn't even be a city here. 

But there is, and most Houstonians casually accept the enormous drainage system - the bayous, creeks and gullies - that keep it precariously dry in a former wetland.

Early settlers drained marshes to build Houston town in a muddy bog. Fast forward less than 200 years and the city stands above water, mostly, thanks mostly to 2,500 miles of managed waterways-the flying distance from Houston to Quito, Ecuador-that whisk the floods out to sea.

"If those channels didn't exist, this area would be flooding from every rain, not just the big ones," said Mike Talbott, executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District. "A very large percentage of the systems have not been made larger to meet current criteria."

 Therein lies the problem. Tremendous rains this year and last pushed the limits, forcing gullies and bayous over their banks into neighborhoods that brim them. The only solution is to widen the waterways, which means buying up adjacent buildings and tearing them down. Talbott puts the price tag on a total upgrade at $26 billion, which will not happen soon.

The weather is outpacing Harris County's effort to tame, and according to scientists it's not going to stop. Citing his own research, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said extreme rainfall events have increased in Texas over the past century, with a particularly large increase in Houston.

When the rains hit, they often hit harder than they used to. And the trend isn't expected to abate.

Nature is ignoring the occupation that Talbott is tasked with preserving. It's an old game for Houston. The city's past was built on drainage and its future will be too. It's just hard to imagine how. To read the full article and see the video footage go to: