Sewers Not Walls

I don’t know how many readers look at older posts here at Paul’s Thing, but if you do you might have noticed most of the photos are gone. The graphics and photos I use here link to originals stored on Flickr. Three days ago I tried to upload new photos: my account had vanished, along with my photos. I contacted Flickr and they say they’re working it; I hope to be back up and running soon.

Meanwhile, old-timey blog posting, free of graphics and photos.

We’re waiting for a contractor to come move the hide-a-bed and associated wall units out of the home office so we can repaint the walls and install new flooring. We’ll do the painting ourselves; another contractor will lay down the flooring. When that’s done the first guys will reinstall the hide-a-bed. I dread this because the wiring and cables for our two desktop computers and home wifi system run under and behind the wall units and I don’t know if I’ll be able to reconnect everything correctly when the work is done. If I don’t get it right we’ll be cut off from the world.

Re Hurricane Harvey flooding: it occurs to me the Dutch have been living at or below sea level all this time and have somehow figured out how to make it work, and work well. I mentioned this to a Dutch friend and he sent some files about his nation’s flood preparedness plans and infrastructure. It’s way more than I want to get into here, but I did notice that one of the files, a .pdf of a book titled “Flood Preparedness in the Netherlands: a US Perspective,” describes government-to-government information sharing between the Netherlands and the US:

This book is the result of a network linking American and Dutch research institutes. The collaboration within NUWCReN started in 2009 to learn from US experience with flood events as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Netherlands realised that valuable lessons could be learned from the American experience in handling the aftermath of this great disaster. The Dutch government therefore invested in the “Netherlands U.S. Water Crisis Research Network” (NUWCReN) to promote knowledge sharing. The Netherlands and the U.S. can benefit from each other’s insights and experiences.

It’s encouraging to know this exists, but given the party with a stranglehold on our government today, is it likely we’re willing to learn from the Dutch, far less adopt their methods? The Dutch believe government serves the people; our leaders think government’s the problem, not the solution. The Dutch willingly pay taxes to fund giant infrastructure projects meant to make life better; our leaders think Ayn Rand had it right and that the colossally wealthy, free to act in their own self-interest, will pop for roads and dams and such because they need those things in order to make even more money.

In 1986, when I was a joint staff officer at US Readiness Command at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida, President Reagan and the Republicans in Congress had begun the process of dismantling FEMA, but it was still a huge organization with offices and emergency response cells in every major region and city, connected by a radio alert network. Inside REDCOM, which had a domestic defense mission in addition to its primary mission of sending troops and equipment to overseas commands in the event of war, there were FEMA radio terminals in every office. I remember the constant drone of disembodied voices in the background: “Cleveland checking in, all clear”; “Sacramento region, chemical spill at McClellan AFB, emergency response underway”; “New York City, electrical blackout in progress, replacement transformers from ConEd New Jersey stuck in Holland Tunnel.” This went on all day, every day.

I don’t know how much of FEMA is left today. We think of it as an organization that helps co-ordinate relief efforts and temporary housing in the wake of disasters, not so much as an organization geared up to assist during disasters. True, states can always call up their national guard units, as Texas has done in response to the flooding from Harvey, but I can’t help thinking the FEMA of 1986 would have been all over Houston.

Haven’t heard much about Houston’s sewage system and how it’s holding up. In 1974 we moved to Enid, Oklahoma for USAF pilot training. We rented an old farmhouse on the west side of town, and the next evening, after the movers unloaded our stuff, we drove into town for dinner. It started to pour while we were eating, and my god the heavens just opened up: driving home an hour later we could hear tornado warning sirens through the drumming of the rain and hail on our car, and the water on the road was so deep it was coming in through the doors.

The road home went through a neighborhood where houses were on higher ground with driveways sloping up to them, so we pulled up on one to get above the water. The little old lady who lived in the house was peeking at us through her curtains, and pretty soon she was at her front door, waving us in. We dashed from the car to her house, and the first thing she said was “Can you take a look at my toilet?”

The water in her toilet was all the way up to the brim of the bowl, no doubt because of the flooding, and I reassured her there was nothing wrong, that all the toilets in her neighborhood were probably backed up too. We wound up spending the night with her. Her name was Mrs. Pope, and she was a retired schoolteacher. We stayed friends for years, exchanging letters after we moved away, right up until she passed.

The next morning the floodwaters had drained away. We thanked Mrs. Pope for her hospitality. Driving back to our farmhouse we passed a railroad boxcar … in a tree. Our place, like hers, sat up on a little rise and was okay, our furniture too, but the tornado cellar in the back yard was flooded and stayed so the rest of the time we were there. Most of our married pilot training classmates hadn’t settled in yet … their furniture and household items were in a storage facility downtown, which was flooded, and they lost all their stuff.

But hey, this was supposed to be about sewers. Enid’s sewers recovered quickly. Mrs. Pope’s toilet was working again the morning after the flood, ditto the one in our farmhouse.

We started thinking of our Enid experience the other night while watching the news from Houston. Imagine having to bed down in a stadium or school gymnasium with thousands of other families, sharing limited toilet facilities, everything backing up from the flooding. A disaster within a disaster. The news isn’t saying much about it, but I imagine it’s a huge problem, growing larger by the day, and I pray there isn’t a cholera outbreak.

Do these things ever happen in Holland? Look here, Republicans, I will happily pay more taxes than I’m paying now in order to have better flood protection infrastructure. You can’t be serious that rich people are going to lift a finger to protect anyone but themselves, can you? Don’t we need this more than we need a wall?

© 2017, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.


One thought on “Sewers Not Walls

  • The problem is barring a war or the Great Depression the idea that we’re all in this together has never been fostered in this country. The size and diversity of the country isn’t always a good thing.

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