The city of Victoria’s water system is better prepared than it was when Hurricane Harvey struck almost two years ago. Unfortunately, that’s not saying a lot.
In the aftermath of Harvey, the city lost all water, meaning firefighters would have been virtually helpless if downtown or another part of Victoria burned. Luckily, Victoria escaped that outcome as fallen power lines came back online. The city must rely on more than luck next time.
The water system’s vulnerabilities are a vivid reminder of the various ways Victoria must keep working to be better prepared for the next natural disaster. New City Manager Jesús Garza and new Mayor Rawley McCoy seem ready to take on this huge and important challenge.
In the days and months after Harvey, McCoy was outspoken about how the city and county needed to do more for the least among us when considering emergency preparedness. We must remember this pledge as time starts to dim the memory of how much many people suffered during and after Harvey.
The city and the county need to keep pushing the state and federal government to live up to their promises of making Victoria whole and better prepared for the next calamity. Some of the top concerns:
- Victoria’s lack of a proper drainage system was on horrifying display as the streams and rivers swelled after Harvey. A $6 million grant the City Council voted last week to apply for is literally a drop in the bucket of the community’s needs.
- The city and all of coastal Texas lack a realistic shelter and evacuation plan. Harvey’s intensity underscored how dangerous it is for people to stay in their homes during such a storm. Texas needs to follow Florida’s lead in hardening more community shelters and keeping an updated list of those, such as the poor, disabled and elderly, who need help either sheltering or evacuating.
- Our community still lacks transitional housing for those displaced after a hurricane. Many residents left Victoria because they had no temporary local housing options, and some never returned.
- The vast majority of the city’s power lines remain above ground. In a hurricane-prone area, the city should be pushing utility providers to bury lines every time a street is rebuilt or repaired.
- The public should be informed, through an educational campaign, of the key aspects of Victoria’s emergency preparedness plan. Even City Council members, let alone the public, had not seen the plan before Harvey hit.
The city’s struggles to harden its water system illustrate the challenges to emergency preparedness. Although Victoria now has installed backup power to the raw water pumping station at the Guadalupe River, it won’t have a generator installed at its surface water treatment plant until Aug. 31 – well into the second full hurricane season after Harvey.
To fully back up the water system, Victoria also needs generators at water pumping plant No. 3 and the wastewater treatment plant. However, the city has no money and no plans for these purchases. The state General Land Office and the federal government should step up to fill this critical need.
Our community is better off through the efforts of the Victoria County Long-Term Recovery Group, which continues to move forward with homeowner assistance programs and even starting plans to build a new neighborhood in hard-hit Bloomington. The group also is preparing to create a permanent recovery center in downtown Victoria so volunteers and others will be able to help immediately after a disaster.
When Harvey hit, the Victoria County Long-Term Recovery Group was in shambles. The organization had not met in years and was not ready for the tremendous challenges created by a Category 4 hurricane. Through the hard work and leadership of people like Dolly Stokes of the United Way and Mark Longoria, then with Faith Family, the group found its footing and, most importantly, resolved to not be caught so off-guard again.
This is an approach every agency involved in hurricane preparedness should emulate.
Most of these issues are not easily or quickly resolved. Because they are long-term issues, it is even more critical the city and county have specific and public plans for addressing each one. McCoy plans to work with the city-county’s emergency management coordinator to walk through Victoria’s plans.
This is just a step in a long journey toward Victoria being better prepared. We must not think we’re finished simply because time has passed.