YEARS OF READJUSTMENT (1945-1950)
By the summer of 1946, interest in pollution abatement had increased. The rapid increase in population, the low rainfall with resultant decreased flow in the bayous, and the rapid expansion of processing industries had combined to accentuate the problem. It was the position of the Chamber of Commerce that existing laws for the control of pollution in Texas were sufficient to take care of any situations that might arise, and that the answer lay in enlisting the cooperation of the public, the municipalities and industries. The response was good. Industries collectively spent millions of dollars on controlling the disposal of their waste, and municipalities embarked upon a sewage-treatment plant construction program. The results combined for a reversal of the trend that had been building up during the war years.
A few years later, with the continued expansion of processing industries, the issue of air pollution became a matter of community concern. The Waste Disposal Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, which had been operating since 1945, recommended that an air-pollution survey be made: (1) to provide a factual background of air-pollution conditions as they then existed, upon which any necessary or desirable corrective action might be based; (2) to aid in future community planning and industrial expansion, to prevent or minimize new air-pollution problems; and (3) to provide a "bench mark" or reference point, against which any future pollution could be measured and compared.
With the financial support of business and industry, the Chamber of Commerce negotiated with the Southwest Research Institute to undertake this survey. A year-long study was made in 1957, and parts of the study were resurveyed during 1958 to check findings and results. This two-year survey relieved the community of the concern that air pollution might be constituting a threat to health or property. It found that weather conditions in the Houston area are more favorable to the rapid dispersion and dilution of pollutants than in many other areas; that air-pollution problems which were observed were localized problems in areas downwind from specific sources of pollution; and that the most unfavorable pollution pattern resulted when the wind was from the east or east-northeast, which allowed mixing of pollutants from several sources.
The survey firmly established that Houston had no air-pollution problems that either affected the entire community or that persisted in specific areas over prolonged periods of time. Sources of pollution, of the types that existed, were localized in their effect, and as the wind direction varied, the pollution patterns changed. At no time was it observed that the same air mass appeared to move aimlessly back and forth, adding more pollutants with each traverse past a given source. The survey concluded that "it seems safe to say that if any community-wide health hazard does exist in Houston due to air pollution, then an equal or greater hazard exists in many other cities in the country.
Southwest Research Institute pointed out that when additional knowledge became available concerning health hazards related to air pollution, the data from the 1957-1958 survey could be compared with this knowledge to obtain an accurate estimate of whatever health hazards might exist, if any. In 1964, the Manufacturers Committee of the Chamber of Commerce considered it advisable to look again into the matter of air pollution in the Houston area to make this application of any newer knowledge in the field and to measure trends in types and locations of pollution since the earlier survey. This survey was under way throughout 1965.
Water pollution has continued to be a matter under Chamber of Commerce observation. The following statement of position was adopted on May 14, 1963: " The Houston Chamber of Commerce is in complete agreement with the philosophy expressed in the State Water Pollution Control Law to preserve ‘the greatest possible utility of the waters of the State’, and believes that the Board should, after adequate study and public hearing, adopt water-quality objectives for the Houston Ship Channel, its tidal tributaries, and Galveston Bay. It is the position of the Chamber of Commerce that such factors as effluent, quantity, dilution and natural purification, effectiveness of local dispersion and absorption in the receiving water should be given consideration in arriving at allowable waste discharge by regular and amended permit, so that the adopted standards will be met in the receiving water."
In a resolution to the Texas Water Pollution Control Board, the Chamber of Commerce petitioned it to survey, investigate, hold public hearings and adopt water-quality objectives for the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay prior to amending existing permits, except in cases of flagrant violations. The Chamber of Commerce also petitioned the Board to recognize, and consider in adopting water-quality objectives, that the primary and best uses of the Ship Channel and its immediate tidal tributaries are for commerce and industry without detrimental effect upon the use of Galveston Bay for recreation and fishing.
When a devastating flood struck Houston in 1935, it culminated years of growing concern over Houston’s regular drainage problems and over its periodic flood problems. The Chamber of Commerce took prompt action, and scarcely before the flood waters had subsided, it had prepared and printed a comprehensive study of the flood problem in Houston and Harris County, profusely illustrated by pictures from the recent flood. Although appropriate governmental action was taken without delay, time was required for surveys, for the development of engineering plans and for the construction work necessary. By the end of World War II, Barker and Addicks Dams were ready to control the major threat of floods on Buffalo Bayou.
The Chamber of Commerce had set up a Flood Control Committee to follow the progress of the program of Buffalo Bayou, but also to take cognizance of broader aspects of drainage and flood control in the city and county. Without question the problem was becoming more pronounced as the area became more highly urbanized. The special importance of drainage and flood control in this area is due to the unusually high rainfall intensities that are sometimes experienced and the flat topography that characterizes our coastal-plain location. The Flood Control Committee also realized that where urbanization had progressed to a marked degree, peak flows were substantially greater than for natural watershed conditions. As the urban development of Houston has increased at such a rapid rate, and as it has spread over a broad area of the county, the property damage from localized floods, or even temporary ponding, has become much more serious.
Thus for thirty years, the Chamber of Commerce, through its Flood Control Committee, has provided liaison between the citizens and the three governmental agencies concerned with drainage and flood control—the City of Houston Public Works Department, the Harris County Flood Control District, and the Corps of Engineers of the United States Army. The problem itself may be considered in its three aspects—primary drainage involved in the watersheds of Buffalo, Brays, Sims, Greens, Hunting, and White Oak Bayous; other major watercourses and the large lateral ditches that serve as outfall facilities; and lateral and trunk storm sewers within the city.
Initial efforts of the Chamber of Commerce were directed to the flood threat from the major streams, urging the development of a county-wide program of primary flood protection. The Corps of Engineers has made a series of studies of Buffalo Bayou and its tributaries. Channel rectification and improvement work has been completed on major sections of Buffalo and Brays Bayous, with construction projects planned on other bayous. The Harris County Flood Control District has provided right-of-way for this work and has done millions of dollars of work on other streams and ditches. The City of Houston has worked on an expanding scale on storm sewer construction, both trunk and lateral.
As the work on the primary drainage system progressed, the need for a county-wide secondary drainage program became increasingly apparent, and the Chamber of Commerce has been working with the governmental agencies on this in recent years. In a recent survey made for the City of Houston, the public was alerted to the magnitude of this problem in these words: "No public or private utility in the Houston area, including even the freeway system, will cost as much in the years to come as an adequate drainage system. Such a long-range system will have to be designed not only for the present condition of watershed development, but also for the degree of development which will be experienced in the years to come."
Since drainage has to be handled on a watershed basis, the problems involved in the six watersheds in the urbanized area of Houston will involve the cities of Galena Park, Jacinto City, Bellaire, West University, and the Villages, as well as Houston. Flood problems are no respecter of municipal boundaries. Thus the county becomes the logical agency to direct a program of this kind insofar as the outfall facilities are concerned, with the cities responsible for storm sewers within their limits. As the urbanized area expands, it is foreseeable that other adjacent counties will eventually be involved in this area-wide problem.