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How the restoration economy can help us withstand the next hurricane

This story first appeared in Ecosystem Marketplace.

Three hundred miles north of hurricane-ravaged Houston, Rick Wilson is helping Dallas-Fort Worth grow in ways that don’t disrupt the natural systems that regulate floods. In so doing, he’s also paying off the mortgage on his ranch and paving the way for us all to better survive the next Hurricane Harvey.

Specifically, he’s earning money by restoring and maintaining the river that runs across his property, with the money coming from urban developers affecting other parts of the river.

That makes him part of the $25 billion “restoration economy” that pays more than 220,000 people across the United States to plant trees, fix swamps and restore meadows that filter water, regulate floods and absorb carbon dioxide.

It’s an economy that the city of Hoboken, New Jersey, joined after Hurricane Sandy pounded it in 2012. In response, Hoboken started restoring marshes and turning vacant land into a “resiliency park” that will mop up at least 1 million gallons of floodwater. Denver’s part of it as well; the city is funneling some of its water utility fees into forests that store and filter water. And, of course, there’s California, where meadows and streams are legally recognized as “green” (as opposed to gray) infrastructure.

But what about Houston? After all, the city has endured six “storms of the century” in less than 30 years, and a 2015 study by the Harris County Flood Control District found that every acre of restored prairie absorbs the runoff from two acres of single-family homes. Surely the city is also restoring its wetlands or otherwise adding green infrastructure to its gray mix, right?

Not according to a scathing series of articles that ProPublica and the Texas Tribune published last year.

“As millions have flocked to the metropolitan area in recent…

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