Sunday, September 30, 2012


I was bemoaning the fact that whole streets get badly flooded here whenever it rains even a few inches, and a friend pointed out that these were called 'playas' and that, along with 19th and Flint, another bad one was at 50th and Quaker. I had already known that for all intents and purposes I had to avoid 19th and Flint at all costs for at least a few hours when it rained. Police cars come from different directions just to warn people away, perhaps because those people see no other choice besides driving through the intersection, and invariably lose their car or soak it badly. The water appears to be bad enough to swallow whole cars; I'm reminded of friends in Japan who hear about impending typhoon and just hunker down and stay home for days on end. That option is not open to me, but I'm on a bicycle, so I've begun to plan alternate routes, and there aren't many; there are actually playas wherever one turns.

Now I don't want to slam the city's sewer system, because tearing up whole roads for months or years at a time isn't necessarily even possible. Part of the reasoning is that it rains so rarely that comprehensive million-dollar plans for managing these rains is not really cost-effective. In many other ways the city seems to be well-planned; it's easy and safe to get across town, and they always take out the garbage. I've also noticed that they basically leveled a whole area north of Broadway; much of it is now fields but there is a lot of fairly new housing up there and a kind of boulevard that, like Broadway, doesn't seem to be getting a whole lot of action. Their rebuilding of the city ("revitalizing") was not entirely successful, I can see, but I can also see that a lot of love and care has gone into trying to make this a more habitable, pleasant place to live.

What makes a playa into a playa is that the water has nowhere to go, so it becomes a lake on the plains that just sits there, becomes stagnant, and eventually evaporates. There is one theory that "estacado", the so-called "stacked" or "escarpmented" plain of llano estacado, was actually estancado or "stagnant", which would lend a touch of irony to our idea of the plains as a nice place to live.

But I've been thinking a lot about one naturalists' assessment of why we no longer have water in the aquifer. He said that our downfall was getting rid of the buffalo, who wallowed in the lowlands, thus making mud wallow areas where rain water would work its way naturally down into the water table. My question is this: is he right? Do we actually lose a lot of water to evaporation, that we need down there? This of course is a question for the entire plains area to answer, and do something about, but we, Lubbock, as the biggest city on the plains, could lead in figuring out creative solutions to making sure rain water, what little we get, goes back where it belongs.

So, you ask, am I suggesting mud wallows, with buffalo, in the middle of the city, at corners like 19th and Flint? Well, that would be a little extreme, but, remember, there are lots of medium paths. Any run-off system would be better than what we have now, and there are systems like French drains that do essentially the same thing without making people actually live next to buffalo. People seem to like these raised roadways like the exit ramps of the Marsha Sharp, one of which took me way up over Lubbock the other day, a fine view, but with no place to pull over; you might protest that these are lousy places for cars to break down. Yes, but four-foot floods are lousy places to have to go through, when you need to get somewhere. I say, if you have a crucial intersection that everyone needs, that plays an integral role in traffic flow through the city, consider raising the road, and making wallow-type arrangements that naturally take in some of this water, and get it out of our hair. We water our grass enough, so that we aren't really falling short in the evaporation department. But our water table needs a hand. One long-term way of ensuring our survival out on this windy arid plain, is to hang onto what little water we get, and not set it to the winds.

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