Proven solutions to Yucatan’s disastrous drainage problems

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Divers in Merida plunge into the watery depths of the Harbor Mall underground parking garage, which turns out to be susceptible to flooding. Storm Gamma has created havoc across the Yucatan Peninsula. Photo: Courtesy

A reader responds to Yucatan’s persistent flooding problems:

In a previous life, I had some experience with this: These problems have already been solved in other parts of the world.

My guess is that city planners essentially know what the problems are and how to fix them. It comes down to the will, desire and the money to do it. The primary problems are threefold:

  1. Concrete, and the existing city-wide infrastructure itself — Think of Merida as your concrete kitchen counter that you just spilled a bottle of wine over. And while that is terrible enough, the wine has nowhere to go — it just finds lower areas. But if your kitchen counter was actually limestone, the wine would be absorbed immediately. Limestone is a giant sponge that the city of Merida sits on.
  2. Drainage — the exacerbating elements of infrastructure above affect drainage systems. Drainage systems are inadequate for the city’s size and not well maintained.
  3. Construction — invasive construction methods that compact soil and limit soil porosity.

Solutions are available for existing and proposed developments and they are not terribly complex — only the will, desire and money seem to be.

Here are just a few proven methods in use elsewhere on the planet…

  • PREVIOUS INFRASTRUCTURE: Create more porous hardscapes throughout the city. This includes removing impervious surfaces for the many available porous hardscape alternatives, the use of pavers in existing parks, and more landscaped open spaces that allow water absorption. Finding, creating, and making use of open spaces strategically throughout the city that collectively serves to contribute to water absorption.
  • SERVICEABLE DRAINAGE SYSTEMS: Pipes need to be cleaned in preparation for seasonal rains. Install clean-out access points. This also includes public education and the effects of littering that contribute to flooding. Most importantly, solving impervious infrastructure concerns improves drainage and flooding problems.
  • INVASIVE CONSTRUCTION: Important to a lesser extent in solving the above concerns — consider less invasive construction methods that help to maintain soil porosity: Pier-and-beam construction methods that allow structures to “float” on a grade that reduces soil compaction and increases water absorption instead of the widely used spread footings and foundations.

— Tim Ghirardelli

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