Q&A: Water engineers strive to keep pace with a thirsty region

By Dylan Baddour

Water is big business in Houston. The quickly growing population always thirsts for more, so the region needs pumps and pipes to deliver. Then sometimes there's way too much water, so planners need pipes and basins to get it out of people's houses. Add it all up, and public entities dole out tens of millions of dollars in contracts each year to a lush landscape of water engineering firms in the Houston area.

Charles Shumate started engineering Houston water systems in 1985 after graduating from Texas A&M University. He now is regional manager for LAN, a firm specializing in water projects.

Q: What would you most like to explain to Houstonians about the challenges of drainage engineering?

A: It's just a constant effort to catch up with development and get enough detention in place. Detention space is land that the developer has to give up. It doesn't produce any income. Also, there have been truly historic rainfall events in recent years. Nobody could afford a system that would handle them perfectly.

Q: Is there any technology that could reduce the footprint of detention while maintaining the volume?

A: You could dig deeper and install pumps, but I think there's policy against that.

Q: How has understanding of drainage engineering changed since you started in this field?

A: New software helps analyze drainage over large areas. It gives a much more detailed understanding of what's happening at the surface level. It lets you spend dollars more efficiently and to target where the real problems are.

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