On September 26, 2017, a bipartisan bill was introduced to Congress entitled “The Texas Flood Accountability Act of 2017.” The bill was sponsored by the Houston Congressional Delegation, which includes Representatives Ted Poe, Brian Babin, John Culberson, Al Green, Gene Green, and Pete Olson. The bill would require the San Jacinto River Authority, the City of Houston, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to submit a report to Congress within 90 days regarding the flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
The report would include the following:
- The minimum water capacity for an unplanned dam release
- The water level at which a facility would overflow
- Current plans to warn officials, residents, and first responders of impending releases
- Recommendations for infrastructure improvements
- Future plans to coordinate with other flood management facilities during large storms
The bill is in response to numerous (and oft-repeated) complaints about flood management organizations like the SJRA. Despite having the power and “authority” to cause billions in damages and wipe out entire neighborhoods with Biblical-level amounts of runoff, little is known about when and for what reason the City of Houston, the SJRA, or the Corps releases billions of gallons of water during flooding emergencies.
In just the SJRA’s case, residents and representatives are asking the following questions:
- Why wasn’t there more advanced warning before the controlled releases from Lake Conroe?
- Why wasn’t any water pre-released in the week prior to Hurricane Harvey?
- What standard did the SJRA use to determine the necessity of flooding thousands of homes downstream?
Residents Near Barker Reservoir Weren’t Aware of the Risk to Their Homes
The new bill could not come at a more important moment for South Texas. Residents of Fort Bend County are only now finding out that the subdivisions they live in are subject to intentional flooding by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during emergency circumstances—and have been subject to it for 25 years. The only way homeowners could have known was by reading the fine print on an obscure document from 1997, which contained a brief warning:
“This subdivision is adjacent to the Barker Reservoir and is subject to extended controlled inundation under the management of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”
It’s written in miniscule font at the bottom of a long list of text at the very edge of the document—and including it at all was allegedly a battle. Fort Bend County officials fought to include it, while developers didn’t even want the small warning on the document. Developers, real estate agents, and government officials all failed to warn homeowners of the risk to their neighborhoods—which would have kept some potential buyers from buying a home in the first place.
It’s not clear if the warning was on any mortgage contracts, and if it was, if real estate agents clearly explained the risks. Due to the lack of warning, many of the homeowners lacked flood insurance when Harvey destroyed their homes—leaving many of them with little-to-no options when the time came for filing claims.
It’s time for the people of South Texas to understand the risks facing their homes—and to have a say in whether or not they’ll move, buy flood insurance, or live near the reservoir. If the way things are done are going to change, the first step is telling the people of the greater Houston area how they’re done in the first place.