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Did Houston's Infrastructure Making Flooding Worse?

When residents’ homes in Fort Bend near Barker Reservoir were left flooded and destroyed, they wondered how it could have happened. They weren’t in a flood zone, so many of them hadn’t bothered to buy flood insurance. Not even their real estate agents told them about a history of flooding, and there weren’t issues in the past. The devastating answer came (as it often does) in the form of fine print:

At the bottom of an obscure document from 1997, residents of the housing development found a disclaimer saying that the area was “subject to extended controlled inundation” (i.e. flooding) by the Army Corps of Engineers. The news spread, and now the residents are left questioning their options.

If your home was flooded due to the controlled releases, Arnold & Itkin is helping businesses and homeowners file lawsuits against the San Jacinto River Authority, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the City of Houston for irresponsible management of the floodwaters—management which led to the preventable destruction of thousands of homes.

To learn if your losses qualify for a Harvey claim against the local flood management organizations, call (888) 400-2101 or use our short online form to reach us.

U.S. Army Corps May Fear for “Structural Integrity” of Addicks & Barker Dams

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has come under fire recently for lacking transparency regarding the state of the Addicks & Barker Dams. Built in the 1940s, the reservoirs are earthen dams designed to temporarily hold floodwaters and release them slowly into the rivers that empty into the Gulf. Unfortunately, frequent flooding, including the Tax Day flood and Hurricane Harvey, subjected the dams to larger pools of water for lengths of time it was never designed for.

Instead of the short, weeks-long period the dams were created for, it took months for the Tax Day floods to be released. Harvey’s floodwaters will likely also take months. Robert Van Cleave, a Corps official, said that these extended periods of high-level waters put increased pressure on the foundation of the dam itself.

The other problem is erosion and voids. Because these are earthen dams (with entire sections made of clay and sand), the walls of the dam are permeable. As far back as 2009, internal documents at the Corps showed that voids in the reservoir walls demonstrated “urgent and compelling need for action.” The Corps has not specified when that action might take place or what would happen if the dams didn’t receive repairs in time. The earthen walls also contribute to problems of seepage.

The Interim Reservoir Control Action Plan

One of the most troubling documents was an internal file called the “interim reservoir control action plan.” The plan showed that the Corps was deeply concerned about the damage that a 25-year storm could cause to the Addicks and Barker dams. Keep in mind that Harvey was an 800-year storm, with water levels far higher than the Corps ever predicted. Again, the plan doesn’t specify what happens when the water levels exceed the maximum set by the plan—which has happened two years in a row. All it recommends is accelerated releases of the floodwaters.

Fear of dam failure may have motivated the unprecedented speed with which the Corps released water during Harvey, flooding thousands more homes than would have been damaged otherwise. City officials have plans in place should the dams ever fail…but have failed to elaborate what those plans look like or would require.