History and Timeline of Addicks and Barker Reservoir Releases Before and After Hurricane Harvey
The Addicks and Barker Reservoirs are located approximately 17 miles west of Houston, above the confluence of Buffalo Bayou and South Mayde Creek. Both reservoirs are owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District.
Completed in the 1940s following two catastrophic floods, the reservoirs were intended to protect homes and businesses downstream from flooding.
When there’s a storm, the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs collect and store water to prevent it from flowing directly into the Buffalo Bayou.
Once the rain stops or—in the case of Harvey—the water in the reservoir begins to exceed its storage capacity, the collected water is released through gates into Buffalo Bayou, which ultimately flows out to the Gulf.
Over 4,000 Homes and Businesses Flooded as a Result of Addicks and Barker Reservoir Releases
As predicted in Harris Country Flood Control District’s report over 20 years earlier, the substantial rain from Harvey quickly caused the reservoirs to fill.
This prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – in conjunction with the Houston Flood Control District – to open the gates at the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, adding up to 7 million gallons of water per minute into the already flooded Buffalo Bayou.
This decision was made knowing that it would flood businesses and homes downstream that had not already flooded during Harvey—and over 20 years after the 1996 report from the Harris County Flood Control District specifically identified the flood risks to residents of West Houston because of the reservoirs’ inability to drain in “an efficient manner” after a series of “normal frequent” storms.
The gates were opened between midnight and 2 am on August 28, 2017.
Within 48 hours, the releases had increased from 718,000 gallons of water per minute to almost 7 million gallons per minute, almost 4 times the amount that the Army Corps of Engineers knew would flood businesses and homes between North Wilcrest Drive and Chimney Rock.
The consequences were catastrophic: over 4,000 homes and businesses downstream of the reservoirs were severely flooded and, in some cases, completely submerged.
Because both the Texas and United States Constitutions require the government to compensate property owners when the government takes or damages their property for public benefit (as was the case with the reservoir releases), property owners who were flooded should have the right to recover their damages from the Harris County Flood Control District and Army Corps of Engineers through a takings/inverse condemnation lawsuit.
The timeline below provides a history of the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, as well as a description of the controlled releases that began on August 28, 2017 and continued long after Harvey had passed.
May 30, 1929: First Reported Catastrophic Flood
After a foot of rain caused the Buffalo and White Oak Bayous to exceed their banks, a flood killed 7 and caused $1.4 million of property damage. Nearly every bridge in Houston was covered with water, while flooding rendered the city’s central water pump useless, leaving those who lacked private wells without a source of drinking water. The Colorado River expanded to 7 miles wide, while the Associated Press reported that the communities of Lynchburg, Gaston, and Clodine had become “lakes”.
December 6, 1935: The Great Flood of Houston
A second massive flood inundated Houston, killing five adults and two children. The Buffalo Bayou rosette 36 feet, two feet higher than the prior record of 34 feet set in 1879. Miles of railroad track were destroyed, while the Port of Houston was shut down for eight months. The city’s central water pump was again flooded, forcing the fire department to take water from Buffalo Bayou to fight a three-alarm blaze.
April 23, 1937: “Harris County Flood Control District” Established
Following public outcry in the wake of the 1929 and 1935 floods, the 45th Texas Legislature established the “Houston Flood Control District.”
The District’s purpose was (and still is) to “provide flood damage reduction projects that work.”
June 30, 1938: The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1938
The Rivers and Harbors Act of June 20, 1938 authorized the construction of the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. As initially authorized, the project was to include:
- Construction of the Addicks and Barker dam facilities;
- A channel project to enlarge and straighten Buffalo Bayou downstream of the reservoirs to a point where a diversion canal would convey flood waters to Galveston Bay;
- A levee along Cypress Creek to block overflows into the Addicks Reservoir watershed.
1945 & 1948: Addicks and Barker Reservoirs are Completed
The Barker Reservoir was completed in 1945, while construction on the Addicks Reservoir and the outlet channel were completed in 1948.
The diversion canal and the levee along Cypress Creek, however, were never built.
1963: Gated Conduits Added to Addicks and Barker Reservoirs
When the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs were completed, the surrounding area was mostly undeveloped prairie or agricultural land. Over the next several decades, however, thousands of new homes and businesses were built on that land by private developers who had purchased the land.
To prevent the reservoirs from draining too quickly and flooding the new developments, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers added gates to all outlet conduits at the Addicks and Barker Dams. The Corps also imposed a restrictive gate operations criteria that would allow water to remain in the reservoirs far longer than was originally intended.
June 24-25, 1979: Tropical Storm Claudette
Tropical Storm Claudette dropped 43 inches of rain on Alvin, Texas, located 50 miles southeast of the reservoirs. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the reservoirs’ capacity may have been exceeded had the storm hit West Houston.
March 4-5, 1992: Unnamed Storm Causes Severe Flooding Along I-10
A severe (and unnamed) storm brought 9 inches of rain to the upper Buffalo Bayou watershed, resulting in severe flooding along Interstate 10.
One person was killed and over 1,500 homes were flooded.
Because of the substantial rainfall during the 3 months leading up the storm, the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs quickly filled and reached record levels.
May 1996: Harris County Flood Control Warns of Flood Risks in West Houston Because of Inability to Drain Addicks and Barker Reservoirs in an “Efficient Manner”
In response to continued flooding throughout the City (particularly in West Houston), a study was conducted by engineers at the Harris County Flood Control District to evaluate the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs and identify solutions that would improve the City’s drainage during storm events.
The study, which was discussed in a 1996 report titled the “Katy Freeway Corridor Flood Control Study,” emphasized the drainage and design problems at the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs that would continue to plague West Houston businesses and residents and, ultimately, require the controlled releases that led to the flooding of over 4,000 homes in West Houston during and after Hurricane Harvey:
“The primary flood threat facing the citizens of west Harris County and west Houston comes from the inability to drain the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in an efficient manner,” the 1996 study concluded.
The Study also emphasized that, because of modifications that had been made to the “gates” of the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs in response to the area’s rapid development, it “no longer takes an extreme storm . . . just a series of “normal frequent storms . . . to severely flood private properties.”
“However, under current conditions with the addition of gates and the restrictive operations criteria, it no longer takes an extreme storm,” they warned. “Just a wet period, consisting of a series of “normal” frequent storms (like the rainy period between November 1991 and June 1992) is enough to “ratchet” reservoir levels upward and severely flood private properties.”
To eliminate (or at least substantially reduce) the serious flood risks to West Houston residents, the study proposed a $400 million solution that would take place during I-10’s expansion, which was scheduled to begin in several years.
The solution, however, was ignored—and, as predicted, West Houston continued to flood.
June 6-9, 2001: Tropical Storm Allison
5 years after Harris County Flood Control District warned of the severe risk of flooding, Tropical Storm Allison dropped nearly 35-inches of rain over a five-day period, killing 22 and causing $5 billion in damages.
Fortunately, the center of the storm was located about 50 miles northeast of the Addicks and Barker watershed. Had it been closer to West Houston, the Corps of Engineers predicted (as they had after Tropical Storm Claudette in 1979) that the rain would have caused the reservoirs to overfill.
May 25, 2015: The Memorial Day Flood (the First of Houston’s Three Consecutive 500-Year Floods)
On May 25, 2015, a series of slow-moving thunderstorms dumped 12 inches of rain on the Houston area in just 10 hours. The flood tragically killed 7 people and damaged more than 2,500 homes.
This was the first of Houston’s three consecutive “500-year floods,” a term used to describe storms that have a 1/500 chance of occurring in any given year.
As with prior storms, the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs quickly filled to capacity, requiring Harris County Flood Control and the Army Corps of Engineers to make controlled releases of up to 8,500 cubic feet per second (or 3.8 million gallons per minute).
Due to the design and operational limitations emphasized by the Harris County Flood Control District in its 1996 Report, the Reservoirs took over 3 months to drain, putting Houstonians at even greater risk of flooding had another storm hit the City before the Reservoirs had drained.
April 16-17, 2016: Tax Day Floods (the Second of Houston’s Consecutive 500-Year Floods)
Less than a year after the Memorial Day flood, Houston was hit with its second “500-year flood.”
In just 12 hours, Western Harris County received over 16 inches of rain, causing the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs to overfill for the second time in less than 12 months.
The flood, which was even worse than the Memorial Day flood in 2015, tragically killed 16 people and caused well over $1 billion in property damage.
As with the Memorial Day Floods (and due to the same design and operational limitations discussed in the 1996 Report by the Harris County Flood Control District) the reservoirs did not completely drain until July 2016, subjecting Houstonians (particularly those in West Houston) to an even greater risk of flooding if another storm had hit the City before the reservoirs had drained.
August 26, 2017: Hurricane Harvey (the Third of Houston’s Consecutive 500-Year Floods)
Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas as a Category 3 storm. After making its way to Houston on August 26, Harvey stalled, causing unprecedented and catastrophic flooding throughout the city.
Harvey is estimated to have flooded over 100,000 homes and up to 1 million vehicles in the Houston area alone, making it the most severe flood in U.S. history.
August 28, 2017: Addicks and Barker Reservoir Releases Begin
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with the Houston Flood Control District, intentionally started releasing water from the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs into the already flooded Buffalo Bayou around midnight on August 28, 2017.
“Residents adjacent to the reservoirs need to be vigilant because the water in the reservoirs is rising rapidly,” Col. Lars Zetterstrom, Galveston District commander, said in a statement. “Both reservoirs are rising more than half a foot per hour.”
August 29, 2017: Addicks & Barker Reservoir Releases Increased & Mandatory Evacuation Issued for Already-Flooded Homes
Less than 48 hours after they began, the releases were increased from approximately 700,000 gallons of water per minute to almost 7 million gallons per minute.
As predicted by Harris County Flood Control and the Army Corps of Engineers, over 4,000 homes and businesses in West Houston that did not flood from Harvey’s rainfall were severely flooded and, in some cases, completely submerged.
As a result, a mandatory evacuation order was issued, but only for homes in West Houston that had already flooded.
For reasons that remain unknown, residents whose homes had not already flooded from the rain were not included in the evacuation order, even though Harris County Flood Control and the Army Corps of Engineers knew that many of the homes would likely end up flooding because of the releases.
If Your Home or Business Flooded as a Result of the Addicks and Barker Reservoir Releases, the Government May Owe you Money. Contact our Undefeated Flood and Reservoir Release Lawyers for a Free Consult at 1-888-603-3636 or by Clicking Here
If your home or business was flooded as a result of the Addicks and Barker Reservoir Releases that began on August 28, 2017, you may be able to recover your property damages through an “inverse condemnation” action against the Houston Flood Control District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Having recovered more than a $1 billion for our clients, our Houston Flood and Reservoir Release Lawyers have the experience and resources to help you recover your full property damages.
We’ll answer your questions, explain your rights, and discuss your options so that you have the information needed to make the best decision for you and your family.
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