Long Before Hurricane Harvey, Officials Knew Addicks & Barker Reservoirs Would Flood Upstream Homes During Major Storm Events
Decades before Hurricane Harvey brought historic flooding to Houston and its surrounding suburbs, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was aware that the design and operation of the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs would flood hundreds of upstream subdivisions.
Yet thousands of property owners were never told that their homes and businesses were located within the reservoirs’ flood pools, which were intended to function as emergency lakes during major storm events like Hurricane Harvey.
Unpurchased Property Around Addicks & Barker Reservoirs Attractive to Developers
The Addicks and Barker Reservoirs were built in the 1940s to prevent the flooding of downtown Houston. The usually-dry reservoirs fill when it rains and were designed to control flooding by allowing water to flow through their gates into Buffalo Bayou and out toward the sea. The reservoirs and their dams are owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
According to The Houston Chronicle, the size of the reservoirs’ flood pools are determined by the amount of rain that falls during a storm event, as well as the rate at which the Corps releases water through their dams’ gates.
When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers purchased land for the reservoirs, it only acquired property located within the 100-year flood plain. That left a “fringe” of unpurchased land that consisted largely of open prairie and agricultural land. At the time, the Corps determined that any flooding that did occur on the unpurchased fringe area would result in minimal damage.
In the ensuing decades, however, the reservoirs’ fringe would become populated with thousands of homes and businesses. The Corps’ decision to allow parks and other amenities to be built on government land within the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs disguised the true purpose of the fringe property and made it even more attractive to developers.
More Than 100 Subdivisions Now Lie Within the Addicks & Barker Reservoir Flood Pools
The subdivisions located within the Addicks Reservoir Watershed include:
- BARKER ADDITION
- BARKER CROSSING
- BARKERS BRANCH
- BARKERS CROSSING
- BEAR CREEK CENTRAL
- BEAR CREEK ESTATES
- BEAR CREEK FARMS
- BEAR CREEK TRAILS
- BEAR CREEK VILLAGE
- BEAR CREEK WEST
- BRADFORD COLONY
- CHARLESTOWN COLONY
- CLAY HILL PARK
- CLAY HILLS PLAZA
- CLAY MEADOWS
- CONCORD BRIDGE
- CONCORD BRIDGE NORTH
- CONCORD COLONY
- CYPRESS PARKE
- ELDRIDGE PARK
- ESTATES AT CULLEN PARK
- FESTE PARK AT BEAR CREEK VILLAGE
- FORRESTA VILLAGE
- GEORGETOWN COLONY
- GLENCAIRN PARK
- GLENCAIRN SOUTH
- HEARTHSTONE PLACE
- JAMESTOWN COLONY
- LAKE HARBOR
- LAKES OF ELDRIDGE
- NORTH LAKES OF PINE FOREST
- LAKES ON ELDRIDGE
- LAKES ON ELDRIDGE
- NORTH LANDING AT PARK HARBOR
- LANGHAM CREEK COLONY
- MAYDE CREEK FARMS
- PARK HARBOR
- PARK HARBOR ESTATES
- PARK HARBOR OAKS
- PARK PLACE CENTER
- PINE FOREST GREEN
- PINE FOREST LANDING
- PINE FOREST VILLAGE
- RANCH AT BARKER CYPRESS
- SAVANNAH ESTATES
- TIMBER CREEK PLACE
- TWIN LAKES VILLAGES AT LAKEPOINT
- WESTLAKE FOREST
- WESTLAKE PLACE
- YORKTOWN CROSSING
Subdivisions located within the Barker Reservoir Watershed include:
- ARCADIA COURT
- CINCO RANCH EQUESTRIAN VILLAGE
- ESTATES OF BAKER LANE
- FLAGSTONE ESTATES
- GREEN TRAILS
- GREEN TRAILS CROSSING
- GREEN TRAILS FOREST
- GREEN TRAILS OAKS
- GREEN TRAILS PARK
- GREEN TRAILS VILLAGE
- HEATHERWOOD PARK
- HIGHLAND TRAILS
- KELLIWOOD ENCLAVE
- KELLIWOOD GARDENS
- KELLIWOOD IN NOTTINGHAM COUNTRY
- KELLIWOOD LAKES
- KELLIWOOD PLACE
- KELLIWOOD TRAILS
- KINGSLAND ACRES
- KINGSLAND ESTATES
- KRYSTAL LAKE ESTATES
- LAKEFOREST OF KELLIWOOD
- LAKES OF BUCKINGHAM
- LAKES OF BUCKINGHAM KELLIWOOD
- MEMORIAL PARKWAY
- MEMORIAL PARKWAY VILLAGE
- NOTTINGHAM COUNTRY
- OAK PARK TRAILS
- PARKLAKE VILLAGE
- PARKVIEW AT BARKER CYPRESS
- RICEFIELD VILLAGE
- UNIVERSITY PARK WEST
- WEST SIDE FOREST
- WESTGREEN PARK
- WILLOW PARK GREENS
- WINDSOR PARK ESTATES
- WINDSOR PARK LAKES
Master Plan & Fort Bend County Plats Confirm Officials Were Aware of Flood Pool Risk
Public documents reviewed by The Houston Chronicle confirm that the risks associated with the Addicks and Barker flood pools were recognized by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and county officials as early as the 1990s.
Among other things, the Chronicle noted that:
- The Corps’ 2009 Master Plan acknowledged that properties located on and next to government-owned land in and around the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs could be subject to long-term flooding.
- Maps included with the Master Plan indicated that a 100-year flood event could inundate privately owned land around the Barker and Addicks Reservoirs for as long as 49 days. However, the document didn’t name the specific neighborhoods at risk for flooding.
- Fort Bend County began including flood warnings on obscure subdivision maps known as “plats” in 1994. However, few homeowners ever consult plats, or even know they exist.
- Harris County, which has the most subdivisions at risk from flood pools, never included warnings on its plats.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reclassifies Addicks and Barker Dams as Dam Safety Action Classification (“DSAC”) level 1 – “Urgent and Compelling.”
In 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reclassified both the Addicks and Barker Dams as Dam Safety Action Classification (“DSAC”) Level 1 – “Urgent and Compelling.”
This classification indicates that a dam is almost certain to fail under normal operations without intervention. Only 10 of the roughly 300 dams located in the United States have been designated DSAC Level 1.
Rather than correct the deficiencies that resulted in this classification, the Corps implemented an “Interim Reservoir Control Action Plan” that significantly changed the way the Addicks & Barker Dams had been operated over the previous 40 years.
The interim operating procedure makes it clear that one of the regulating objectives was to minimize flood damages to properties located downstream from the reservoirs.
Among other things, the Corps decided to limit the pool elevation at the Addicks Dam to 97.5 feet, while the pool elevation at Barker Dam would not be allowed to exceed 93.6 feet. At these levels, storm water would fill approximately 50% of the government-owned land in the Addicks Reservoir, and 80% in the Barker Reservoir.
The Interim Procedure also indicates that private property behind the reservoirs would be inundated at pool elevations greater than 103 feet for Addicks, and 95 feet for Barker.
The following year, emails obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via a Freedom of Information Act Request noted that “the Addicks and Barker Dams can impound or store more water than the Corps owns real estate to store it on” and warned that “a large number of residents, businesses and infrastructure located within the maximum possible pools could be severely impacted for an extended period of time.”
No Requirement to Notify Property Owners of Addicks & Barker Flood Pool Risks
“Why did they build a house here if they knew it was inside a flood pool?” Houng Soule, a resident of Cinco Ranch Equestrian Village, asked during a recent interview with The Houston Chronicle. “If we would have known, we would not have purchased this house.”
Soule and her family live in one of the subdivisions built inside the Addicks and Barker Reservoir flood pools. Like others who were driven from their homes during Hurricane Harvey, the Soule’s did not have flood insurance because their property was located outside of the 100-year flood plain. But they were never told about the flood pools.
According to The Houston Chronicle, Texas law does not require that home buyers be notified when a property is located within a flood pool.
Neither the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers nor the federal flood insurance program require such notification.
Mortgage lenders’ disclosure practices also allow home buyers to be left in the dark.
In other states, the Corps has acquired easements near dams and levees to compensate property owners for areas where it expects to divert or store floodwaters. But according to the Chronicle, it has never taken such steps in relation to properties affected by the Addicks and Barker flood pools.
Hurricane Harvey Generates the Largest Flood Pool Ever Recorded at the Addicks & Barker Reservoirs
Many of those living in the Addicks and Barker flood pools had no idea that their homes were at risk until they were forced to evacuate last month, when Hurricane Harvey produced the largest flood pool ever recorded at the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.
At least 4,000 properties west of the Barker Reservoir took on water during the storm.
The hardest hit neighborhoods were inundated with more than 5-feet of water, and many remained flooded for a week or more.
Damage estimates for properties located around the Addicks Reservoir have yet to be released.
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