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Years Before Hurricane Harvey, Addicks and Barker Dams Rated Among the Most Dangerous in the Nation by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers


For more than 70 years, Houstonians have depended on the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs to keep the city and surrounding area safe from catastrophic floods.

Yet before Hurricane Harvey, few were aware that the earthen mounds designed to hold back storm waters at the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs ranked among the most dangerous dams in the United States.

Addicks & Barker Reservoirs: How They Work

The Addicks and Barker Reservoirs were completed in the 1940s, after the City of Houston experienced catastrophic flooding in 1929 and 1935.

Located about 20 miles west of downtown, the reservoirs straddle I-10, with the Addicks to the north and Barker to the south. Both are owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Addicks and Barker Reservoirs are designed to collect storm water during times of heavy rain, and otherwise, remain dry.

The Addicks Reservoir is fed by Bear Creek, South Mayde Creek, Langham Creek and Horsepen Creek, while the Barker Reservoir is fed by Mason Creek and upper Buffalo Bayou.

Floodgates at the Addicks Dam allow the Army Corps of Engineers to release water at a controlled rate into Langham Creek. Water retained by the Barker Reservoir is released through its gates into Buffalo Bayou.

From Buffalo Bayou, the storm water drains into the Houston Ship Channel, and eventually, the Gulf of Mexico.

Both reservoirs are outfitted with auxiliary spillways, which are intended to prevent water from overtopping their dams.


2009: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rates Addicks & Barker Dams as Some of the Most Dangerous in the Country

In 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a five-year safety review of its dams, rating each on 1-to-5 scale called the “Dam Safety Action Classification System (DASC)

The reservoirs’ dams were given a tentative rating of DASC II: Urgent (Unsafe or Potentially Unsafe) in 2008.

But a further review undertaken in 2009 made clear the appalling state of the Addicks and Barker Dams, with ground-penetrating radar scans revealing:

  • Voids beneath conduits at both dams
  • Large cracks through the conduits and spillways, and
  • Signs of movement and potential failure at the conduits and spillways

The findings drove the Corps to reclassify the Addicks and Barker Dams as DSAC I Urgent & Compelling (Unsafe):

“CRITICALLY NEAR FAILURE: Progression toward failure is confirmed to be taking place under normal operations. Almost certain to fail under normal operations from immediately to within a few years without intervention.”

“EXTREMELY HIGH RISK: Combination of life or economic consequences with probability of failure is extremely high

Of the hundreds of dams operated by the Army Corps of Engineers across the United States, only six were granted a DSAC I designation following the 2005 safety review.

To date, just one – the Wolf Creek Dam in Kentucky – has undergone extensive repairs and had its rating downgraded, to DASC III.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Failed to Correct Deficiencies That Resulted in DSAC I Rating

Though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was aware by 2009 that the Addicks and Barker Dams were at risk of imminent failure, it took no action to correct the deficiencies that led to the DSAC I rating.

The Corps did, however, enact several operational changes as part of an “Interim Control Action Plan,” all of which represented a significant departure from the way the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs had functioned over the previous four decades.

One of the most significant modifications involved raising the “allowed combined flow limit (including local runoff) at the downstream regulating gauge in [West Houston/Piney Point] from 2,000 cfs to 4,000 cfs.”

The change was implemented even though the Corps knew raising the combined flow limit would place downstream homes and businesses in even greater danger of flooding.

The Interim Control Action Plan also stipulated

  • that pool elevation at the Addicks Dam would be limited to 97.5 feet
  • pool elevation at the Barker Dam would be limited to 93.6 feet
  • homes and businesses situated behind the Addicks Reservoir would flood at pool elevations of 103 feet, and
  • properties behind the Barker Reservoir would flood at pool elevations of 95 feet

Hurricane Harvey Requires Unprecedented Releases at Addicks & Barker Reservoirs

Hurricane Harvey lingered over Houston for five days, inundating some parts of the city with more than 50 inches of rain.

By late afternoon on August 28th, the pool elevation at the Addicks Reservoir had risen to approximately 105 feet, while the elevation at the Barker Reservoir stood at roughly 99 feet.

As the Interim Action Plan had warned, the flood pool now extended beyond land owned by the government, causing severe flooding in the many homes and businesses  built behind the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs.

Later that same day (August 28), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started releasing water from the reservoirs at a rate to over 6 million gallons per minute, despite knowing that doing so would cause flooding to private property located downstream along Buffalo Bayou.

Ultimately, more than 4,000 upstream and downstream homes and businesses – including many that had remained dry during the storm – were inundated, with some completely submerged.

If Your Home or Business was Flooded from the Addicks and Barker Reservoir Releases, the Federal Government May Owe you Money.  Call 1-888-603-3636 or Click Here to Contact Our Undefeated Flood Damage Lawyers for a Free Consult

Having recovered over $1 Billion for our clients, including hundreds of property owners throughout Texas and the United States who suffered losses as a result of hurricanes and other major weather events, our Undefeated Flood Damage Lawyers have the knowledge, experience, and resources to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey begin rebuilding their lives.

All consultations are free, and because we represent clients on a contingency basis, you’ll pay nothing unless we win you case.

Call 1-888-603-3636 or Click Here to send a confidential email through our Contact Form.