September 2017

Addicks Barker Controlled Releases Flooded My House – Who’s Responsible?

Harvey Reservoir Watershed

Do you live near the Addicks or Barker Reservoirs? If so, here’s a must read for you…

Whether your house flooded or not, if you, like so many of us live directly to the east or west of the Addicks or Barker reservoirs, understanding how these reservoirs work is absolutely essential. Check out this interesting article from the Houston Chronicle on the topic. How the Reservoirs Work – Houston Chronicle

After reading the article ourselves, APEX Home Buyers would like to add its’ thoughts in reference to the Army Corp of Engineers and the decision they made to begin controlled releases at the dams on both reservoirs. Due to the tragic affect this decision had on so many people’s lives, we feel it deserves a more thorough explanation. So in an effort to clear up even a small amount of the confusion on the topic, here’s ours..

..Simply put, Sunday as the water level in the reservoirs continued to rise, flooding more and more houses to the west (flooding to the west of the reservoirs was NOT due to the controlled releases. It was due to the large inflow of water from the creeks, bayous and tributaries that feed it. The controlled releases are the reason that water began to recede), the Army Corp of Engineers had 2 decisions:

  1. Do nothing and allow the water in the reservoir to keep rising. (see the bathtub diagram in the HouChron article for a pretty simple comparison to the workings of the reservoirs) After the spillway fills up it will pour over and begin to flood I-10, then as the reservoir level continues to rise there are 2 possibilities. Either the reservoir walls fail and release water OR it spills over the top of the main embankment, flooding all of downtown AND pretty much everything else in its’ path (including the houses along buffalo bayou that are flooded now). Then open the dams anyway. **Rate of flow will be unknown at this time**
  2. Begin controlled releases at the dams so that the outflow (water leaving through the dams) is greater than the inflow (water traveling from the north down into the reservoirs). **An uncontrolled release at the spillway takes away the ability to properly gauge flow rates**  Houses along buffalo bayou and parts of I-10 will be flooded. (These are houses that have never flooded or were ever in danger of flooding before. Most likely, none of these homeowners have flood insurance). Continue the release at whatever rate needed to exceed the massive inflow from the north. Continue the release at that rate until the water level behind the reservoir begins to fall. Reduce flow gradually.

So as we can see, this decision could not have been a pleasant one to make. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. (No pun intended)

Let’s take a look at the consequences of each decision….

Decision #1: All of I-10 and everything from downtown to the reservoirs is flooded. Flow control and the ability to read and control water level is lost. No other choice but to open the dams anyway, more flooding occurs, only now we have no idea how much water is going out. Complete chaos. Loss of life is high. Not a good situation.

Decision #2: Homes along buffalo bayou as far east as Gessner take on water, Beltway 8 is impassable at Memorial, I-10 is saved, houses adjacent to dams flood. Homeowners are alerted and/or evacuated prior, minimal loss of life. Compensation goes to those affected by the release. APEX agrees that those affected as a result of the controlled releases should be compensated.

Although unpleasant to admit, logic tells us that decision #2 spares the MOST homes and allows the reservoirs to continue operating as designed. It also tells us that decision #1 would’ve been far more catastrophic. Which means, perhaps the decision to release water at the dams wasn’t the lesser of two evils; rather it was the only evil.

We realize logic by itself will not bring back your house.

We do feel that understanding how these reservoirs work and what they are designed to withstand can provide clarity as to why this happened the way it did. More importantly, we hope it provides a means by which everyone affected can justify shifting blame away from the Army Corp of Engineers and place it where it belongs.

With Harvey.

-APEX Home Buyers