THE ARMY CORPS SAW ALL YOUR ADDICKS AND BARKER LAWSUITS COMING — 23 YEARS AGO
A 1995 Army Corps of Engineers memo obtained by the Chronicle shows that the agency considered the possibility that dozens of lawsuits could be filed against it by flooded homeowners both upstream and downstream from the Addicks and Barker dams. “Given the nature of the expensive homes that would be flooded and the quality of legal representation these owners could afford, there is always the possibility of an adverse ruling,” but the likelihood of such an outcome would be low, it concluded. Those downstream from the reservoirs would have a weak case, the memo argued, because their home values benefit from the dams in the first place. And those upstream — inside the Addicks and Barker flood pools — would have to prove that flooding wasn’t just sporadic, but “frequent and inevitably recurring to amount to a taking of interest in property.” Regardless, says the document, “it would be prudent for Harris County to make sure owners, future developers, and future buyers are put on notice that they are in a reservoir.” That didn’t happen. [Houston Chronicle; memo] Photo of Barker Reservoir Near Addicks Clodine Rd. after Harvey: Kyle Steck
ADDICKS AND BARKER RESERVOIRS ARE NOW COMPLETELY EMPTY AND READY FOR THE NEXT FLOOD All water stuck behind the Addicks and Barker dams has now been released, the Army Corps of Engineers announced late yesterday. That means that for the first time since Hurricane Harvey-triggered rains began filling the 24,520-acre reservoirs, they are now dry and available for use again as parkland. The last bits of water actually left the Addicks and Barker reservoirs last Thursday, October 12th, and Friday the 13th respectively; the announcement was delayed, a public-affairs officer tells reporter Amelia Brust, in order to “receive legal guidance.” The Corps, writes Brust, “is now a defendant in multiple lawsuits brought by surrounding property owners who say their homes and businesses were flooded as a result of the dams’ releases.” [Community Impact] Photo of American Shooting Centers and Millie Bush Dog Park off Westheimer Pkwy. in Barker Reservoir, flooded after Memorial Day, 2015: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [license]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE MORE WEST HOUSTON FLOODS, THE MORE IT STAYS THE SAME “Why does it matter? Even after the flood, I am okay with them building there on private land. Flood risk is just one of a million things that you should look at when buying a home. Heck, even knowing what we know now, I might still buy there in the right situation. If I was looking to buy a home in that general area, and the only way I can get one is to build one on the far back end of the reservoir, I would still do it today. Even after we calibrate the models to include the recent rainfall events, we will still find that this is an outlier.” [Rex, commenting on How It Came To Pass That Hundreds of Families Purchased Homes Inside Houston’s Reservoirs; previously on Swamplot] Map of subdivisions in or along the edge of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs: ProPublica
COMMENT OF THE DAY: COULD WE BORROW BRAYS BAYOU RIGHT AFTER YOUR NEXT FLOOD, PLEASE? “. . . An undergound aqueduct probably won’t resolve the situation. However, this storm has made it pretty clear that having both Barker AND Addicks draining 100 percent into Buffalo Bayou may not be ideal. An addition channel that would allow USACE to divert some of the Barker outflow to Brays Bayou would allow for some flexibility.
While Brays DID flood during Harvey, the water receded very quickly, with the water back within its banks and falling quickly while Buffalo Bayou was still rising.” [Angostura, commenting on Clearing Out the Mold; Houston’s Drinking Water Close Call; The Floodeds and the Flooded-Nots] Photo of construction at Addicks and Barker Dams: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [license]
STUFF YOU PROBABLY SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE ADDICKS AND BARKER RESERVOIRS Lived in Houston for years but still coming up to speed on how the Addicks and Barker dams are supposed to work — just as the reservoirs reach to their highest-ever levels? This brief explainer from Kiah Collier and Neena Satija of The Texas Tribune Al Shaw and Lisa Song of ProPublica should overfill you with info: “As of now, the Army Corps says there’s enough excess water in the reservoirs that some of it will flow around (not overtop) these auxiliary spillways. . . . The Army Corps can’t say exactly what areas might experience additional flooding, but local officials listed 53 subdivisions in the Addicks watershed and 40 in the Barker watershed (shown in brown in the map above) at high risk of flooding. Jeremy Justice, a hydrologic analyst at the Harris County Flood Control District, said two subdivisions near the Addicks reservoir—Twin Lakes and Lakes On Eldridge—are particularly vulnerable to flooding from the Addicks spillway. Those homes ‘probably should never have been put there,‘ he said.” Thousands of homes around the reservoirs have now flooded — some because they’re close to rising bayous, and some because of bad neighborhood drainage, they write. “But many are flooding because they are in an area that the Army Corps actually considers to be inside the reservoirs. (See map.)” [Texas Tribune; ProPublica version with links; previously on Swamplot] Map: ProPublica
The map above outlines the actual locations of neighborhoods designated by officials yesterday as being at risk from flooding over the back sides of Houston’s dual Buffalo Bayou reservoirs — in advance of actual spillovers, which began last night and continued this morning. The map was put together by Chronicle data reporter John D. Harden, using information from the Harris County Flood Control District. Zoom in and you can identify specific streets and neighborhoods on the upstream side of Addicks (in red) and Barker (in blue) reservoirs.
Names of the affected neighborhoods are listed on the map’s fly-out panel, available by clicking on the icon at the top left corner of the map. Click on the icon at the top right corner to enlarge the map if you need to.
To lessen the risk of flooding to these areas, officials have been releasing water out the other end, through the Addicks and Barker dams into Buffalo Bayou — possibly (depending on bayou water levels) endangering neighborhoods and structures downstream.
Map: Houston Chronicle
SHELL’S DOWNTOWN OPERATIONS TO SHED OFFICES, SCURRY OVER TO LARGER WEST HOUSTON CAMPUSES More than half a decade after the local fretting about it started, Shell has announced that it will leave One Shell Plaza, writes Cara Smith this morning. Moreover, the company will drop nearly all of its other Downtown holdings as well, including the previously announced removal of recently-ish acquired BG Group from BG Group Place. Smith writes that the only announced exception to the pullout is Shell’s trading group at 1000 Main; the rest of the company’s downtown workers will move by early 2017 into either the Technology Center at Hwy. 6 south of Richmond Ave. or into the company’s Woodcreek campus along I-10 (south of the Addicks reservoir). [HBJ; previously on Swamplot] Photo of One Shell Plaza: Antonio Foster-Azcunaga
A reader caught the view above during a lunchtime bike ride into the Barker reservoir yesterday. The shot shows the nearly submerged stop signs on the currently-closed road barricade where Barker Clodine Rd. merges into the hike-and-bike trail system running throughout much of the reservoir (which stretches between I-10 and the Westpark Tollway just west of Hwy. 6). The Corps of Engineers has been releasing water from both Barker dam and its sister reservoir Addicks across I-10 since Thursday — but the level behind the dams continued to rise for a few days as additional water drained into the basins from the surrounding watersheds, faster than that water could be safely released downstream into Buffalo Bayou.
Both Barker and Addicks reservoirs’ levels finally began dropping on Saturday — though both started filling again briefly on Sunday as water from later-in-the-week storms trickled east from the surrounding watersheds. Below is an up-to-date look at Barker reservoir’s change in storage since the Tax Day flood, per USGS measurements:
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Addicks and Barker
A water-watching reader sends some south-facing photos from yesterday evening (right) and last October, comparing views over the fenceline of the 400-ft.-wide diversion channel at the northern edge of the Addicks reservoir. The channel picks up most of the flow from Langham and Horsepen creeks where they join up as they flow south into Addicks. The 400-ft.-wide floodway was dug in the 1980s; the flow usually lurks down in the narrow channel seen in the shot on the left.
The scene above is less than a mile east of Bear Creek Village, where water is now moseying into neighborhoods from the western edge of the reservoir (and washing some wildife and livestock around). The Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing water from both Addicks and Barker dams to minimize the pooling (and relieve stress on the dam structures themselves) — but those releases have to be done slowly enough to avoid causing additional flooding downstream along Buffalo Bayou. Meanwhile, water is still flowing into the reservoirs from western watersheds; the measured levels behind the 2 dams topped all previous water level records and normally allowed pooling limits in the reservoir by Tuesday, and has been rising since. Here’s a shot of water gushing out through some of the gates of the Barker dam this afternoon:
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Drinking It In, Spitting It Out
The Army Corps of Engineers will begin releasing water from the Addicks and Barker dams later this evening; nonetheless, water levels in the reservoirs are still expected to rise high enough to cause street flooding in the Bear Creek subdivision north of Clay Rd. The Corps also notes that nearby residential areas should anticipate that wildlife inhabiting approximately 26,000 acres of forested land in the 2 reservoirs may flee the rising water and enter nearby neighborhoods. That wildlife may include the feral pigs previously targeted by Harris County Precinct 3’s trapping-and-foodbanking program; sightings of animals such as deer, coyotes, and bobcats have also been reported in the reservoirs.
Harris County Flood Control District has published a list of streets that could be impassible for days or weeks due to flooding, as well as a few maps (one of which is shown above). Here’s the other map below, highlighting in pink the streets south of Addicks Satsuma Rd. and Langham Creek expected to get water when the level in Addicks reaches 103 feet:
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Creeping Into the Neighborhood
Replacement work on the Yale St. bridge over White Oak Bayou now won’t start until the 25th, according to an update from TxDOT. The original planned construction start drifted past in the middle of Monday’s deluge; no changes have been mentioned yet for expected 2018 reopening date.
Meanwhile, TxDOT’s Yoakum office says it’s keeping an eye on US 59 in Wharton County to the southwest of town, though that highway is not closed at the moment according to the agency’s interactive mapping system (pictured above). The map shows areas of road closures, flooding, and construction, with written descriptions for each site clarifying which lanes are affected, by what, and how badly. Zooming in further gives a clearer picture of the extent of some of the closures — below is a view of west Houston, showing the stretch of Hwy. 6 near the Addicks reservoir that could be closed for the next 4 to 6 weeks:
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What’s Under Water
The Army Corps of Engineers is holding a public meeting amid this evening’s predicted thunderstorms to chat about the recently begun replacement work on the Addicks and Barker dams, which have each won the rare and highly distinguished label ‘extremely high risk’ through a combination of structural issues and close proximity to Houston. For those not planning to flood the Corps with questions and comments in person, there’s a somewhat-outdated online survey, as well as an online map of updates on the project’s progress. Work to replace the outlet structures of the dams began in February, and is expected to take about 4 years.
The 2 reservoirs, spread out across 26,000 acres on either side of the Katy Fwy. near Highway 6, starred in the Sierra Club’s 2011 lawsuit over the construction of Segment E of the Grand Parkway through the reservoirs’ catchment area. The club claimed development spurred by the road could send major additional runoff to the reservoirs, increasing the chance of dam failure, which Dave Fehling of Houston Public Media reports “could do an estimated $60 billion dollars in damage to downtown Houston, to industries along the Houston Ship Channel, [and] even to the Texas Medical Center.” The judge didn’t stop construction of Segment E, but did order new studies on its potential flooding impacts.
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Addicks and Barker Reservoirs
There’s a rather bold new plan for 2 of the Houston area’s major parkland reserves hiding in an image included in an almost-final draft of the West Houston Mobility Plan being prepared by the Houston-Galveston Area Council for submission to TxDOT. A new roadway connecting Briar Forest Dr. to Highland Knolls Dr. through the heart of 7,800-acre George Bush Park is shown in a proposed major-thoroughfare plan for the area. (See segments in blue in image above.) A segment of Baker Rd. is also shown linking to the new parkway. And north of I-10, a similar major roadway is seen connecting Hammerly Rd. to Patterson Rd. — through the Addicks Reservoir.
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Connecting Briar Forest Dr. to Highland Knolls