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
HOW IT CAME TO PASS THAT HUNDREDS OF FAMILIES PURCHASED HOMES INSIDE HOUSTON’S RESERVOIRS Many of the flooding victims upstream of Addicks and Barker dams learned for the first time that their homes were inside government-designated reservoirs only after rains from Harvey flooded their neighborhoods, reports Naomi Martin. How had they come to live there? “The corps didn’t feel the need to acquire all the land at the time the reservoirs were built, [the Army Corps of Engineers’ Richard] Long said, because that land was nothing but rice farms and fields where cattle grazed. It didn’t stay that way. In 1997, developers came before Fort Bend County government for approval to put subdivisions on the pastures. Aware of the flood risk to the area, the county was in a bind. It didn’t have the authority to prohibit development or establish zoning rules, said County Judge Robert Hebert, who has been in office since 2003. So the county insisted, ‘over great objection’ by developers, on including a warning on the plat, Hebert said. The county, he said, ‘felt it was a defect on the land that should be pointed out.'” The warning appeared as a small note on the plat document establishing some later Fort Bend County subdivisions, but equivalent declarations were absent on documents establishing nearby Harris County subdivisions. [Dallas Morning News] Aerial view of flooding in Canyon Gate, Cinco Ranch: Michael Fry
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
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