HOUSTON – (Realty News Report) – The structural integrity of the aging Addicks and Barker dams, built to protect a large portion of Houston from flooding, is uncertain and should be the subject of a transparent investigation, according to a new research report by Greater Houston Flood Mitigation Consortium.
“Data indicate that if either the Addicks dam or the Barker dam were to fail, there could be extensive loss of life and property damage across a wide swath of Houston. The condition of these dams is not publicly known,” the report said.
The west Houston dams contained unprecedented amounts of water during Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas in late August of last year and dumped some 50 inches of rain on the area. During the storm, officials elected to release water – the first time ever – from the swollen reservoirs and neighborhoods near the dams were inundated.
“There is no publicly released information that clearly proves or disproves the structural integrity of Addicks and Barker reservoirs,” the flooding researchers said. “Rather than continue to subjectively debate this topic, there is a call for a clear report on the condition of the dams, including public transparency on risks and any required structural improvements that may be needed.”
The Addicks and Barker reservoirs were built about 70 years ago to control flooding along Buffalo Bayou, which passes through the upscale River Oaks and Memorial areas before it reached downtown.
Government officials have estimated that some 7,000 people would die if one of the dams failed and sent a massive wall of water through the city.
The new report, “Strategies for Flood Mitigation in Greater Houston, Edition 1,” was based on information from multiple local agencies and experts, with support from a number of research organizations and Texas universities.
The report reaches conclusions on Addicks and Barker reservoirs, including the important considerations about the proposed “third reservoir,” and flood mitigation tactics such as creating new regulations, local drainage projects, and governmental “buyouts” of homes in flood prone areas.
The report says:
The “third reservoir” as currently proposed is primarily intended to mitigate new development. It is not designed to reduce flooding in Buffalo Bayou nor does it solve issues with the Addicks and Barker reservoirs.
A new reservoir in northwest Harris County, specifically designed to address the Cypress Creek watershed, could significantly help mitigate repeated flooding of Cypress. A “third reservoir” in the same general area studied in the Cypress Creek Overflow Study, that targets reducing flooding in the badly damaged Cypress Creek watershed, could be very effective in addressing repeated flooding in the downstream areas of that watershed.
New development, especially in previously undeveloped areas, still increases downstream flooding. Natural ecosystems and agricultural areas absorb some water, hold some water through ponding, and release the rest slowly. While current detention regulations limit the rate of water, the assumed conditions in these calculations overestimate pre-development runoff rate and thus underestimate the increase in runoff. The regulations also do not limit total runoff volume, which is critical in multi-day storms.
The consortium is funded with support from Houston Endowment, Kinder Foundation, and the Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation with additional support from the Walton Family Foundation, Cullen Foundation, and Harte Charitable Foundation.
“When the consortium was formed, its philanthropic funders intended to make Houston a more resilient city and ensure that all communities benefit from flood mitigation efforts. We’ve brought together experts on flooding, the environment, and urban planning, and, together, we are presenting our conclusions thus far,” said consortium project manager Christof Spieler.