Preparedness & Recovery

Official: Harris County Flood Control District not Consulted Before Reservoir Releases Began

It underscores the disjunct between various levels of government responsible for protecting residents from potentially deadly floodwaters.

by Mihir Zaveri, Houston Chronicle / April 27, 2018
Flood waters have risen into the Lakes on Eldridge North neighborhood near the Addicks Reservoir West Houston, Texas on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. Hurricane Harvey inundated the Houston area with several feet of rain. (Tom Fox/Dallas Morning News/TNS) TNS

(TNS) - The Harris County Flood Control District was not consulted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the Corps' decision to release water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs and into thousands of homes downstream during Hurricane Harvey, according to a recently filed affidavit.

The flood control district's chief engineer -- Steve Fitzgerald -- wrote in the affidavit filed this month that "The Corps did not ask for HCFCD's input or approval on whether or not water should be released from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs."

The document emerged as part of a lawsuit that was filed against the flood control district and the city by flooded residents downstream of the dams, blaming the local entities for the "taking" of their private property via the releases.

That particular lawsuit was dismissed as both the city and the flood control district asserted that the Army Corps had sole control of the dams and releases. The Corps faces other lawsuits from homeowners upstream and downstream of the dams.

Amid the various revelations that have come out since the storm, including the various shortcomings of Houston's flood defenses, Fitzgerald's admission could seem relatively minor.

But it underscores the disjunct between various levels of government responsible for protecting residents from potentially deadly floodwaters, and raises further questions about the coordination between federal and local officials during the storm and beyond.

The Corps runs the dams, but the flood control district is responsible for flooding along the bayous that flow into Addicks and Barker. The waterways include Bear Creek, Mayde Creek, Horsepen Creek, Langham Creek and Mason Creek.

Water released from the dams flows into the flood control district-managed channel of Buffalo Bayou.

Meanwhile, local officials approve development inside the reservoirs, which contributes to how much water they are forced to hold back during severe storms.

The document also provides one of the best overviews of how public officials coordinated and reacted during Harvey's unprecedented deluge. Read a snippet here:

The Corps did not immediately respond to questions seeking comment.

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