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Concerns Of Failure At Addicks And Barker Dams Spark Demand For New Reservoir

The Army Corps of Engineers have known Addicks and Barker are at risk of “catastrophic failure” since 2010. Now, experts wonder the extent of the damage brought by Harvey.

Listen to Houston Matters’ full interview with Texas Tribune reporter Neena Satija above.

Documents from the Army Corps of Engineers show Addicks and Barker were said to be in danger of “catastrophic failure” if waters in the reservoirs rose beyond 25-year flood depth. That has happened multiple times since 2010, when the documents were written.

During Harvey, the Corps let water rise well above the recommended height. "Ultimately it had to hold a lot more water behind those dams than it was ever designed to do," Neena Satija told Houston Public Media. Satija is a reporter with the Texas Tribune and led the investigation which uncovered the documents.

An Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson told the Tribune that the 2010 documents are outdated, but Satija says there were reassurances that the dams have been improved. "Subsequent documents that have been written since then just reiterate their concerns with the dams," she said.

“Addicks and Barker were the best investments ever made on flood control in Houston,” Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer and Rice University professor told Houston Public Media. “They have been allowed to deteriorate, and that is an absolute disgrace.”

In 2011, Blackburn sued the Army Corps of Engineers on behalf of the Sierra Club. The suit made public the documents referenced in Satija’s investigation. Blackburn urged Houstonians to consider their role in maintaining flood protections and building new ones, adding that while politicians seem not to have done enough, the public has not placed flood mitigation as a high enough priority. “I have not heard the right signals that we are heading towards the necessary change,” he said.

“We definitely need a third reservoir,” said Philip Bedient of the Rice Univeristy Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center. However, he says, the funding for a third reservoir does not yet exist.

It's still unclear when — and if — the Corps will receive additional funding to make repairs or build additional protections.