An analysis more than two decades ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that homeowners near two reservoirs in Houston might sue the Corps if they were flooded, as they were in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, but had little likelihood of success.
The assessment by the Corps in 1995 supported decisions at the time not to pursue upgrades to the Addicks and Barker reservoirs in west Houston. The Houston Chronicle obtained a copy of the 11-page document.
Corps officials believed that a storm that could inundate homes with floodwaters would be so rare that it didn’t necessitate retrofitting dams to avoid potential flooding and litigation.
The determination was made despite mounting evidence that the reservoirs were being constrained by rapid development, the newspaper reported.
The reservoirs over the years were being forced to hold back an increasing amount of water while decreasing the amount that could be safely released.
In the days after Harvey came ashore Aug. 25, 2017, more than 9,000 homes and businesses were flooded by the reservoirs. Many of the homeowners now are suing for compensation.
Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University who has written about the Addicks and Barker cases, said the Corps document could reinforce the property owners’ claims that the Corps was aware of the consequence of its actions during Harvey.
Attorneys for the homeowners say that Corps records show they “analyzed the problem, they’ve correctly identified the problem, they know about the problem, and they decide again and again and again to do nothing and accept the risk of litigation,” said Charles Irvine, an attorney representing property owners flooded upstream of Addicks and Barker during Harvey.
An Army Corps spokesman referred questions to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to comment due to the ongoing homeowner lawsuits.
The Addicks and Barker reservoirs were built by the Corps in the 1940s to hold back storm runoff and protect Houston from downstream flooding.
The Corps in 1995 decided against plans that included constructing a third reservoir, excavating to make Addicks and Barker deeper, and buying out nearby homes, the newspaper reported. Corps officials believed they couldn’t justify the cost of such work.
Each of those solutions has been proposed again in the aftermath of Harvey.