Engineer speaks out about 1996 study that predicted catastrophic flooding

HOUSTON – When massive amounts of rainwater were released from the Barker and Addicks dams, it flooded houses that hadn't been damaged until then.

One of them belongs to Art Storey, who for 25 years directed billions of dollars worth of flood-prevention projects as Harris County’s chief engineer and infrastructure director.

"I think it is a massive governmental and engineering failure," Storey said.

In 1996, Storey ordered a study that found the Addicks and Barker reservoirs were inadequate to protect about 25,000 homes from the kind of flooding Harvey caused.

The study proposed a $400-million project to carry water from the reservoirs to the Houston Ship Channel through underground flumes beneath the Katy freeway, which was then being expanded.

The project was never built.

"Federal funding was absent, it was not so much they didn’t have a willing or local partner. The county officials didn’t refuse to do it,” Storey said.

County commissioner Steve Radack said the idea never got beyond the conceptual stage.

“…and of course that was presented to TxDOT and TxDOT said, 'You got the money, you have approval, 'cause we are moving forward to building this freeway? Trying to do it on an expedited pace. And so basically, no, we didn’t have the money.”

Storey is also severely critical of the Corps of Engineers decision to release huge amounts of water at the height of the storm, while Buffalo Bayou was still over capacity.

"I think it was a cruel and unnecessary decision to inundate this area where people had been assured for 20 years they’d be protected by the Addicks and Barker dams and could still have been,” Storey said.

The Corps of Engineers said the releases were necessary to ease flooding in neighborhoods behind the reservoirs,  and to prevent failure of the 70-year-old earthen dams.

Radack said the Corps was confronted with a tough balancing act.

"It’s a massive challenge, I think they're handling it well, but what it boils down to, more reservoir capacity is needed whether in the existing ones or new ones," Radack said.

Storey contends the dams should have been rebuilt and strengthened years before. And new development prohibited around the reservoirs where much of the flooding happened. He blames himself and every level of government.

"I failed to get the focus on the problem. Whatever it would have cost," Storey said.

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