Flooding of Addicks, Barker reservoirs during Harvey predicted, not released to public

HOUSTON – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted ahead of Hurricane Harvey's arrival that reservoirs in Houston would fill to record levels, flooding adjacent neighborhoods, but never shared the concern with the public, government records reveal.

A Corps forecast on Aug. 25, the same day Harvey made landfall, determined Barker and Addicks reservoirs would spill beyond their banks, engulfing homes and businesses.

It wasn't until the next day that officials in Fort Bend County issued the first flood advisory for areas adjacent to Barker.

Authorities in Harris County, home to Houston, didn't issue similar warnings until Aug. 27. But by then neighborhoods upstream of Barker and Addicks were already inundated, and many residents had to be rescued by boats or military vehicles.

Corps' forecasts have emerged months later through discovery in a lawsuit in which thousands of homeowners are seeking compensation from the Corps, which operates the reservoirs. The Houston Chronicle obtained copies of the documents.

Houston-area officials were criticized in the days after Harvey's arrival for not acting quickly enough to alert people of flooding dangers and urge evacuations.

More than 9,000 homes and businesses were flooded by the reservoirs - at least 4,000 upstream of Barker and 5,000 to 6,000 upstream of Addicks, according to a Chronicle analysis.

Officials in Fort Bend and Harris counties said they were not informed of an initial Corps' flooding forecast on Aug. 24.

Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert said the county received the next day's forecast, but he said the Corps characterized it as internal and preliminary. County officials say the Corps' forecast issued Aug. 26 was so alarming that they decided to issue an advisory the same day.

Hebert said the county did so despite objections from Corps officials, who wanted the forecast kept confidential.

"We've lived in this house for 25 years. Never a drop of water. Not one drop of water," said Sandy Williams, standing in front of her home near Bear Creek Park.  

She is sleeping her last few nights in an RV before moving back into her home. She said she was furious she read the Chronicle report claiming the federal government knew, in advance, about historic flooding predictions, yet kept the information secret.  

"I was a little ticked to be honest with you. To hold that information back and not let us know that this was coming. You don't do that. You don't do that. We could have...a lot of us out here could have saved so much. I don't understand why they wouldn't let us know that flooding was coming," Williams said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused to comment on the matter because of pending lawsuits. Instead a local spokesman referred KPRC2 to a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice.  

KPRC2 is waiting for a comment on this serious flooding claim.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett declined to comment to the Chronicle.

The flooding forecasts were generated by the Corps Water Management System, which analyzes information about rainfall, weather forecasts, river conditions and other data to guide the management of Corps dams and reservoirs.

Here is a statement from the corps:

"In the lead up to and during Hurricane Harvey and the ensuing record rainfalls, the Corps of Engineers released information to local officials and the public multiple times each day. Public records show Corps of Engineer liaison officers provided reservoir safety data through three daily briefings to local, county, state and federal officials. Corps representatives participated in daily press briefings, published press releases and shared flood information through social media and public telephone response hotlines. Since 2010, because the Corps is prohibited from issuing evacuation orders, we have worked tirelessly to warn communities through our Dam Safety Program, and have shared inundation mapping data to local governments for their use in formulating evacuation plans."