HOUSTON FLOODS: Water might flow over key dam’s spillway, officials say


11:20 p.m. update: A top U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official acknowledged in a late Monday press conference there is a chance that water will flow over the spillway at one of the two city dams struggling to cope with massive rains from Tropical Storm Harvey.

The acknowledgment came as county officials reiterated that the controlled releases already underway — meant to help reduce pressure on the dams and the chances for those uncontrolled releases — are not currently increasing flooding along the Buffalo Bayou.

However, the Harris County Flood Control District’s top meteorologist, Jeff Lindner, added that in a worst case scenario — that could change, with the planned releases possibly adding another 6-12 inches to the bayou’s levels.

Just before midnight Sunday, officials at Army Corps of Engineers decided that water was coming into the reservoirs so quickly, the dams must be partially opened to prevent water from splashing into the spillway and into an already swollen Buffalo Bayou, which has spilled over its banks and flooded neighborhoods across Houston.

However, by Monday evening, it appeared the likelihood of that scenario had increased, with officials explicitly saying it is a possibility, instead of a possibly avoidable situation through controlled releases.

Earlier: While Tropical Storm Harvey’s devastating bands of thunderstorms temporarily shifted east overnight Sunday, problems continued to build at a pair of key, decades-old reservoirs in far west Harris County, forcing authorities to release water from those dams hours ahead of schedule.

But the storm continued to plague the city as those bands of storms looped back from the east, over rural counties to Houston’s north and west, which dumped water into the rural creeks that feed into the now troubled Addicks and Barker reservoirs.

Just before midnight Sunday, officials at Army Corps of Engineers decided that water was coming into the reservoirs so quickly, the dams must be partially opened to prevent water from splashing into the spillway and into an already swollen Buffalo Bayou, which has spilled over its banks and flooded neighborhoods across Houston.

There was no other choice, authorities said at a Monday morning news conference.

“We’re releasing smaller amounts of water now to prevent larger uncontrolled releases when the water begins going around the dams, if that does occur,” said Edmond Russo Jr., a top engineer with the Army Corps local office.

The rains upstream were causing the reservoirs to rise at a rate of more than 4 inches per hour, forcing the move, Russo added.

Authorities began small, and released about 800 cubic feet of water from both dams around 1 a.m.; earlier than the previously announced 2 a.m. time for the Addicks release to begin and nearly 12 hours ahead of the initially announced 11 a.m. start time for the Barker opening.

The flow from the dams will increase until it hits a combined 8,000 cubic feet of water — about 60,000 gallons — per second later today, all of which will flow into Buffalo Bayou.

The move is akin opening a pressure release value to relieve some of the stress on the dams that the giant influx of water has caused. It will not prevent portions of nearby subdivisions from flooding as water will still enter the reservoirs faster than it is released, authorities said, warning that potentially thousands of homes that sit nearby could be affected.

Harris County officials said they were still calculating what the impact on bayou might be, but suggested Sunday it would likely be marginal considering the amount of water already in it.

“(The Army Corps) has a delicate balance they have to work and that is, they have to protect the integrity of the dams… but at the same time, we have also have the people who live on both sides of the dams,” said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. “This is not an easy situation.”

The Addicks and Barker reservoirs were constructed decades ago to help stop rushing water from rural creeks from pouring into Buffalo Bayou, which run the length of Houston from Beltway 8, through densely populated central city neighborhoods and downtown, all the way to the Ship Channel.

The two dams recently underwent $72 million in repairs following the floods that struck Houston in 2016. But both have a long history of seepage and erosion, a Houston Chronicle investigation found.

These two dams are not alone. Officials in Montgomery County called for widespread evacuations around Lake Conroe as record amounts of water poured in, forcing officials to open the dam, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Meanwhile, back in Harris County, officials late Sunday night asked part of a subdivision located next to the Cypress Creek levy north of Houston — near George Bush Intercontinental Airport — to evacuate as fears mounted it might spill over.



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