The Devastation of Hurricane Harvey
Hurricane Harvey dropped 40-52 inches of rainfall in southeast Texas, with 44.91 inches in South Houston, and 37.01 inches at Houston Hobby Airport. Harvey was the nation’s first Category 3 or stronger hurricane to make landfall since October 2005 when Hurricane Wilma struck South Florida. Still pending final confirmation, it is likely Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall total will be the heaviest from any tropical storm in the continental U.S. among records dating back to 1950. While Harvey’s odyssey has come to an end, the catastrophic impact of the hurricane will be felt for months, possibly even years to come.
Houston’s Reservoir Systems
The city of Houston has two major flood-control reservoirs which are designed to drain excess water away from the city through Buffalo Bayou and into the Barker and Addicks Reservoirs. The reservoirs flank I-10 on the west side of Houston, and are surrounded by parks and residential areas. By Monday evening, the two reservoirs had reached record levels. The reservoirs each have a main spillway and two auxiliary spillways. The Harris County Flood Control District noted that the two reservoirs have “protected greater Houston area residents against loss of life and property over the last 70 years.”
“Controlled Release” of Water Causing Flooding in Unflooded Areas
Because officials hoped to avoid a spillover at the reservoirs once they reached peak capacity, the Army Corp of Engineers made the decision to begin a “controlled release” of water out of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs back into the Buffalo Bayou. Unfortunately, this decision to release 4,000 cubic feet per second from each reservoir over a 6-10-hour period, resulted in the flooding of the surrounding neighborhoods—homes which had thus far escaped flooding from Hurricane Harvey.
Much of these relatively new developments are built on former rice farmland and cow pastures, and while wetlands are normally a natural drainage system, the pavement in the new subdivisions left the released water nowhere to go. Essentially the same thing happened in Kingwood, when the San Jacinto River Authority performed a “controlled release” of water from Lake Conroe, even after an authority admitted “we understand there will be devastating flooding downstream but we don’t have the option to stop releases to avoid the catastrophic consequences.”
Inverse Condemnation by Government
While the decisions by the Army Corp of Engineers to lower water levels in Houston may have been done with a goal of preventing an uncontrolled flooding event, the actions nevertheless amount to inverse condemnation—the taking by a governmental entity of all damaged and/or destroyed properties while failing to pay the compensation required under the 5th Amendment, forcing the property owners to sue to obtain just compensation.
Houston Controlled Flooding Injury Lawsuit for Property Damages
One lawsuit has already been filed on behalf of Texas residential property owners who experienced flooding on their property because of the “controlled release” of the water from Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. Plaintiffs named in the petition owned property which was not flooded after Hurricane Harvey, and only began flooding after the Army Core of Engineers released water from the reservoirs.
At least three additional Houston controlled flooding injury lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts seeking to hold governmental agencies liable for flooding resulting from the controlled releases of water. One lawsuit targets the city of Houston and Harris County Flood Control District, while one of the two federal cases is a “takings” claim, stating the Army Corps made a willing choice to save some areas after the storm subsided. These cases may come down to knowledge and intent—whether the government knew what it was doing, and caused flooding that essentially amounted to the “taking” of people’s properties.
Contact a Houston Controlled Flooding Injury Lawyer
If you are a Texas residential property owner who experienced floodwaters at your home in the areas north and west of Addicks Reservoir, west and south of the Barker Reservoir, or a residence downstream affected by Buffalo Bayou’s rising waters, it could be beneficial for you to contact an experienced Houston controlled flooding injury lawyer. You may have an inverse condemnation claim, and be eligible to file a Houston controlled flooding injury lawsuit.