Last August, Hurricane Harvey caused extreme flooding in Houston and the surrounding area, resulting in $125 billion in damages. But Fort Bend County commissioners believe some of that flooding could have been avoided.
On Tuesday, the commissioners voted to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for mishandling the Barker Reservoir during the hurricane. They say the Corps caused flooding of nearby neighborhoods when it allowed water to back up onto private property upstream, rather than releasing the water downstream.
“Basically the Corps allowed water to back up in the reservoir to a point where it left the federally owned property that comprises the reservoir and flowed onto private property, damaging some 3100 homes in Fort Bend County,” says Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert.
“They had the opportunity to do it [right] over the last seventy-some-odd years. They have failed to provide the assets necessary to keep the water in the reservoir, and that’s what’s promulgated our action.”
He says the reservoir was built in such a way that overspill and flooding of private property was inevitable. “It should be quite obvious when the federal property ends at an elevation of 95 feet and the emergency spillway for the reservoir is at 107 feet, something’s wrong.”
“If the government is storing water on property that they own next to your property, and at their convenience [they] store water on your property when they need to, I think that constitutes a taking,” Hebert says.
Many of the affected homeowners have filed their own claims against the government, he says, but the county commissioners are seeking injunctive relief, “where a federal district judge would tell the Corps of Engineers that they cannot put water on private property. It not only violates their rules and regulations but it violates federal law.”
Written by Rachel Taube.