CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to include comments from Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert regarding why homes in neighborhoods upstream from the Barker Reservoir, including Canyon Gate and Cinco Ranch, flooded during Hurricane Harvey.
Fort Bend County Commissioners voted during a regularly scheduled meeting May 22 to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in regard to its operation of the Barker Reservoir during Hurricane Harvey last August.
During Harvey, the Corps’ opened floodgates in an effort to prevent the reservoirs from failing which created much of the flooding downstream of Buffalo Bayou, according to Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert. However, neighborhoods upstream from the reservoir, such as Canyon Gate, Kelliwood, Cinco Ranch and other areas along Mason Road that flooded only flooded because the Corps allowed water to back up out of the property that it owned and stored that water on private property, Hebert said.
“These properties behind the [Barker] Reservoir flooded solely because the Corps chose to store water on private property rather than release it downstream or take any other measures that it reasonably could have taken,” Hebert said. “They did not consider the risk to those property owners behind the reservoir.”
The Fort Bend Drainage District is also involved in the case. Both the drainage district and Commissioners Court believe the Corps does not have legal authority to inundate property owned by the county, according to a release from a new information center for Hebert’s office.
“The plaintiffs are seeking to compel the Corps to operate the Barker Reservoir legally and constitutionally, and are not seeking monetary damages,” the release stated.
The Barker and Addicks reservoirs were designed and constructed in the 1940s to protect the city of Houston from flood damages by detaining and storing floodwaters.
However, the county believes the Corps failed to acquire sufficient land to store the amount of water the reservoirs were designed to detain, according to the release. In its complaint, Fort Bend County will allege that the reservoirs’ design and modifications, along with the Corps’ standard operating procedures, made it inevitable that the limits of the Corps’ property would be exceeded—thereby flooding land for which it had no property rights upstream of the Barker Reservoir—if the reservoir were to reach near full capacity.
According to the release, the suit will be filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by Texas law firm AL Law Group in the United States Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.
“The county is filing suit seeking to require the Corps to follow federal law and its own rules in its operation of the reservoir,” Hebert in the release.
Hebert said he expects the lawsuit to be filed sometime this week and estimates it could cost upwards of $100,000. The county will pay for the suit using money from its general operation funds.
“If we lose and we appeal it could cost even more than that but it is the right thing to do,” Hebert said. “3,100 families in Fort Bend County were unnecessary damaged by the actions of the Corps, we have the right to go to court. We are not advocating a solution, that is the Corps’ job. We are just trying to get the federal courts to tell them, ‘No more you cannot do this again.’ That is what we are looking for and we think that is a valuable ruling.”