The Destruction that could be Bigger than Katrina

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Original Story “Dam it!” by Steve Jansen, Houston Press, July 19, 2012.

Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. More than 1,800 people died and the property damage was estimated at $81 billion. The country hopes to never experience anything like Katrina again, but there are experts who consider a situation in Houston to be at risk – a risk that could result in carnage greater than Katrina.

For more than 60 years, the Addicks and Barker dams in Houston have prevented an estimated $4.6 billion in flooding damages by limiting large amounts of water from reaching flood-prone Buffalo Bayou that flows through the city. However, the dams have been pushed to their limit, mostly due to all the new construction and suburbs that coexist alongside the dams.

During some heavy rain in 2009, the dams exhibited signs of irreversible failure. Afterwards, the United States Army of Corps of Engineers, which owns the dams, gave Addicks and Barker dams an “extremely high risk of catastrophic failure” label. The dams are currently two of the country’s six most dangerous. The earliest the dams can be fully repaired is 2017, which is worrisome since Houston’s population is the nation’s 4th largest. If the dams broke, the destruction could dwarf Katrina since all of West Houston, Downtown, and the Texas Medical Center could be wading in disgusting flood waters.

The situation has also gotten worse because there is now construction of a Grand Parkway (super beltway) that will coax more concrete from housing projects which will send more water to the aging dams. (It’s been said that Exxon Mobil would not agree to build it’s giant corporate campus in Houston unless the County gave approval for theĀ  construction of the Grand Parkway).

If the dams fail, Houston might never recover. “It’s a lot like the lower Ninth Ward levee – as long as it doesn’t break, everything is fine, but if it breaks, you have a major issue” says Houston resident Rosencranz.