Records: Corps Failed to Release Harvey Flood Prediction to Public

February 23, 2018

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted ahead of Hurricane Harvey’s arrival that reservoirs in Houston would fill to record levels, flooding adjacent neighborhoods, but never shared the concern with the public, government records reveal.

A Corps forecast on Aug. 25, the same day Harvey made landfall, determined Barker and Addicks reservoirs would spill beyond their banks, engulfing homes and businesses.

It wasn’t until the next day that officials in Fort Bend County issued the first flood advisory for areas adjacent to Barker.

Authorities in Harris County, home to Houston, didn’t issue similar warnings until Aug. 27. But by then neighborhoods upstream of Barker and Addicks were already inundated, and many residents had to be rescued by boats or military vehicles.

Corps’ forecasts have emerged months later through discovery in a lawsuit in which thousands of homeowners are seeking compensation from the Corps, which operates the reservoirs. The Houston Chronicle obtained copies of the documents.

Houston-area officials were criticized in the days after Harvey’s arrival for not acting quickly enough to alert people of flooding dangers and urge evacuations.

More than 9,000 homes and businesses were flooded by the reservoirs — at least 4,000 upstream of Barker and 5,000 to 6,000 upstream of Addicks, according to a Chronicle analysis.

Officials in Fort Bend and Harris counties said they were not informed of an initial Corps’ flooding forecast on Aug. 24.

Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert said the county received the next day’s forecast, but he said the Corps characterized it as internal and preliminary. County officials say the Corps’ forecast issued Aug. 26 was so alarming that they decided to issue an advisory the same day.

Hebert said the county did so despite objections from Corps officials, who wanted the forecast kept confidential.

The Corps did not respond to the Chronicle’s request for comment.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett declined to comment.

The flooding forecasts were generated by the Corps Water Management System, which analyzes information about rainfall, weather forecasts, river conditions and other data to guide the management of Corps dams and reservoirs.

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