Emergency workers begin releasing water into the Buffalo Bayou from two flood-control dams in Houston on Monday, a move that could impact thousands of residents, officials said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it began to release water from the Addicks and Barker dams early Monday morning to prevent uncontrollable flooding of the Houston-metropolitan area as water levels continued to rise rapidly beneath torrential rains being released by Tropical Storm Harvey.
Engineers were forced to start the process earlier than previously announced because water levels in the reservoirs had “increased dramatically in the last few hours,” officials said early Monday, adding that the release would likely cause additional street flooding that could potentially spill into homes.
This is the first time engineers have done this for flood control, officials said.
“If we don’t begin releasing now, the volume of uncontrolled water around the dams will be higher and have a greater impact on the surrounding communities,” Col. Lars Zetterstrom, Galveston District commander, said in a statement Monday.
Both dams were constructed by the federal government in the 1940s to reduce flooding along Buffalo Bayou, a narrow body of water that runs through downtown Houston. But development along the edges of the reservoirs has in recent years placed homes at risk upstream of the dams as well.
Zetterstrom did not say exactly how many residents would be impacted by the move, but officials said the release could affect “thousands” of homes located along the reservoirs.
“It’s going to be better to release the water through the gates directly into Buffalo Bayou as opposed to letting it go around the end and through additional neighborhoods and ultimately into the bayou,” Zetterstrom added.
The reservoirs, located on western outskirts of Houston, are about 17 miles away from downtown Houston.
Zetterstrom said all roads within the Addicks and Barker area will be flooded and closed for “an extended period of time until” the Corps can release sufficient quantities of water from the dams.
“Both reservoirs are rising more than half a foot per hour,” Zetterstrom said. “Residents adjacent to the reservoirs need to be vigilant because the water in the reservoirs is rising rapidly.”