[Last updated: 9/27/2017]
As a quick summary, the purpose of this web site is to aggregate information from authoritative sources and clarify some of the often-misunderstood points about the Barker and Addicks reservoirs in the Katy–Houston area. This site has its main focus on the Barker reservoir and Katy-area neighborhoods west of the reservoir (e.g., Cinco Ranch, Canyon Gate, Kelliwood).
Disclosure: As the maintainer of this site, I have a particular interest in these reservoirs because one of them caused my house to flood during the rainfall following Hurricane Harvey. However, unlike some people, I am not looking for someone to blame or someone to sue. I just have a genuine interest in helping people to demystify these reservoirs to which many people previously gave very little thought.
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When you hear the word "reservoir," the first thing that may come to mind for many people is a large body of water with well-defined boundaries resembling a large swimming pool where water is stored for later use. The first thing you need to understand about the Addicks and Barker reservoirs is that they do not fit this description. Instead, they are low-lying areas of land partially surrounded by levees that prevent water from escaping. All of the water that would otherwise flow downhill toward Houston is instead contained within the levees, and that is the reason they exist: To protect the city of Houston..
In response to catastrophic flooding that occurred in Houston in the 1930s, the Army Corps of Engineers began work on a flood control system for the city, which took the form of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. With these controllable bodies of water, the Corps could regulate the flow of water into the city, greatly reducing the severity of flood damage.
Keep in mind that there are various different reasons that an area of land can flood, and only some of them have to do with reservoirs. However, the assumption here is that you already know which flooding was reservoir-related and which wasn't and just want to know how exactly the reservoir caused the flooding. The answer to this question depends on your geographic location:
If you live in the Katy area west or southwest of the George Bush Park (Cinco Ranch, Canyon Gate, Kelliwood, etc.), then any reservoir-related flooding in your area was caused by the growth of the Barker reservoir, not by the release of water from the reservoir via the Barker dam.
To understand why it was the growth of the reservoir rather than the release that flooded these neighborhoods, you need to understand how the reservoir is built. (It may help to know that the George Bush Park is part of the reservoir, and so you can easily locate the reservoir on a map by locating the park.)
Surrounding the reservoir is a U-shaped levee maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. Combined with the slightly downward-sloping land as you move farther east into the reservoir, this traps water from rainfall and prevents it from flowing east into Houston except as governed by the Army Corps of Engineers when they allow some of the water to be released through the dam.
It is critical to understand that the west side of the reservoir is open (hence the "U" shape description). There is no levee on this side at all, nor is there a dam. Therefore, it is impossible for water to be "released" west of the reservoir because there was no man-made structure to contain it in the first place, only land of ever-so-slightly increasing elevation. Any water that leaves government land and enters private property west of the reservoir does so as the reservoir pool continues to grow and encroach onto higher and higher elevations.
Because of this property of the west side of the reservoir, one way to predict flooding in these areas is to compare the water elevation in the reservoir against the land elevation in a neighborhood. For example, if your neighborhood is adjacent to the Barker reservoir, and your house is at 102 feet above sea level, then the water elevation in the Barker reservoir would have to exceed approximately 102 feet above sea level before your house would see reservoir-related flooding. (If in Fort Bend county, check your house's elevation using the floodplain mapping tool.)
In the graph below (source: USGS), you can see that the water elevation in the Barker reservoir peaked just past 101.5 feet above sea level. Many houses in the closest adjacent neighborhoods were built at 100 feet above sea level, meaning those houses received over a foot of water.
To monitor the current level of the reservoir, refer to the USGS National Water Information System .
If you live in Houston, east of the George Bush Park and near Buffalo Bayou, then the flooding in your area may have been increased by the release of water via the Barker dam into Buffalo Bayou.
Important note: Buffalo Bayou runs both upstream and downstream of the reservoir. However, only the downstream portion (in Houston) received water released from the dam.
The days leading up to, during, and following the reservoir-related flooding in the Katy area were filled with rumor and misinformation, some of which, unfortunately, was spread by news organizations attempting to report on the disaster.
Good information sourcesGovernment and other local organizations:
- Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management
- Harris County Flood Control District
- U.S. Geological Survey: National Water Information System
- Harris County Flood Warning System
- Fort Bend County floodplain map
- Covering Katy - Although the articles are sometimes lacking in the proofreading department, the technical accuracy with respect to the reservoirs and their impact on Katy (as opposed to Houston) has been far superior to other news sources.
Lower quality information sourcesNews:
- Houston-based news organizations - Although the Houston news covered the flooding in Katy, they repeatedly misused critical terminology that ended up leading many Katy area residents to misunderstand why the flooding was happening in their area. The specific error—attributing the flooding to the release of water from the reservoir—shows a Houston-centric bias and a neglect for accurate Katy reporting.
- Name: Rikus Goodell