USACE Galveston District’s dam safety mission highlighted on National Dam Safety Awareness Day

GALVESTON, Texas (May 31, 2016) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District joins the Association of State Dam Safety Officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in recognizing May 31 as National Dam Safety Awareness Day.

“The recent rain and flood events in the Houston area have highlighted the importance of our flood risk management program and the value it provides to the public,” said Col. Richard Pannell, USACE Galveston District commander. “National Dam Safety Awareness Day reminds of us potential consequences that could result from a dam failure. Today marks the 127th anniversary of the worst dam disaster in U.S. history – the South Fork Dam failure in Johnstown, Pennsylvania – which resulted in the deaths of 2,209 people and left thousands homeless. The Corps of Engineers is committed to reducing flood risks through our Dam Safety Program and ensuring we effectively communicate the risks associated with dams.”

In response to devastating floods that occurred in Houston in 1929 and 1935, the USACE Galveston District began construction of Addicks and Barker dams in what was then undeveloped areas in far west Harris and east Fort Bend counties to prevent the loss of life and property and provide flood damage reduction along Buffalo Bayou downstream of the reservoirs and through the center of the City of Houston. Construction of the Addicks and Barker structures were completed in 1948 and 1945 respectively.

According to Dam Safety Officer Terry Bautista, USACE Galveston District, the district began a risk assessment on all USACE-owned dams nationwide in 2005. The potential failure mode analyses on the Addicks and Barker dams (completed in 2009) identified unacceptable risks associated with the dams. The risks combined with the potential consequences to the Houston metropolitan area, should there be a failure, elevated the classification of Addicks and Barker dams to extremely high risk.

“Having Addicks and Barker dams designated as extremely high risk was a significant step toward increasing their safety because it led to additional funding for modifications,” said Bautista. “These modifications, once constructed, will decrease the risks associated with the dams. The design for the repairs were completed in May 2015 with award of the construction contract in August 2015. Construction is expected to take three years.”

The Addicks and Barker dams have served the Houston metropolitan area for more than 70 years, saving taxpayers an estimated $10 billion through 2015 in potential flood prevention. During the April 2016 Tax Day Flood alone it is estimated that over $5 billion in flood damage was prevented and an estimated 24,000 homes and business were not flooded as a result of the operations of Addicks and Barker Dams and Reservoirs. With risk reduction measures implemented and proposed long-term measures now under construction, it is expected that the dams will continue to serve the City of Houston for decades to come.

During the April 2016 record-setting flooding event in the Houston region, the USACE Galveston District activated its Emergency Operations Center in preparation for managing record pool elevations at both the Addicks and Barker dams and reservoirs and partnered with local, state and federal agencies to maximize public safety and minimize impacts. Working 24/7 for more than three weeks, staff increased surveillance of the Addicks and Barker foundations and structures to ensure they continued to operate as intended, brought in inspectors to test for structural issues and employed dam observers to monitor the rate of storm water releases.

With all dams presenting risk potential, Bautista reminds residents that it is important to know the risks associated with potential dam incidents and failures and recommends residents review a new guide entitled “Living With Dams: Know Your Risks,” located on the ASDSO website at http://www.damsafety.org/. The guide covers topics ranging from an explanation of the potential risks associated with dams to providing tips for preparing for an emergency.

For more information about the Addicks and Barker reservoirs and dams visit www.addicksandbarker.info or learn more about dam safety at http://www.damsafety.org/. For news and information, visit www.swg.usace.army.mil. Find us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/GalvestonDistrict, or follow us on Twitter, www.twitter.com/USACEGalveston.