Category Archives: Emergency Operations

Flood or drought: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is there

Brig. Gen. David Hill
Commander, Southwestern Division

Brig. Gen. David Hill, commander, Southwestern Division.
Brig. Gen. David Hill, commander, Southwestern Division.

Remember the drought? What a difference a year can make.  I arrived at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Southwestern Division in Dallas about a year ago, and most of the region was in some stage of drought. News coverage highlighted striking images of thirsty lakes, shorelines receding with lakebeds cracked and dry, and low Corps reservoir levels. Communities chafed under lawn watering restrictions.

The story line has changed in the last two months, as rain—lots of it—drenched us, swelled our rivers and tributaries, and filled many of our reservoirs to overflowing.   One after another, all four of our Southwestern Division districts in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas declared an emergency, the first time in our 78-year history.

The public followed us as we closely monitored our lake levels, and—always in coordination with local authorities and our partners—tweaked the water releases from the area lakes. People gathered to watch water coming over the spillways, and eagerly consumed the daily reports of which lakes were rising and the cubic feet per second releases from our reservoirs.

Our neighbors in the communities across our region witnessed, understood, and appreciated the efforts of the Army Corps of Engineers. They publicly praised and thanked us, in print and in social media, positive feedback that any government agency would greatly appreciate. We are deeply grateful for their understanding and support.

What they saw was not an anomaly. It was a very professional and dedicated cadre of engineers, hydrologists, and operations specialists carrying out their jobs around the clock at solidly built structures that were doing what they were designed to do: protect people and property during a potential flood event.

Flood risk management is the first and most significant benefit that Army Corps of Engineers lakes provide as a value to the nation, and the reservoirs along these lakes throughout our region were built primarily because of devastating floods in the last century.

Within the Southwestern Division, we have a robust Flood Risk Management program, with 74 flood damage reduction lakes/reservoirs; 33.22 million acre-feet of flood storage (in non-engineer math, that’s about 13,984 Cowboy Stadiums); and $85 billion in cumulative flood damage prevention. These figures do not include our 760 miles of local flood protection projects. Nationally, for every $1 invested (adjusted for inflation), Corps of Engineers flood protection systems prevent about $7.89 in damages.

While we don’t know yet how much damage was prevented this time around by Corps reservoirs, we do know historically what happened before they were built:   devastating floods, with countless lives lost, thousands left homeless, and astronomical property damages. With the growth in communities and industry that has occurred in the last 50 years, the loss of life and damage that could have occurred without these reservoirs is simply unthinkable.

Our reservoirs performed as designed—because they always do, whether flood or drought. They operate on a life cycle approach. During a flood event, they allow us to hold and then make controlled releases to prevent flooding downstream. During a drought, they allow us to store rainwater that has fallen earlier and conserve it for other authorized uses, such as water supply or hydropower.

So when these very reservoirs were operating during the drought, they still supplied hydropower to the Southwestern Power Administration in Oklahoma, for example, or water to North Texas Municipal Water District in Texas. And they were operating as designed.

Our infrastructure also sustained some damage, and that damage must be thoroughly assessed and repaired. Think of the scope of the rainfall: 35 trillion gallons of rain in Texas in May alone, enough to cover the entire state of Texas in 8 inches of water.

Some of that damage was to our recreation facilities on the lakes, which provide another authorized purpose of these projects: recreation. Many of our recreational areas were closed for Memorial Day, and might not be open until Labor Day. We know that’s an inconvenience for people. We ask for your continued support.   We’ll make every effort to reopen as quickly and as safely as possible.

But our primary goal must continue to be flood risk management, the reason that the reservoirs were built. Our attention will be on getting them back into top shape to protect you and your community—which is, after all, our community too—for the next major weather event that comes our way.

Thank you again, partners, stakeholders, and community members for your great support of the Army Corps of Engineers! As we have seen these past two months, our greatest partnership is when we all work together as and for the American people.


Fort Worth District team responds to historic rainfall

Lt. Col. Clay Morgan, Deputy Commander, Fort Worth District.
Lt. Col. Clay Morgan, Deputy Commander, Fort Worth District.

Lt. Col. Clay Morgan
Deputy Commander,
Fort Worth District

 

Team Fort Worth, for every organization there are key events and milestones that define and reinforce its reputation and the character of its people. In May 2015, the Fort Worth District withstood such an event – the Texas Spring Flood 2015.

Many words have been used to describe that event but one that has consistently and accurately been used is ‘historic.’ Forecasts in early May indicated that the rainfall would be significant but this proved to be an understatement.

As the severe rainfall hit in mid-May, SWF immediately stood-up our Emergency Operations Center to execute all facets of emergency flood fight operations.

The SWF Emergency Operations Center was the nucleus of those operations with our Operations Division taking the lead in the field/onsite at our numerous impacted lakes.

The EOC started off on twelve hour shifts but at the height of the flood event went into round the clock operations, with representatives from our district and other USACE district offices working as a cohesive team to meet numerous requirements – operational and administrative in support of flood fight operations.

Some of you may not be familiar with our flood risk management terminology, but in its simplest terms, flood surcharge pool is the area above the flood pool and to the top of the structure.

As recently as the third week in June, twenty-three of our twenty-five Fort Worth District multi-purpose lakes, were in flood pool. Surcharge releases were made at Bardwell, Benbrook, Grapevine, Joe Pool, Lavon, Lewisville, Navarro Mills, Ray Roberts, Somerville, Sam Rayburn and Town Bluff lakes.

Four of our lakes reached record-high pool elevations as a result of Spring Flood 2015: Joe Pool – 538 ft., Lewisville – 537 ft., Navarro Mills – 442.6 ft. and Bardwell – 441 ft.

It is the character of Team Fort Worth that allowed us to:

  • Conduct increased surveillance of our reservoir projects to monitor conditions, read instrumentation and report areas of distress. This effort included 24 hour surveillance of several lake projects performed by Operations and Engineering and Construction Division personnel from within SWF, SWD, and across USACE
  • Provide round the clock support by our Water Management Section to state, county, and local Emergency Management partners at the State of Texas with flood inundation maps and shape files for rivers below our USACE projects; technical assistance on flood fight measures and provision of flood fight materials
  • Coordinate and execute the delivery and distribution of over 169,500 small sandbags, 1,100 Super Sandbags, and HESCOs by our Logistics Office and Operations Division
  • Coordinate and execute action plans and expedited repairs at lakes by our E&C, Operations, and Contracting Divisions
  • Provide technical assistance to help stabilize conditions at Padera Dam near Midthlothian, TX and technical assistance on a collapsed bridge on the Blanco River by our Dam Safety Team
  • Embedded in the Texas Operations Center in Austin to provide instant access to State resources and coordination
  • Unprecedented coordination and work with our local, state and other federal agencies partners
  • Record-breaking local, regional, national and international balanced and positive media coverage all coordinated by the SWF Public Affairs Team with 170 print and broadcast interviews conducted; over 225 media and public inquiries responded to and three major press conferences coordinated and executed

These achievements were outstanding! In the months ahead, we will have significant challenges ahead as we assess and repair dams, levees, and parks that were damaged during the floods.

Additionally, due to storm waters captured from the flood event in May and June, SWF’s recreation mission for our twenty-five lakes has been greatly impacted. In some of our lakes, it will take at least two months or more for lake levels to return to normal conservation pool levels, without any significant rainfall.

We are definitely aware of the inconvenience, as well as some economic impacts, this will have on the communities in and around our lakes in terms of less recreational opportunity over the next few months. However, flood damage reduction and public safety must and will always be our priority and is the primary reason for our multi-purpose reservoirs. Our partners, and the public, understand this and we appreciate their patience as we gradually assess, repair and ready all of our facilities to reopen as the safe recreation areas that they were prior to Spring Flood 2015.

In the coming months, my plan is to ensure that all the outstanding work before, during and after the flood event by our numerous SWF team members is formally recognized.

As the Acting Commander, I want to thank Team Fort Worth and all our many partners for a job well done and look forward to us successfully completing the recovery phase of this mission.

As we enter that recovery phase, we can also proudly welcome our new Fort Worth District Commander, Col. Calvin Hudson, his spouse Mrs. Glenda Hudson and their daughter Madison. Col. Hudson will assume command on August 14 and I look forward to celebrating that event with all of Team Fort Worth.