by Cynthia Neely
A few weeks ago, I organized a meeting and tour with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to see what has been done to improve Barker and Addicks dams since Hurricane Harvey. There were eight of us, representing various HOAs and organizations. We weren’t there to criticize or talk about the past, but rather to learn first-hand about what upgrades have been made.
The tour and interview were recorded on video.
Richard Long, the Army Corps’ Natural Resource Management Specialist, spent a great deal of time showing us maps and information on his office computer. He answered some very tough questions. Many of us had flooded when the flood gates were opened after Hurricane Harvey.
Since the Addicks and Barker dams are nearly identical, he took us to Barker dam on Highway 6, south of I-10 to show improvements.
Just north of the old flood gates, modern new gates and conduits are in place – plus a second set of gates added as backup behind the new ones. Previously, there were no backup gates.
Also, new water gauges, observation decks, buildings, video camera surveillance, and generators have been installed.
The view from the top of the dam is dizzying. Over 17,000 concrete blocks (1.2 tons each) are laid like tiles in the channel beneath the gates to guide the exiting water.
For security reasons, the flood gates cannot be controlled remotely. Bluetooth and Internet systems can be hacked, so operation of the gates is dependent on human heroes being physically on top of the dams, during any kind of weather Mother Nature doles out – even tropical storms and hurricanes.
The dams were built in the forties, and during all this time there was never a shelter for operators. During Harvey, two operators stayed for three straight days and lived out of their trucks on top of the dams, going in and out of the weather to do what was needed.
Shelters at each dam are now constructed, housing not only the operations controls but also a place for operators to hunker down indoors rather than in their vehicles. We were able to walk around inside and get a close look at the equipment and Mr. Long explained what each was used for.
If electrical power should fail, there are multiple backups: a room-sized generator in its own building; portable generators; battery-operated hand-held equipment (resembling giant drill drivers) which can turn the gates’ wheels to open. The last resort is human power, manual turning of the wheel to open the gates. It takes 90 turns of the wheel to open the gates 1/10th of a foot. Operators would have to stand in line to take turns to turn the wheel. The Barker gate is 12 feet and Addicks is 10 feet.
The operations manual has been updated since Harvey. As we’ve all heard, what is done at the dam is “by the book”.
The upgrades are nearing completion and expected to be finished by summer. Hopefully, before Hurricane Season, but the important parts are done.
Our group is very grateful to Richard Long, Andrew Cook, David Mackintosh, and others with the Corps for spending the time (over 2 hours for some of them) to help us see the improvements for ourselves and better understand the operation of Barker and Addicks dams.
Also, I’m grateful to those concerned citizens who participated in our tour and who didn’t mince words with their questions:
Ed Browne, chair/founder, Residents Against Flooding; Kim Parker, Woods on Memorial and Memorial Super Neighborhood; Greg Johnson, Somerset Place Town Homes; Mary Eberle, Memorial Drive Acres and Memorial Super Neighborhood; Susanne Blake, Woods on Memorial Town Homes; Kay Haslam, Residents Against Flooding and formerly Legend Lane Town Homes; Lois Myers, Residents Against Flooding and former candidate, City Council District A.