When the Addicks and Barker reservoirs were built, the nearby land plots were home to rice fields and grazing cattle. If water were to spill over into the fields, damages would be minimal.
However, developers began eyeing the undeveloped property in 1997 and presented plans to Fort Bend County to develop subdivisions on the plots. With few zoning laws, the county couldn’t stop the development.
As a compromise, the county required a warning be included in the plan establishing the first few neighborhoods. This would indicate to home buyers that the flood risk was a defect in the land — if they knew where to look for the warning.
However, neighborhoods built next to the initial subdivisions, which were still within the reach of the breaching floodwaters, did not include a warning for home buyers.
As the water rose during Harvey, many homeowners around Addicks and Barker learned for the first time that they were inside a designated reservoir.
The reservoirs were built to protect downtown Houston from flooding, but the Army Corps of Engineers did not plan for the reservoirs to flood homes — they were supposed to flood empty fields in the event the dam was breached.
After Harvey, the corps was forced to release water from the reservoirs to prevent wall failure, which would have inundated the city with water. In releasing water, homes built over the rice fields and pastures flooded, destroying the homes of people who didn’t know they were living in an area expected to flood.
Without zoning laws, the county did its best to control development. Despite its efforts, homeowners lost everything as water was released from the reservoirs.