The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a rigorous Dam Safety Program. As part of this program, the Corps continually inspects all of its dams nationwide. This ongoing inspection and safety program demonstrates our commitment to protecting lives, property and the environment by ensuring that all of our dams are designed, constructed, operated and maintained as safely and effectively as possible.
The way we look at dam safety is changing. In the past, we looked primarily at the structural integrity of our dams as we assessed their risks to the public. Today, though, we are using a formula that combines dam safety risk and potential consequences when we make our risk status assessment. For example, if a dam protects a large metropolitan area, like Houston, with a very significant population, the consequences of any failure are much greater than that of a dam protecting farm or ranch land. The potential consequences of a dam failure affecting the Houston metropolitan area are great.
As part of the Corps’ transition to looking at dam safety risk differently, Addicks and Barker dams have undergone a recent evaluation, along with all dams nationwide.
Two structural areas of concern were identified in our evaluation of these two dams. They are:
- the structures (or gates) in the dams that allow outflow to Buffalo Bayou, and
- the ends of the dams
When we combined the risks associated with these two concerns with the potential consequences to the Houston metropolitan area should there be a failure, Addicks and Barker were designated as “extremely high risk”.
It is important to know that Addicks and Barker dams are not in imminent danger of failing. These two dams form reservoirs that are dry much of the time. They are continuously monitored by a full-time staff to ensure their structural integrity. But, the fact that the Houston metropolitan area is the nation’s fourth largest population center is a primary concern. Any dam safety issues at Addicks and Barker could have a far greater impact due to the magnitude of people and property downstream, as opposed to other dams around the country in rural or low-population density areas.
Having our Addicks and Barker dams designated as “extremely high risk” is a big step toward increasing their safety. This designation moves them up to the front of the line for funding for repairs and studies, and all actions required for these two dams will be expedited.