HOUSTON - After reservoir and lake releases during Harvey flooded tens of thousands of homes, state lawmakers met in New Caney on Monday to figure out how to give homeowners more warning and give them more accessible, accurate information on the threat.
Joy Rizzi’s home of nearly 20 years along the San Jacinto River in the Forest Cove subdivision near Kingwood didn’t just flood during Harvey, it was destroyed.
“I have nothing. I’m in clothes that people donated to me,” said Rizzi, a retiree who says her house was paid off but uninsured. “I didn’t have a Plan B for the house being gone.”
Rizzi says the night Harvey hit, she was monitoring models online showing levels of rainfall, the San Jacinto River, and Lake Conroe.
“It was just my gut,” recalls Rizzi. “Something was telling me, ‘Something is wrong with this. This information isn’t matching what I’m seeing.’”
Rizzi said she received no warning of the dramatic release of water heading toward her and her neighbors from Lake Conroe in the middle of the night.
“The speed that was coming out of that lake was close to the force coming out of Niagara Falls,” said Rizzi. “We never had a chance.”
Rizzi and other local flood victims went to New Caney on Monday to share those concerns with state senators. The Senate’s Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs Committee held the meeting to hear from people involved with and affected by the release of water from Lake Conroe and Addicks and Barker reservoirs during Harvey.
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said Monday’s hearing was the first of many planned to help the state, counties, water board, and river authorities begin the process of seeing what they can do to lessen the chance of such intense flooding in the future.
“Was there something we could have done?” asked Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. “Could we have released water ahead of time, for example?”
Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) says he wants to see more transparent data on lake or reservoir releases consolidated into an easy-to-find spot. He also wants to create a system that automatically pushes notifications to everyone downstream during a lake or reservoir release.
“I don’t know why it didn’t happen 20 years ago, but it won’t happen 20 years from now,” said Sen. Bettencourt. “It’s the same with both (the releases from Lake Conroe and the Addicks/Barker reservoirs) that major releases were underway, the government was not transparent, and they did not have an ability to tell individuals through social media exactly what was happening.”
Lawmakers also are considering boosting capacity and strengthening Addicks and Barker and adding additional flood gauges.
Lt. Gov. Patrick said Monday he believes “multiple new reservoirs” should be built in the Houston area to mitigate future flooding along areas like the San Jacinto River, White Oak Bayou, and Cypress Creek.
The lieutenant governor expects those projects will be paid for mostly with federal dollars and believes Harvey could be the catalyst for moving forward on long-discussed water infrastructure projects.
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