Hun­dreds of dams in Texas risk fail­ure

States­man in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds sub­stan­dard dams may put pop­u­lated ar­eas at risk in mas­sive, worst-case floods.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Ralph K.M. Hau­r­witz | rhau­r­witz@states­man.com

GE­ORGE­TOWN — The earthen dam on the out­skirts of this Wil­liamson County city cer­tainly does not look flimsy. At 35 feet high and nearly a third of a mile long, it has done a re­li­able job of hold­ing back flood­wa­ters on Chan­dler Branch, a nor­mally placid trib­u­tary of Brushy Creek, for more than 50 years.

But in a worst-case flood, like what Hur­ri­cane Har­vey un­leashed on parts of Texas in Au­gust, or even a flood a bit more than half as se­vere, Chan­dler would turn into a mon­ster, even­tu­ally surg­ing over the top of what’s known as Up­per Brushy Creek Dam 10A. When rush­ing wa­ter and earth meet, wa­ter usu­ally wins, and the dam would al­most cer­tainly breach, re­sult­ing in the un­con­trolled re­lease of the im­pounded wa­ter, more than 500 mil­lion gal­lons.

That would swamp a miles-long area stretch­ing south­east into Round Rock that in­cludes 306 houses, eight mul­ti­fam­ily build­ings, 19 com­mer­cial prop­er­ties

and 14 road and rail­road cross­ings, ac­cord­ing to a study com­mis­sioned by the Up­per Brushy Creek Wa­ter Con­trol and Im­prove­ment District. In­ter­state 35, about 4 miles down­stream, would be

un­der nearly 6 feet of wa­ter.

Dam 10A is one of sev­eral hun­dred sub­stan­dard dams up­stream of pop­u­lated ar­eas in Texas that vi­o­late state law in­tended to guard against dam breach­ing, or fail­ure, in cat­a­strophic floods, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Amer­i­can-States­man has found.

Those in­clude six city-owned dams in Austin, as well as oth­ers in Cen­tral Texas, a re­gion that has ex­pe­ri­enced some of the heav­i­est rain­fall events in the world. The ad­e­quacy of hun­dreds more dams that could put peo­ple in harm’s way is un­known be­cause they haven’t been stud­ied. All told, Texas has 7,229 dams, more than any other state.

Few peo­ple who could be at risk are aware of the haz­ard of liv­ing in what en­gi­neers call the po­ten­tial in­un­da­tion zone, which in­cludes ar­eas well out­side the 100-year flood plain.

“We’ve lived here about 19 years, and I have never heard of this,” said Teresa Jones, pres­i­dent of the home­own­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion in Jester Farms, one of sev­eral Round Rock neigh­bor­hoods east of I-35 and along Chan­dler Branch that would be threat­ened by the fail­ure of Dam 10A. “I def­i­nitely want to look into this fur­ther.”

The States­man’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion also found:

Devel­op­ment in po­ten­tial in­un­da­tion zones is with few ex­cep­tions un­reg­u­lated by lo­cal, state and fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. As a re­sult, con­struc­tion of hous­ing, busi­nesses and roads puts those struc­tures at risk from dams, such as 10A, built decades ago to a less strin­gent stan­dard for agri­cul­tural land and there­fore never in­tended to pro­tect pop­u­lated ar­eas. In a case of one step for­ward and two steps back, fed­eral, state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments have spent mil­lions of dol­lars to up­grade some of these dams even as devel­op­ment con­tin­ues be­low other once-ru­ral dams.

Lack of pub­lic aware­ness about the haz­ards posed by dams is no ac­ci­dent. Af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001, fed­eral and state of­fi­cials, cit­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns, have re­stricted the abil­ity of news or­ga­ni­za­tions and the pub­lic to ob­tain in­for­ma­tion about the haz­ards posed by many dams.

In a de­par­ture from na­tional norms, the Texas Com­mis­sion on En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity, which reg­u­lates and in­spects dams, ap­plies stricter safety stan­dards to those whose fail­ure would be ex­pected to cost seven or more lives than it does to dams whose col­lapse could pos­si­bly cost up to six lives. The lat­ter can get by in some cases by be­ing ca­pa­ble of han­dling just half of a worstcase flood.

A state law passed by the Leg­is­la­ture and signed by thenGov. Rick Perry in 2013 per­ma­nently ex­empts 45 per­cent of the dams in Texas from in­spec­tions and other safety re­quire­ments be­cause of their rel­a­tively small size and ru­ral lo­ca­tions. Although more than 90 per­cent of these dams would not be ex­pected to cause loss of life if they failed, 231 of them are in the up-to-sixdeaths-are-pos­si­ble cat­e­gory.

The States­man pre­vi­ously in­ves­ti­gated dam safety in 1997, find­ing an alarm­ing state of ne­glect and in­ad­e­quate over­sight in Texas. At that time, nearly two-thirds of dams above pop­u­lated ar­eas had not been in­spected for at least five years. For­mal emer­gency ac­tion plans had not been de­vel­oped by dam own­ers for 94 per­cent of dams that should have had them. And the state’s dam safety team had dwin­dled to six em­ploy­ees from more than 40 in the early 1980s.

Twenty years later, the Com­mis­sion on En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity’s dam safety team has 30 em­ploy­ees and a $2.3 mil­lion an­nual bud­get. Eighty per­cent of dams whose fail­ure would put peo­ple at risk — not count­ing the ex­empted ones — have been in­spected in the past five years, and 77 per­cent of dams un­der the com­mis­sion’s over­sight have sub­mit­ted emer­gency plans. The Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency cited the stepped-up in­spec­tions and plan­ning as one of the na­tion’s “suc­cess sto­ries” in its re­port to Congress last year on dam safety.

Ex­perts nev­er­the­less de­scribe dam safety in Texas as an in­creas­ingly ur­gent mat­ter.

“More peo­ple are at risk from dam fail­ure than ever, de­spite bet­ter en­gi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion meth­ods, and con­tin­ued deaths and prop­erty losses from dam fail­ures are to be ex­pected,” the state en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mis­sion warns in its “Guide­lines for Op­er­a­tion and Main­te­nance of Dams in Texas.” It adds, “Risk is high be­cause peo­ple have been al­lowed to set­tle be­low dams in po­ten­tial in­un­da­tion zones.”

The com­mis­sion de­clined to make any of its of­fi­cials avail­able for an in­ter­view, but it re­sponded in writ­ing to ques­tions sub­mit­ted by the States­man. “TCEQ is not aware of any dams that are un­der threat of im­mi­nent fail­ure,” the agency said, adding that it has no plans to re­vise its rules “at this time.”

No one has died as a re­sult of a dam fail­ure in Texas since 1989, when a man drowned as he drove down a road that had been flooded af­ter the Nix Club Lake Dam in Rusk County, in East Texas, col­lapsed in a storm.

There have been dozens of fail­ures since then, in­clud­ing four East Texas dams that washed out as a re­sult of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey and its af­ter­math — three in Tyler County and one in New­ton County. Six­teen other dams sus­tained dam­age from Har­vey, in­clud­ing five in Fayette County, south­east of Austin.

Runoff from Har­vey’s 50 inches of rain flooded thou­sands of houses in Houston as the reser­voirs be­hind the Ad­dicks and Barker dams swelled, and thou­sands more flooded down­stream from the dams’ re­leases. The dams them­selves held up, although they have been con­sid­ered at risk of fail­ure for years, with the Army Corps of En­gi­neers, which owns them, strug­gling to se­cure suf­fi­cient fund­ing from Congress. Dozens of law­suits have been filed be­cause of the flood­ing. State reg­u­la­tors have no au­thor­ity over the Corps of En­gi­neers and other fed­eral dams.

A ques­tion of stan­dards

Dam safety spe­cial­ists are trou­bled by the Leg­is­la­ture’s ex­emp­tion of what are now 3,232 dams, or 45 per­cent, from safety re­quire­ments, as well as the en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mis­sion’s weaker stan­dards for dams with a lower po­ten­tial death toll.

“Texas’ cur­rent dam poli­cies, in­clud­ing the ex­emp­tions of dams, place pri­or­ity on less­en­ing the bur­den of dam own­ers rather than on the safety of the pub­lic liv­ing down­stream of a dam,” said Travis At­tana­sio, for­mer vice pres­i­dent for pro­fes­sional af­fairs for the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Civil En­gi­neers’ Texas Sec­tion. He was chair­man of that or­ga­ni­za­tion’s 2017 dam safety re­port card for Texas, which gave the state a grade of “D,” in­di­cat­ing the dam in­fra­struc­ture is “poor and at-risk,” he said.

In the vast ma­jor­ity of states, any dam that would be a threat to life if it failed is con­sid­ered a “high-haz­ard po­ten­tial” dam. But not in Texas, where dams that could kill up to six peo­ple if they col­lapse re­ceive the mid-level rat­ing of “sig­nif­i­cant-haz­ard po­ten­tial.” No loss of life is ex­pected if a low-haz­ard dam fails.

The ex­emp­tions from in­spec­tion and other over­sight un­der House Bill 677, which passed the Leg­is­la­ture with only one no vote in 2013, in­clude 231 sig­nif­i­cant-haz­ard dams, ac­cord­ing to the en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mis­sion.

Pro­po­nents of the mea­sure, in­clud­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of ranch­ing and farm­ing groups, told law

rs that dam own­ers were hav­ing to spend up­ward of $100,000 in stud­ies and im­prove­ments per dam. At the time the ex­emp­tions were ap­proved by the Leg­isla- ture, 57 of the sig­nif­i­cant-haz­ard dams be­ing ex­empted were deemed by the com­mis­sion to be in poor con­di­tion, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by the House Re­search Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

To qual­ify for the ex­emp­tion, a dam must be out­side a city in a county with a pop­u­la­tion un­der 350,000 andim­pound lessthan 500 acre-feet of wa­ter, or 163 mil­lion gal­lons.

“Gen­er­ally ac­cepted guide­lines state that should a dam fail­ure have the po­ten­tial for killing one per­son, then that dam should be main­tained as a high-haz­ard po­ten­tial struc­ture,” said Lori C. Spra­gens, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the As­so­ci­a­tion of State Dam Safety Of­fi­cials.

Like the as­so­ci­a­tion, the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency and the Corps of En­gi­neers de­fine such dams as high haz­ard.

The Texas com­mis­sion said it would in­spect an ex­empt dam that was the sub­ject of a com­plaint and would raise a dam’s clas­si­fi­ca­tion to high haz­ard if aerial pho­to­graphs or field ob­ser­va­tion re­vealed down­stream devel­op­ment.

The com­mis­sion de­clined to dis­close the haz­ard clas­si­fi­ca­tions of in­di­vid­ual dams, cit­ing a 2005 opin­ion by the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice that de­clared such clas­si­fi­ca­tions and emer­gency plans — which in­clude maps of po­ten­tial in­un­da­tion zones — con­fi­den­tial be­cause they iden­tify “par­tic­u­lar vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture to an act of ter­ror­ism.” The States­man was able to de­ter­mine the haz­ard clas­si­fi­ca­tion of some dams by in­ter­view­ing lo­cal of­fi­cials, ob­tain­ing doc­u­ments and con­duct­ing on­line re­search.

“A ma­jor­ity of peo­ple liv­ing be­low a dam have no idea what could hap­pen,” At­tana­sio said, adding that dam safety and fund­ing would be a higher pri­or­ity “if peo­ple truly knew the con­se­quences of not main­tain­ing even sig­nif­i­cant-haz­ard dams.”

Brushy Creek a case study

Per­haps no wa­ter­shed in Texas bet­ter il­lus­trates the chal­lenge as well as the progress in ad­dress­ing dam safety than Brushy Creek, in south­ern Wil­liamson County and south­west­ern Milam County. Forty-six dams were built from 1959 to 1976 un­der stan­dards for low-haz­ard dams.Now, thanks to rapid ur­ban­iza­tion, more than half are high-haz­ard dams, and the trend is ex­pected to con­tinue.

Over the years, 19 of the Up­per Brushy Creek wa­ter district’s 23 dams, all of which are high haz­ard, have been mod­ern­ized, said Ruth Haber­man, the district’s gen­eral man­ager. Dam 7 in Cedar Park, which forms the lake at Brushy Creek Lake Park and is tra­versed by the Brushy Creek Re­gional Trail, is in the midst of a $20 mil­lion up­grade to with­stand a worst-case storm of 44 inches in 24 hours.

I mprove­ments are be­ing de­signed for an­other of the district’s dams, and one needs no up­grad­ing. That leaves Dam 10A, which in the event of a col­lapse

‘More peo­ple are at risk from dam fail­ure than ever, de­spite bet­ter en­gi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion meth­ods, and con­tin­ued deaths and prop­erty losses from dam fail­ures are to be ex­pected.’ From the doc­u­ment ‘Guide­lines for Op­er­a­tion and Main­te­nance of Dams in Texas,’ pre­pared by the state en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mis­sion

would in­un­date parts of sev­eral Round Rock neigh­bor­hoods, in­clud­ing Jester Farms, Chan­dler Creek and Leg­ends Vil­lage. The dam and the small lake it forms oc­cupy an ease­ment on a large par­cel of land west of I-35 and south­west of Ge­orge­town owned by the Texas Crushed Stone Co., which op­er­ates a quarry.

“It looks pretty stout to some­one who’s been around it for 50 years,” said Bill Snead, the com­pany’s pres­i­dent, adding that it would be “a good idea” to make it safer.

Haber­man said the district conducts pe­ri­odic “ta­ble-top” ex­er­cises with lo­cal emer­gency man­age­ment of­fi­cials to keep them up­dated on its dams. What’s more, any­one buy­ing prop­erty in the district is re­quired un­der state law to sign off on a no­tice ad­vis­ing the pur­chaser that the district has tax­ing au­thor­ity. The Up­per Brushy district goes be­yond that re­quire­ment, adding a para­graph in bold type stat­ing that the prop­erty “may or may not be within an in­un­da­tion ease­ment or down­stream of a District-owned flood con­trol struc­ture” and en­cour­ag­ing buy­ers to con­tact the district for more in­for­ma­tion. Few peo­ple bother to do so.

The Texas en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mis­sion raised Dam 10A’s clas­si­fi­ca­tion from low haz­ard to high haz­ard last year, ac­cord­ing to the district’s an­nual re­port. It could be five years be­fore the process of sub­mit­ting grant ap­pli­ca­tions, pre­par­ing de­signs and for­ti­fy­ing the dam, likely by rais­ing it 3 or 4 feet, is com­pleted at a cost of mil­lions, Haber­man said.

The Up­per Brushy district has been able to fix its dams and pre­pare an emer­gency plan cov­er­ing all 23 be­cause vot­ers in 2002 au­tho­rized a tax of 2 cents per $100 of prop­erty value, which now gen­er­ates about $7 mil­lion a year. The district has also ob­tained fed­eral and state grants.

Vot­ers in the Lower Brushy Creek Wa­ter Con­trol and Im­prove­ment District re­fused to grant tax­ing au­thor­ity, which makes it much more dif­fi­cult to fund im­prove­ments, said James Clarno, the district’s gen­eral man­ager. Three of the district’s 23 dams are clas­si­fied as high haz­ard and two as sig­nif­i­cant haz­ard.

Lower Brushy Creek Dam 32, just east of Cou­p­land, is be­ing re­con­structed at a cost of $1.7 mil­lion, thanks to fed­eral and state grants cob­bled to­gether by the district. The district also se­cured $1.3 mil­lion in grants to im­prove Dam 20, whose fail­ure would flood sev­eral houses and a waste­water treat­ment plant in Thorn­dale; con­struc­tion on that project is ex­pected to be­gin in the spring.

Dam 29, just south of Tay­lor, is a dif­fer­ent story, with no im­me­di­ate prospects of fund­ing an up­grade. It rises 37 feet and ex­tends for nearly half a mile, form­ing a lake on Bat­tle­ground Creek, a trib­u­tary of Brushy.

In a worst-case storm, Bat­tle­ground’s flow would spill over the top of the dam, breach­ing it and send­ing a 16-foot-high wave rush­ing to­ward a home, three barns, a state high­way and three county roads. An anal­y­sis by an en­gi­neer­ing firm con­cluded that as many as 11 lives would be at risk.

John Kitsmiller, whose house would be in harm’s way and who keeps longhorns and horses on his prop­erty, isn’t los­ing any sleep over it. “We’ve been here 11 years,” he said. “We’ve never had any­thing close to wor­ry­ing about.”

The Lower Brushy Creek district has an emer­gency plan for Dam 32, a draft plan for Dam 20 and no plans for Dam 29 and two oth­ers for which they are re­quired. Clarno said it can cost $25,000 to pre­pare a plan, in­clud­ing a map of the breach in­un­da­tion zone.

A ‘whop­ping big rain’

What, ex­actly, is a worst-case flood? It varies by lo­ca­tion, to­pog­ra­phy and other char­ac­ter­is­tics. Even fre­quently dry wa­ter­sheds some­times “catch a whop­ping big rain” that puts a stream “up on its hind legs to roar,” as the late Texas novelist Elmer Kel­ton put it in “Pe­cos Cross­ing.”

The tech­ni­cal term is “prob­a­ble max­i­mum flood” based on the most se­vere weather and wa­ter con­di­tions “rea­son­ably pos­si­ble,” ac­cord­ing to the en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mis­sion. Such a flood is a func­tion of the “prob­a­ble max­i­mum pre­cip­i­ta­tion,” which the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice de­fines as the the­o­ret­i­cal great­est depth of rain for var­i­ous lengths of time at a par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion.

“Hur­ri­cane Har­vey was akin to what we ex­pect a (prob­a­ble maxi- mum pre­cip­i­ta­tion) storm to look like at large area sizes and long du­ra­tions,” said Bill Kap­pel, chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist and pres­i­dent of Colorado-based Ap­plied Weather As­so­ciates LLC, which pro­duced a study last year on such worstcase sce­nar­ios for the en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mis­sion.

The study found that prob­a­ble max­i­mum pre­cip­i­ta­tion fig­ures were high­est near the Texas coast and along the Bal­cones Es­carp­ment, a re­gion of el­e­vated ter­rain arc­ing south­west from Waco to Austin and San An­to­nio and then west to Del Rio. The es­carp­ment, which marks the edge of the Hill Coun­try, “is home to some of the largest recorded rain­falls in the world,” thanks to “the ef­fect of to­pog­ra­phy on an al­ready moist, un­sta­ble air mass,” the study noted.

The Wil­liamson County town of Thrall saw 38 inches of rain in 24 hours in the Brushy Creek wa­ter­shed in 1921; 93 peo­ple died in the county, and flood­wa­ters stretched 10 miles wide where Brushy emp­ties into the San Gabriel River. In 1998, New Braun­fels recorded 35 inches of rain in three days. And in 2015, three peo­ple in south­east­ern Tra- vis County died in flood­wa­ters from Dry Creek, which re­ceived more than 11 inches in six hours.

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice years ago set 44 inches in 24 hours as the prob­a­ble max­i­mum pre­cip­i­ta­tion for much of Cen­tral Texas. But the Ap­plied Weather study, us­ing up­dated records and tak­ing lo­cal to­pog­ra­phy and other fac­tors into ac­count, re­fined those cal­cu­la­tions and in some ar­eas came up with lower 24-hour fig­ures for the prob­a­ble max­i­mums — for ex­am­ple, 27.9 inches at the Univer­sity of Texas cam­pus and 33.6 inches at Cum­mins Creek in Fayette County, said John Mueller, state con­ser­va­tion en­gi­neer for the fed­eral Nat­u­ral Re­sources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice.

Har­vey dumpedup­ward of 25 inches of rain on the Cum­mins Creek wa­ter­shed, dam­ag­ing five dams. The aux­il­iary, or emer­gency, spill­way for Dam 30, about 3 miles north­west of Fayet­teville, took the big­gest hit. The spill­way is a grassy area, wide and slop­ing, on one side of the dam that al­lows flood­wa­ters to by­pass the dam to the stream be­low in­stead of over­top­ping it.

Dam 30’s spill­way now looks like some­one set off dy­na­mite, with gul­lies up to 20 feet wide, 15 feet deep and 90 feet long. It will have to be re­paired be­cause a sub­se­quent flood could cause the gul­lies to grow, even­tu­ally eat­ing into the crest of the spill­way and in­creas­ing the flood threat down­stream, Mueller said.

The Lee-Fayette Coun­ties Cum­mins Creek Wa­ter Con­trol and Im­prove­ment District No. 1 hopes to se­cure a grant from the con­ser­va­tion ser­vice to help pay for roughly $1.5 mil­lion in re­pairs to Dam 30 and theother four dams, said Kevin Ull­rich, the district’s pres­i­dent.

All told, Har­vey dam­aged 20 dams in Texas, in­clud­ing 11 clas­si­fied as sig­nif­i­cant haz­ard. The en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mis­sion listed the 20 dams for the States­man but de­clined to iden­tify the 11 sig­nif­i­cant-haz­ard ones, cit­ing the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s opin­ion re­lat­ing to ter­ror­ism.

Pay now, or pay later?

Asked how­much it would cost to bring all dams in Texas into com­pli­ance with safety stan­dards, the Texas en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mis­sion replied, “It is dif­fi­cult to give an ac­cu­rate cost at this time.”

The Texas State Soil and Wa­ter Con­ser­va­tion Board es­ti­mates that it would cost $1.8 bil­lion to up­grade 458 earthen dams that were built with fi­nan­cial and other as­sis­tance from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment decades ago and that do not meet high-haz­ard cri­te­ria that now ap­ply.

“In amonth or two it might be 468,” said Steve Bed­narz, statewide pro­grams en­gi­neer for the board. “It just con­tin­ues to get big­ger be­cause of ur­ban devel­op­ment around these dams.”

Since 2 014, the board has re­ceived $34 mil­lion in fund­ing from the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture’s Nat­u­ral Re­sources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice and $17.3 mil­lion from the Leg­is­la­ture to par­cel out for var­i­ous projects, with 32 dams cur­rently un­der­go­ing stud­ies, de­sign or con­struc­tion. Such fund­ing is not avail­able for dams that are pri­vately owned; they con­sti­tute more than half of the dams in Texas.

The city of Austin has spent about $5 mil­lion to up­grade four dams, in­clud­ing Great North­ern just east of MoPac Boule­vard near Far West Boule­vard, said Stephanie Lott, a city spokes­woman. De­sign work is un­der­way to up­grade North­west Park Dam off Shoal Creek Boule­vard and Old Lam­pasas Dam off Old Lam­pasas Trail. Pre­lim­i­nary en­gi­neer­ing work is ex­pected to be­gin for up­grades on four other dams within two to six years de­pend­ing on the dam, ac­cord­ing to city of­fi­cials. Eleven other dams still need to be eval­u­ated.

The Lower Colorado River Au­thor­ity spent about $89 mil­lion be­tween 1994 and 2005 to im­prove its dams along the Colorado River, and all six can safely pass a prob­a­ble max­i­mum flood, said John Hof­mann, LCRA’s ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of wa­ter.

The Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Civil En­gi­neers’ re­port card for Texas rec­om­mends cre­ation of a state loan or grant pro­gram for dam re­pair, aban­don­ment or re­moval. It also urges the state, lo­cal gov­ern­ments and zon­ing boards to pur­sue reg­u­la­tion of devel­op­ment in breach in­un­da­tion zones.

The state en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mis­sion said it pro­vides re­quested in­for­ma­tion to the Leg­is­la­ture but does not lobby or sug­gest ac­tion. “Pro­hibit­ing devel­op­ment in an in­un­da­tion zone is a lo­cal is­sue,” the agency said.

McKin­ney, north of Dal­las, has not per­mit­ted res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment in in­un­da­tion zones since 1998, but Michael He­bert, its as­sis­tant city en­gi­neer, said he’s not aware of an­other com­mu­nity in Texas with a sim­i­lar or­di­nance.

“The chance of a breach is un­likely,” He­bert said. “The con­cern is, if some­thing hap­pens in the mid­dle of the night, will you be able to get out of the house?”

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Bill Snead, pres­i­dent of Texas Crushed Stone Co., looks over Up­per Brushy Creek Dam 10A. The dam and the small lake it forms oc­cupy an ease­ment on a large par­cel of land west of I-35 and south­west of Ge­orge­town owned by the com­pany.

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Lower Brushy Creek Dam 32, east of Cou­p­land, is be­ing re­con­structed with $1.7 mil­lion in grants cob­bled to­gether by the Lower Brushy Creek Wa­ter Con­trol and Im­prove­ment District. Dam 29, south of Tay­lor, has no im­me­di­ate prospects of up­grade funds.

PHO­TOS BY RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

James Clarno (left), Lower Brushy Creek Wa­ter Con­trol and Im­prove­ment District gen­eral man­ager, walks with home­owner John Kitsmiller along Dam 29. The dam rises 37 feet and ex­tends for nearly half a mile, form­ing a lake on Bat­tle­ground Creek. In a worst-case storm, the creek could spill over the dam, send­ing a 16-foot-high wave rush­ing to­ward a home, a state high­way and county roads.

Hur­ri­cane Har­vey dam­aged the emer­gency spill­way for Dam 30, about 3 miles north­west of Fayet­teville. The spill­way is a grassy area, wide and slop­ing, on one side of the dam that al­lows flood­wa­ters to by­pass the dam to the stream be­low in­stead of over­top­ping it.

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