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Senate pushes plan for flood pool disclosures

March 6, 2019

No Texan would ever buy a home again without knowing whether they are purchasing property within the “flood pools” of reservoirs, such as the Addicks and the Barker in the Houston area, under legislation gaining steam in the Texas Legislature.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican, called it unconscionable that thousands of Texans only learned they were living in flood pools near the reservoirs after Hurricane Harvey-related water releases from the two reservoirs forced thousands to flee their homes.

“It is indefensible,” Bettencourt said.

Bettencourt said a key principle of the “buyer beware” philosophy is that people know the risk of what they are purchasing — something that hasn’t been happening for Texans who buy near reservoirs.

“You have to have informed consumers,” he said.

That was not the case in dozens of subdivisions such as Canyon Gate and Cinco Ranch in Fort Bend County. In Canyon Gate, all 721 homes were flooded during Harvey in 2017, but homeowners said they were never told they were in the flood pools of the Barker Reservoir when they bought their homes. Yet, government documents clearly stated that the area adjacent to Barker Reservoir was subject to “extended controlled inundation.”

Barker and Addicks Dams were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1940s to protect downtown Houston after devastating flooding in 1935. The reservoirs behind the dams are dry much of the year, and they now include parks, trails, golf courses and other recreational facilities. But the reservoirs’ purpose is to hold excess storm water until it can be safely released through the dams’ gates.

The flood pools do not have fixed boundaries. Their size depends on rainfall and how much water the Army Corps releases.

When homes are in a floodplain, banks and insurance companies require homeowners to be advised of that fact. Banks typically will not grant a mortgage for a home within a floodplain unless the buyer has flood insurance. Those requirements do not apply to properties in or near flood pools.

Bettencourt’s bill (SB 1220) goes beyond just flood pools. The legislation also requires disclosure to homeowners about what kind of floodplain they are in. While a 100-year flood plain includes a risk a home will flood in any given year 1 percent of the time, a 500-year floodplain has a much lower risk pinned at around 0.02 percent.

Bettencourt is not alone in pushing the bill. Three other senators have signed on as co-authors: Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; and Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.

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