The Houston Chronicle ran a story of September 20, 2017, that all homeowners need to read. It is titled “Flooded Houston Homeowners Might Have Been Spared Ruin — But Only If They Read The Fine Print.”
25 words of a public document that could have spared thousands of homeowners from losing everything sat tucked away in a Fort Bend county clerk’s office for the past 20 years.
“This subdivision is adjacent to the Barker Reservoir and is subject to extended controlled inundation under the management of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” These 25 words, in the finest of fine print were of public record.
What they mean is that during a major storm, the corps could choose to flood the subdivision in an effort to protect greater Houston and that is exactly what happened when Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast.
It is increasing clear that government officials did little to warn residents of the risk they were undertaking when they purchased homes in areas designed to flood.
Very few of the flood victims knew little or nothing about the risk they were exposed to. They did not purchase flood insurance. They did not know their homes were built within government reservoirs engineered in the 1940’s to fill with billions of gallons of water in case of heavy rains. This undeveloped, government owned land inside the reservoirs had a one percent chance of flooding in a given year. However, residents’ homes just upstream, in the maximum pool of the reservoirs, had a significant chance of being intentionally flooded in the event of a major storm.
A common statement from the homeowners is that they feel cheated because they did not know the area was flood-prone, otherwise, they would have never purchased the homes.
This information was learned by the residents only after Hurricane Harvey struck and Fort Bend County had issued notice about the corps’ plan to use their property as a reservoir on the original plat, which is the county’s public land recording approving the subdivisions.
Politicians knew it. Bureaucrats knew it. Developers knew it. But not homeowners.
According to Fort Bend officials, even providing the most basic information in the plat’s fine print was a political fight at the time.
County officials claimed they believed the plat’s warning would be passed through the property’s title to every prospective owner at closing. State law does not require disclosure of such notes. Thus, many residents never saw it or it was overlooked or their real estate agents and title workers may have not clearly explained the risk.
As would be expected, residents are gearing up for lawsuits, some of which have already been filed.