Representative Sheila Jackson Lee is never one to shy away from expressing an opinion or trumpeting her next move — and bless her for that, because it's almost always entertaining if not always useful. But she's got something different up her sleeve when it comes to her pitch to learn from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and get Houston ready to face the next big flood.
Lee called this week for Congress to hand over $100 million in funding for new flood control infrastructure, including replacements for both Addicks and Barker reservoirs, the structures that helped protect downtown Houston when up to 50 inches of rain was dumped in the area during Harvey. But the reservoirs only held because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started releasing water from them before the storm had passed.
Now, we get why Lee made her announcement calling for that injection of funds and a rapid solution. After all, because of the releases, hundreds of homes below the dams and in the splash zone of Buffalo Bayou flooded — including homes that had not flooded during the actual hurricane and residences that had never flooded before — and many of the people in the flooded areas are Lee's constituents. Lee hasn't kept her seat in Congress all this time by failing to speak up on issues that directly affect her district.
But there's something a little unusual going on with her bid to get $100 million for flood control infrastructure and $3 million to fund a Corps of Engineers study to figure out what kind of flood control infrastructure Houston needs. Lee is not purely soapboxing this time around.
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She's secured amendments to the Energy and Water Appropriations Act to provide the funding, and now she's out there promoting her idea in a way that implies it might actually go through. Lee got right to the heart of the issue with Harvey, and how the Corps was forced to choose between risking the dams and releasing water and flooding homes.
“The Army Corps of Engineers should not be forced to make decisions that could result in either a loss of life or property because of inadequate infrastructure. Given the cataclysmic effects from Hurricane Harvey, it is imperative that we replace the dam now before the next powerful storm comes our way," she stated in the release.
Now, the plan isn't perfect. For one thing, Lee says that Addicks and Barker need to be replaced even though replacing a dam is not a simple process, and it is highly likely that replacing these dams would require Houston to essentially be dam-less for anywhere from one to five years while the replacement structures were built. That's not the best idea, since Houston will get swamped with water during another big storm if those dams are not in place, as University of Houston Engineering Professor Arturo Leon pointed out.
But this is Lee working on an issue that directly hit the people she represents in a way that might actually, just possibly get something done about it. Maybe.