ARMY CORPS SUIT

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

First came the rains. Now come the lawsuits. Following Hurricane Harvey, many homeowners in Houston are suing officials over a decision to release water from the city's overflowing reservoirs. As Craig LeMoult of member station WGBH reports, officials say there was just no better option.

CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: Val Aldred points to a pile of mangled building materials in front of the Houston home where his family's lived for decades.

VAL ALDRED: We have a lot of debris, garbage sacks, a lot of lumber and timber that's stacked up on a big, big stack.

LEMOULT: Inside, they've knocked out moldy walls, revealing a skeleton of beams and pipes underneath. Aldrin had hoped to avoid all this. And when Harvey's powerful rains finally stopped, it looked like they had. The water hadn't reached the house.

ALDRED: But then a couple hours later, it was getting a little higher. Something's going on here. I don't know - I had no idea what it was. About 3 in the afternoon, it was starting to get pretty high, to where my wife and my daughter were saying, you know, we probably ought to get out here.

LEMOULT: What he didn't know was the Army Corps of Engineers had released water from the dams of Barker and Addicks reservoirs not far away, sending it rushing into Buffalo Bayou, which overflowed into their neighborhood. They managed to get out and made it back to the house several days later. Linda Aldred pulls out her cell phone and plays a video of what they came home to.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

LINDA ALDRED: Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUSHING)

RICHARD LONG: We're standing in front of the stilling basin for Addicks Dam.

LEMOULT: Richard Long is with the Army Corps of Engineers.

LONG: This is where the water passes through our water control structure. And it's emptied into the tributaries of Buffalo Bayou downstream.

LEMOULT: Long says if they hadn't released the water, the damage could've been much, much worse.

LONG: As the reservoirs rose, and we realized that we were going to have water start flowing around the ends of the dam in an uncontrolled fashion, we had to make the difficult decision to begin releasing the water from the reservoirs so that we could achieve a balance that was necessary to continue operating, protect as many homes as we could downstream, while protecting the integrity of the dam.

LEMOULT: Long says the Army Corps of Engineers realized a few years back that they're no longer in the flood control business.

LONG: We're in the flood risk management business, meaning that we can actually help reduce the impacts of floods. But we cannot stop a flood. Here, you know, I have friends upstream and downstream that have water in their houses. And so it's difficult.

DEREK POTTS: We're not saying that the officials were negligent in releasing the water.

LEMOULT: Derek Potts is an attorney representing the Aldreds and other families in a class-action lawsuit against the Harris County Flood Control District and the City of Houston.

POTTS: We're saying that they released the water. They made a decision to protect some homes but not others and took my client's property rights in the process. And just like if you're building a highway, and you take someone's property, you have to justly compensate them per the Constitution.

LEMOULT: There are at least three federal lawsuits over the homes that were flooded as a result of the dam releases and more lawsuits in state court. Lawyers say many of the suits will likely be merged, but it could take years to sort out. For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult in Houston.

(SOUNDBITE OF RYAN HELSING AND MATTHEW SALTZ'S "CASCADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.