Ah, just as the 1982 Supertramp song “It’s Raining Again,” declares, it is raining once or maybe twice or perhaps even three times again down here in the sodden Southeastern part of Texas.
It has actually flooded in some parts. Houston has largely shut down today as officials say this is the “rainiest day ever, before noon,” according to online magazine Slate.
The many-times lifesaver of urban life in Houston, TranStar showed late this afternoon that water was still standing below 1-10 West, the Katy Freeway, only five miles or so from what is known as the widest highway in the world.
I have been off work today. I had intended to do some work today, including a safety inspection but the other half of my inspecting was prevented from flying from Dallas to Houston or Dallas to Beaumont. I was supposed to be off work today. I didn’t even notice it until I got up and looked at my work calendar that I found I shouldn’t work today. It happens sometimes.
A quick calculation tells me I have lived, on and off, about half of my 60 years in this part of Texas. I have been through about four or five hurricanes, two of them pretty nasty. Plus, the subtropical area in which I live averages between 58-60+ inches of rainfall per year.
But I cannot recall a year that has had the amount of rain over several rain events since I have lived here.
Last month saw some exceptional flooding on the Sabine River between Texas and Louisiana where I was raised. Some 12 or maybe more inches of rain fell over the area. But worse, hard hit was the area to the north of Toledo Bend Dam, the largest such impoundment on the Sabine and the last dam before the river meets the Gulf of Mexico.
Toledo Bend Dam and its reservoir is the fifth largest man-made lake in the United States. The dam spans the Texas and Louisiana border. I remember when my Daddy and I crossed the Sabine near there to attend the groundbreaking for the facility back in 1960. I don’t remember a whole lot of the day but I do remember crossing the river in a boat provided by our local fire department. The site for the ceremony was the type of such that one would expect to see in the South. There was plenty of barbecue, several local high school bands, and politicians out the wazoo .
Governors Price Daniel Sr. of Texas and Jimmie Davis of Louisiana were also there. The bands played a rousing rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” when Davis was introduced. It was Davis, a gospel and country singer, who popularized the tune on record in 1940. To add a little perspective, Daniel’s son, Price Daniel Jr., was later elected as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. After leaving office, he was later allegedly shot and killed by his wife, Vickie Daniel, whom he first met while she was a waitress at a Dairy Queen. She was acquitted of murder in the death of Daniel Jr. in a spectacular trial which was recounted in a book and made-for-TV movie.
Ten years later after dirt was first turned, in 1970, the massive reservoir, dam and power plant were finished. It was quite a feat for a facility of that size to be built without the help of the federal government. Both Texas and Louisiana have Sabine River Authorities.
Since Toledo Bend Dam has operated, flooding has been at a minimum down river along the nearly 90 miles to the south along Newton County. The same in most cases applied to Vernon, Beauregard and Calcasieu parishes in Louisiana which are across the Sabine from Newton County. The river then continues on through Orange County and the port of Orange and onto the junction of the Sabine with the Neches River where the salt-water Sabine Lake empties into the Gulf.
The exception to the flooding has been in low-lying areas where folks have settled on the river banks near Deweyville in southernmost Newton County. However, the March rainfall caused not only severe flooding in Deweyville, but also along the river just south of the dam and all along the river along Newton County and the three Louisiana parishes. More than 5,000 homes were flooded in Deweyville and the surrounding areas.
Some residents, especially those of my age and younger, recall the Sabine River as only endangering a small portion down river from Toledo Bend near Deweyville for flooding over the years. Many, like myself, had mistakenly believed that Toledo was built for flood control. It turns out that it wasn’t. The Sabine River Authority of Texas pointed out in the wake of the flooding that the dam was only built for water supply, electrical generation and recreation. A number of those who were flooded were incensed that, even though weather forecasts had called for such a huge amount of rain along the Texas and Louisiana border, the river authority did not open the gates of the dam which some victims believed might have prevented the flooding. The Texas river authority said that the law prevented the opening of the gates until a certain lake level had been reached. So, the gates did not open until the lake reached the level, which by then, contained a much increased volume from the rainfall.
A group of residents whose homes have been destroyed by flooding have met with attorneys to consider a class action lawsuit against the Sabine River Authority.
Perhaps the March 2016 flooding is of the type that is called by government planning and emergency officials a “100-year” or even “500-year” flood. But one must consider the rains this area has experienced today, including flooding that brings Houston — some two hours away from the Sabine River — to its knees. It seems at times that is just too foolish to try and outguess nature.