Traveling from Louisiana, four 18-wheelers and more than a dozen workers rolled into the heart of Houston Tuesday morning. The Cajun crew was there to unfurl and install a unique form of flood protection: three-foot high, seven-foot wide, 250-foot long flexible dams, an invention called the AquaDam. They will allow emergency vehicles to safely travel on Interstate 10 without fear of being washed away in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. The AquaDam was first invented in 1988, though the company of the same name wasn't incorporated until 2009. The product was initially inspired by a water balloon, the company's officers said, and aside from protecting against flood water, can be used as a recreational platform in a large pool or river. But these days, its primary use has been anything but frivolous.
AquaDam is sold through four distributors in the U.S., as well as in Canada, the U.K., and Australia. Made of irrigation grade tubing on the inside and a thick, woven geo-textile on the outside, the product is designed to keep flood waters three-quarters of its height at bay. That means a four foot tall dam will protect from 36 inches of water.
Installing the barrier requires pumping it full of the very thing it's protecting against. First, it's laid out in its desired shape around or next to property such as a house or business, or a street or highway, and then a pump or hose is hooked up. The company recommends keeping the barrier at least ten feet out, creating an island of sorts (and of course requiring more AquaDam). Depending how much water is being pumped into it, the tubing can be fully inflated between an hour and a full day. To help catch seepage from beneath, AquaDam Vice President Matthew Wennerholm recommends installing a sump pump, as well as redirecting gutters, plugging sewers and storm drains, and turning off sprinkler systems.
AquaDam runs $20 per foot for the shortest option, 30 inches, and $50 per foot for the tallest, 4 feet, plus shipping fees and taxes. Government entities pay the same price as individuals, Wennerholm said. The Texas Department of Transportation spent about $1.2 million on the seven miles worth they purchased, according to DOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer. The average home needs 300 to 400 feet of AquaDam, while a business might need more, depending on its size. A homeowner can expect to spend much less: $8,000 to $12,000, on average.
AquaDams have been purchased by Louisiana's Department of Transportation, according to Larry Campisi, president of Gulf Coast AquaDams, a local distributor, as well an individual parish. The company said it's also worked with the California DOT and sold dams in New York, as well as 60,000 feet of dam to authorities in Manitoba.
"Most of our sales for flood control are reactionary, not proactive," said Wennerholm. "No one knows when the flood is going to be, how bad it'll be."
The reactionary days may be coming to an end, especially with the fallout from Harvey. Campisi said he's received more than a hundred orders from regional businesses and residents. After past flood events, almost a hundred homeowners in North Dakota purchased the product, and another five dozen sold in Idaho, Wennerholm said.
"Ever since the 2009 flood in North Dakota, we've seen a tremendous uptick in looking ahead and realizing this climate is become more energetic," Wennerholm said. "The weather events are becoming more extreme."