By Kristina Michel
If you have ever walked across the entrance to the Blaffer Art Museum or driven over the entrance and exit ramps of the Hilton College parking garage, you may have noticed a long, metal strip running through the concrete.
Those strips may not seem like much, but when a torrential storm hits and the water is rising, their purpose becomes quite clear. They are actually floodgates, part of a network strategically placed throughout the University of Houston campus.
In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison caused devastating floods throughout the city. Several homes and businesses suffered damage, including UH. To better protect the campus in the event of another Allison-level event, the University partnered with FloodBreak, a company that specializes in sustainable, passive flood control systems.
“It’s good that we have these automatic floodgates around campus in case we get a storm as bad as Allison was,” said Jagjeet Gill, senior construction project manager in Facilities Services, who conducts annual inspections of the floodgates.
Seventeen floodgates were installed in 2002 to protect the areas on campus most vulnerable to flooding. These areas include the Fine Arts Building, which houses the Blaffer Art Museum and several recital halls, Agnes Arnold Hall, the Hilton College, the Student Center Satellite, the entrance ramp to the Ezekiel Cullen Building’s basement level and the entrance to Lots 5C, 5D and 5E near Moody Towers and Cougar Village I.
The gates operate without the need for electrical or mechanical power, instead using the power of rising floodwater against itself. The incoming water flows into an inlet grate in front of the gate and under a buoyant hinged panel. The hydrostatic pressure activates the gate, causing it to “float” upward, blocking the floodwater. The more water that comes in, the higher the gates will rise until they reach a 90-degree angle. As the water recedes, the gates automatically lower back into the ground.
Fortunately, UH has not experienced another flood event on par with Allison. The campus was largely spared from the Memorial Day floods and Tropical Storm Bill. However, if UH is hit again by a flood, the floodgates are standing by ready to defend the campus.
“It requires lots of water to activate these gates. Thankfully, we haven’t had an event where we’ve had to use them,” Gill said.
For more information about how the floodgates work and FloodBreak, visit the FloodBreak company website at http://floodbreak.com/.