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This $10,000 dam is helping desperate homeowners protect against floods

Watching the water levels rise just yards away from their Lafayette Parish, La., home, Shannon and Alphonse Breaux expected the worst.

The devastation in the Houston area had looked like a precursor of what was coming their way. And the approaching storms seemed reminiscent of the floods that, just a year ago, destroyed their home and forced them into a camper for 10 months.

"We were like, 'There's no way in hell we're going through what we went through last year,'" Shannon tells CNBC Make It.

Despite the fact that they already pay for flood insurance, the couple decided to be more proactive in preparing for Hurricane Harvey. They turned to the AquaDam, an increasingly popular invention built from re-fillable tubing that is designed to keep areas protected from flood water.

They spent $7,000 on the dam itself and about $3,000 on dirt, pumps, and other supplies. In 12 hours, the Breaux home had a 30-inch fortification in place.

Filled with floodwater, a 30-inch AquaDam surrounds the Breaux residence in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana.
Shannon Breaux
Filled with floodwater, a 30-inch AquaDam surrounds the Breaux residence in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana.

Minutes down the road from them sits another AquaDam that's been protecting the home of Helen Dore for months. In August of last year, Dore suffered $40,000 in damages when water rushed into the Iberia Parish, La., home she's lived in for over 40 years.

The ordeal of spending months fighting her insurance company and having to move in with her son while construction crews replaced damaged baseboards and floors led her to make the preemptive $3,000 purchase for her own dam.

"Having flood insurance is like a backup plan now. It was a nightmare getting paid," she says. This year, however, as the floodwaters rose around her house, her protection held.

"We had water up against the dam. Twice this week, it saved our house."

A $3,000 AquaDam protects the home of Helen Dore in Iberia Parish, Louisiana.
Helen Dore
A $3,000 AquaDam protects the home of Helen Dore in Iberia Parish, Louisiana.

The private company behind the AquaDam, which is based in Scotia, Calif., reports that residential protection only makes up a small fraction of its business. Still, there has been a four-fold recent uptick in purchases, according to regional AquaDam distributor Larry Campisi.

"One thing we're learning from Harvey is people have actually called us after they flooded and they don't want to go through it again," he tells CNBC Make It, adding that more AquaDams have been sold in the last two weeks than by this point in 2016.

The company is not alone in offering an alternative to sandbags. AquaFence, an 18-year-old Norwegian company, also offers temporary flood barriers for residences and businesses in the form of laminated plywood panels.

A 30-inch AquaDam stretching 450 feet spares a home from flooding in Rosharon, Texas in 2016.
AquaDam | Randy Wagner
A 30-inch AquaDam stretching 450 feet spares a home from flooding in Rosharon, Texas in 2016.

Officials on a local and state level are catching onto the idea of flood barrier alternatives as well. In a mission to secure passage for emergency vehicles on Houston's flooded Interstate 10, the Texas Department of Transportation deployed a fraction of the seven miles of AquaDam it purchased for $1.2 million to help redirect flood water.

The purchase follows similar moves from other local governments in Missouri, Louisiana and New York.

"Government agencies are really getting involved here and understanding that now they have a tool that they never had before," says AquaDam Vice President Matthew Wennerholm.

And, as Hurricane Irma continues on its path towards Florida, the company is monitoring which communities might be most in need of its services.

"We've been shipping dams for the last couple of days to locations in Florida," Campisi says, adding that the state's Emergency Operations Center has already reached out about potentially making a purchase.

"We had water up against the dam. Twice this week it saved our house." -Helen Dore, resident of Iberia Parish, La. 

In the meantime, home-owners in the path of Irma may be facing a similar choice on a smaller scale. On average, residents can expect to pay about $9,000 to $12,000 to have a three-foot AquaDam built around a house.

"It's quite an investment," Breaux says. "But we were just sitting ducks waiting for the next flood."

And while the $10,000 she estimates it took to get the AquaDam up around her house might seem like a high cost for someone with insurance to incur, Breaux says it's still much better than the alternative.

"The [insurance] money is not worth it. It's not worth the headache. ... I'd rather spend the money on an AquaDam than have to go through [with] another flooded house."

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