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Flooding discussions continue at Open Space Committee

Friday, May 27, 2016 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

With the promise of rain, Upper Onion Creek resident Ken Jacob says his neighbors can be found with their eyes to the creek and the internet — where rain gauge levels are updated. So it’s essential to someone like Jacob, who serves on the city’s Flood Mitigation Task Force, that the city continue to discuss flood mitigation.

And it appears that’s happening. Members of the Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee heard two briefings Thursday on flood mitigation in the city, which included updates from a recent study on the Onion Creek area that is scheduled to finish this fall.

“This is not the first time Onion Creek has been studied,” Kevin Shrunk, with the Watershed Protection Department, told Council members.

Studies of the creek were done in 1997, 2006 and 2013. People like Jacob are hoping that this latest study will dig into flood mitigation ideas for those residents like him who are in a dangerous area, but are not included in the city’s flood buyout program. (Last week, City Council approved a measure directing the City Manager to locate $5 million for additional city buyouts.) Shrunk said the initial deadline for the study may be pushed back, since the department wants to fully consider the recommendations in the Flood Mitigation Task Force’s report, published earlier this month.

But while staff said completing this most recent study is essential, members of the Open Space committee emphasized the importance of understanding how land use changes made as part of CodeNEXT could also affect flooding. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo mentioned more frequent flooding in portions of Hyde Park.

“How the information we’re getting here today, coupled with kind of the existing conditions on the grounds in some of our older, central city neighborhoods, could be impacted by some of those land use changes,” said Tovo. “I hear that completely missing from a lot of those conversations.”

The information collected as part of this most recent Onion Creek study will inform revisions to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s own maps. Staff expects FEMA to accept those revisions in fall 2017.

This story is a result of a partnership between the Austin Monitor and KUT. Photo by Wade Trelchler made available through a Creative Commons license.

Update: Audio from McGlinchy’s radio story is below.

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