Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Jack Craver

Travis County leaders urge vigilance on flooding

Heavy rains over the past two weeks have not resulted in major residential flooding, but at least one death appears to be linked to flooding and government officials are urging residents to avoid certain waterways and to be on high alert for flooding if another storm hits.

On May 8, one man was found dead in Lady Bird Lake after being swept away by swift water on Shoal Creek near West 9th Street.

The Parks and Recreation Department closed the Barton Creek Greenbelt and Barton Creek Pool on Friday, May 3, in response to pounding rains. It reopened the greenbelt Monday but reclosed it Wednesday. The pool remains closed, as does Red Bud Island Park and the Zilker Zephyr Train, which had some tracks “start to break away” due to flooding, the parks department said.

On Monday, after another weekend with heavy rainfall, the Austin Fire Department issued a ban on “recreational, commercial and navigational use” of Lady Bird Lake. It also issued bans on portions of Lake Travis.

For most residents, the main consequence of the flooding has been inconvenience. Travis County has fortunately been spared some of the more severe consequences. After the first weekend of rainfall there were no reports of residential flooding, said Chief Emergency Management Officer Eric Carter at a May 7 meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court.

Still, during the first weekend the Sheriff’s Department reported 23 flooded roads in the county and 34 people had to be evacuated from a church off of Burleson Manor Road. Austin-Travis County EMS responded to 18 water rescue calls.

The flash flooding that occurred along Barton Creek should serve as a reminder to residents to prepare for more severe events, said Carter.

“You don’t have to live on the Colorado (River) to experience flooding. We have a lot of creeks and tributaries throughout our county,” he said.

He advised residents to buy flood insurance for their homes, sign up for text alerts via WarnCentralTexas.org and monitor media reports about extreme weather and flooding. Residents can also check out the levels of rivers and creeks on the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Hydromet online.

Commissioner Brigid Shea bemoaned the low signup rate – between 8 and 12 percent – among county residents for the Warn Central Texas service, which provides notifications on any natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods and wildfires. The county is encouraging its own employees to sign up.

“It continues to surprise me that as we’re experiencing more and more deadly weather, that people aren’t making use of this free thing that could help save their lives,” said Shea.

Carter said that in addition to promoting the existing text service on the county website, he was exploring ways to automatically add people to the service. Proposed state legislation would allow local government to do that through vehicle registration information.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people never use the tools until disaster,” he said.

Analysis of the deadly wildfires in California last fall found that many people didn’t evacuate because they weren’t aware of the evacuation notice, Shea added.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt similarly urged people to take the risks seriously and to play it safe when driving. “Turn around, don’t drown,” she said. “Don’t go around those barricades.”

Correction: This article previously mistakenly reported that there were no deaths attributed to flooding. It has been updated to reflect the one fatality that was attributed to flooding on Shoal Creek.

Photo of downtown Austin circa 2015, courtesy of the city of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

Travis County Commissioners Court: The legislative body for Travis County. It includes representatives from the four Travis County Precincts, as well as the County Judge. The County Judge serves as the chair of the Court.

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