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Council approves flood resilience resolution ahead of anniversary of devastating floods

Monday, October 18, 2021 by Kali Bramble

As Austin’s southernmost districts remained under flash flood warning last Thursday, City Council took further steps toward flood resilience measures designed to better prepare the city for natural disasters.

Led by District 2’s Vanessa Fuentes, Council unanimously adopted a resolution that incorporates a range of initiatives to improve flood mitigation infrastructure, expand disaster response training and provide vulnerable households access to affordable flood insurance. The resolution includes plans for a plaque at Onion Creek Metropolitan Park to commemorate those impacted by the devastating Halloween floods of 2013 and 2015.

The memory of the Halloween floods, which took place in Fuentes’ district, loomed large over the proceedings. “At the heart of this,” Fuentes said, “is acknowledging that the Halloween flood of 2013 resulted in 745 homes receiving some level of flood damage, with 116 of these completely destroyed. And in 2015, over 3,000 homes were damaged with an estimated cost of nearly $40 million.” She listed the names of the 13 people who lost their lives during the disasters.

Fuentes’ efforts to address flooding began back in January, when in her first action as a Council member she authored a resolution that advocated for a renewed prioritization of flood resilience. With the resulting reports and recommendations from staff, Fuentes’ second resolution fleshes out this ambition with more concrete directives.

Thursday’s resolution encourages the city to make maximal use of funding available for flood resilience projects. In addition to directing the city manager to seek funding for infrastructure improvements at the state and federal level through organizations like FEMA, it calls for connecting vulnerable communities with disaster preparedness and response training.

Fuentes’ resolution builds upon work done by the city’s Watershed Protection Department, affirming the city’s commitment to tightening regulations on future development and investing in flood mitigation infrastructure such as gutters and drainage swales.

The resolution also tackles the issue of making flood insurance more affordable by seeking funding via the city’s federal legislative agenda. Austin’s position within Central Texas’ Flash Flood Alley, compounded by risks posed by climate change, subject homeowners to increasingly high insurance rates.

“There are 34,000 homes now in (Austin’s) floodplain” Council Member Pio Renteria said, “and all of their insurance rates are going to go up … which is very expensive.”

The resolution follows a number of climate policy updates undertaken by the city in the past year. These include the Watershed Protection Strategic Plan, which is currently beginning a three-year revision process, and the Climate Equity Plan adopted in September. “I am just continuing this work and building off of that momentum,” Fuentes said.

These environmental policy updates are framed as a commitment to socioeconomic and racial equity, as climate disasters disproportionately impact low-income communities and people of color.

“As we know, District 2 is home to many low-income families, many of which have faced catastrophic disasters in the past,” said Fuentes, addressing the Environmental Commission last week. “Unfortunately we know that these communities have less of a capacity to cope … due to a lack of access to critical infrastructure … and race is strongly correlated with these disparities.”

As we head into a season that has historically seen heavy rains and flooding, Fuentes and her colleagues hope this new resolution will better prepare Austin for increasingly erratic weather patterns. City Manager Spencer Cronk will report back to Council with a progress report within the next three months.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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