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Austin buyout program cited as exemplary method for increasing flood resilience

Friday, March 1, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Nature Conservancy’s Texas chapter and Texas A&M University recently released a study that offers a new model for flood reduction – an innovative approach already being implemented in Austin’s Williamson Creek Central Greenway. Called “clustered buyouts,” the idea is to encourage voluntary buyouts of flood-prone properties within cities through lump property acquisition. Pam Kearfott of the Watershed Protection Department told the Austin Monitor that in the 13 years she has been working for the city, flood-reduction buyout programs have always been conducted in this manner. However, the buyout in the Williamson Creek Central Greenway has been coordinated directly with the land management office and the Nature Conservancy to create a community-led “visioning plan” for the buyout area that will include usable greenbelt space while developing a safely floodable plane. Lily Verdone, one of the lead researchers on the study and the director of Freshwater and Marine Programs for the Nature Conservancy Texas, explained that this link has allowed the Conservancy to observe the effects of clustered buyouts in a local setting. Kearfott told the Monitor that before any buyouts occur, the watershed department works to mitigate flooding issues through structural engineering like widening creek beds or creating detention ponds. However, there are cases when Mother Nature is stronger, at which point, like the new study shows, “maybe it’s better to take the houses away from the water.”

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