Travis County leaders urge vigilance on flooding
Tuesday, May 14, 2019 by Jack Craver
While heavy rains over the past two weeks have not inflicted serious damage on Travis County, with no reported fatalities or serious injuries linked to flooding, government officials are nevertheless urging residents to avoid certain waterways and to be on high alert for flooding if another storm hits.
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.
Despite plenty of flood-related inconveniences, Travis County has fortunately been spared some of the more severe consequences. While there were four deaths attributed to flooding in Central Texas the first weekend of May, there were no fatalities in the Austin area. Nor were there any 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.”