Residents hope city can get action on flood control

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 18, 2000

The problem with the non-structural solutions implemented after the twin 100-year floods of 1978 is they were no "dam" good.

Tuesday, July 18, 2000

The problem with the non-structural solutions implemented after the twin 100-year floods of 1978 is they were no "dam" good.

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No dams, no retention ponds, no reservoirs, no structural impediment to stopping the waters from three watersheds were implemented.

Maybe, the fourth flood in the city of Austin since 1965 will change that.

"Isn’t it about time we do some prevention, take some proactive action?" asked Arnold Lang. "Can we continue to afford not to do something for these people who keep getting flooded?"

To be sure, Lang does not live in the city’s flood plain areas, but his comments to the Austin City Council Monday night drew the loudest applause.

Quoting the old saying "once fooled, your fault; twice fooled, my fault," Lang suggested the city has been fooled by four different floods into saying the cost-effectiveness of non-structural solutions outweighs considering any dam, retention pond, reservoir or other structural solution to the city’s flooding woes.

A week ago, the people who filled the Austin City Council chambers Monday night watched the waters of Turtle Creek, the Cedar River and Dobbins Creek overflow their banks and empty into their neighborhoods.

According to early damage assessment reports, more than 150 homes were damaged.

Only eight years ago, the city was a victim of the so-called Great Flood of 1993. This year, there have been three high-water events in the city already and the victims are angry.

Jon W. Erichson, director of public works, provided a 25-year summary of the city’s response to flooding to start the discussion. According to Erichson, 159 homes have been acquired at a cost of $5 million to move people from designated flood plains in the city.

He said dams, retention bonds and reservoirs were continuously rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers and then city officials, because they were not cost-effective or included such bizarre solutions as a dam four miles wide over the Cedar River "even though the topography of our land is rather flat."

The one channel modification was to build a new and higher-elevated Fourth Avenue NE bridge. The previous one was much lower and acted as a dam when waters rose in the Cedar River.

After the latest flood, Erichson personally wants the Corps of Engineers to return to Austin and reconsider its previous recommendations because, "the situation has changed."

Also, Erichson believes the city must address inflow and infiltration into the city’s sanitary sewer treatment facilities.

"I think it’s time we address this problem and address it aggressively," Erichson said.

Kermit Mahan, executive director of the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority, called Austin a leader for adopting floodplain ordinances, which enabled residents to participate in flood insurance programs.

He said this year’s flooding is not getting the same attention from the federal government that the Great Flood of 1993 received because that flood was a "national disaster" involving the waters of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers as well as other major waterways in the Upper Midwest.

He also explained the HRA’s flood buyout program and he concluded his remarks saying of the city’s non-structural solutions: "I do believe we are making serious, genuine headway in our efforts."