Texas Hill Country went from experiencing an ongoing, multiyear drought to being ravaged by extreme flooding that made history last weekend.
When the Blanco River reached a record-breaking 42 feet at the peak of the flood, and took many citizens by surprise. Hays County officials, however, had already begun to express their concerns about the area’s vulnerability to destructive floods earlier this year.
Hays County Commissioners voted to approve a resolution at its Feb. 10 meeting to support the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority’s (GBRA) efforts to secure a flood protection planning grant from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB).
“The more we know, the safer we will be when flooding occurs,” said Hays County Judge Bert Cobb, in a February news release following the resolution’s adoption.
Kimberly Leggett, media relations specialist for the TWDB, said the GBRA’s grant application is still undergoing the board’s “standard application review process.”
Charles Hickman, hydro-engineer for the GBRA, said if the grant is awarded, the money will be used to fund the final phase of the three-part 2011 Flood Feasibility and Flood Protection Study of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Basin.
“These flood studies have historically been done on more of a county-by-county basis,” Hickman said. “So the GBRA wanted to get involved so we could take a look at what flood planning might look like on a basin-like perspective, using more recent techniques than have been used in the past.”
The resolution commits Hays County to funding 50 percent of the study’s third phase if the TWDB approves the grant to provide the other half of its funding. The Cities of Kyle and Wimberley have also shown support for the study.
“I think (the communities’) interests in participating in efforts like this show that, even before this event, they already recognized that they need to take a look at these types of issues,” Hickman said. “For them to kick in the money to participate in this study shows a pretty proactive approach on their side.”
Gilbert Ward, TWDB coordinator for flood mitigation grants, said flood protection and planning grants are very competitive due to the limited amount of funds.
He said events like the recent floods in Central Texas have an impact on prioritization of applications.
“Communities that apply generally have a flood problem already,” Ward said. “They just need some assistance in order to fully study that problem so that it is better understood.”
He said the grants are used to help develop mitigation alternatives to help fix problems so these areas do not flood as often.
Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, Precinct 1, spoke in February about her support of the study after the grant-support resolution was adopted.
“Hays County is in flash flood alley,” Ingalsbe said. “The $8,300 we have budgeted for our share of this part of the station will be well spent. There has been quite a lot of devastating damage from flooding along and around our rivers.”
In light of the recent floods, the GBRA expects to be moved up on the priority list and awarded the grant in July, Hickman said.
“The staff at the water development board has already indicated that they support the grant,” Hickman. “If we are awarded the grant, we expect to start phase three of the study in September of this year.”
Hickman said phase three will involve studying creeks in Hays County that have not previously been looked at in the GBRA’s flood-planning effort.
“We’ll look to evaluate a preliminary engineering system project that could mitigate future floods and reduce flood levels in these communities,” Hickman said. “We’ll evaluate those and develop some preliminary cost information that these communities can look at for some possible projects to build in their areas.”
Phase one of the study began with preliminary assessments of the Blanco and San Marcos rivers, Hickman said.
Phase two followed in 2012 with a more in-depth investigation of the river basins and tributaries. Phase two included a flood model for five Natural Resources & Conservation Service dams on Sink and Purgatory creeks, he said.
Hickman said the third part of the study will gather information to allow communities to update their federal emergency management flood map information.
“We want to turn these models over to the National Weather Service to help improve flood forecasting along the rivers,” Hickman said. “I think efforts like this will give (the communities) the information they need to make more responsible decisions moving forward.”