One year after Shoal Creek Flood

Typically Shoal Creek is filled with gravel, brush and a little bit of water. A year ago Gail Niederhoffer, who lives in a 9th street high rise, watched from her balcony as the water started to rise.

“It was... it makes you speechless, its nature."

Parts of downtown quickly flooded as a series of rain storms rolled into Austin during the Memorial Day weekend. Roads became rivers and water surged into businesses a security camera recorded video inside the shoal creek saloon. 

A year later, city officials admit nothing is in place to prevent a similar event from happening again.

"Flooding is a tremendous force of nature, and I would say, we would say, you could never control a flood, but we can reduce the risk of flooding,” said Stephanie Lott with Austin Watershed Protection.

The real estate boom downtown has made the idea of a flood buyout program a very expensive proposition. But a long term strategy for Shoal Creek doesn't come cheap either.

"What risk are we willing to live with when it comes to flooding on Shoal Creek,” said Joanna Wolaver with the Shoal Creek Conservancy.

Wolaver says the flooding that usually happens downtown typically starts well upstream.

"So Shoal Creek is shaped like a funnel, wide up here skinny downtown, all of that water is flowing into the downtown area, so if you want to solve the problem a lot of the solutions are  capturing the water, further up in the water shed, before it hits downtown."

Between 5th St and Enfield, the Conservancy is trying to determine if pulling gravel out of the creek bottom and removing vegetation could help. There is also the possibility of building an underground bypass tunnel; similar to what is being done to control Waller Creek.

"From the Conservancy's perspective it is so important to have a community conversation, about the solutions, that we sit down together and we talk about here is our range of options,  here is the range of costs, what do we want to do together as a community, is it a tunnel, is it something else,” said Wolaver.

Until flood control measures are built the focus is on response. The Austin fire department started making upgrades before the Memorial Day flood involving more specially trained first responders and new robotic rescue equipment. Long term, Division Chief Larry Jantzen, says a supercomputer flood prediction computer system is being developed by U.T.

"It is going to be a significant game changer across the nation in how we look at the predictive model capabilities and how we allocate our resources ahead of time and stand up additional resources when we realize we are actually going to be faced with a bigger event than what we normally may be alerted to,” said Jantzen.

If the system was on line last year the computer model, in theory, may have been able to predict the downtown disaster hours before it happened. The supercomputer flood prediction system will go through a critical test next month in Alabama. If it checks out, Jantzen said AFD could start using it by this fall

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