Serving Kerr County with a Conscience

Flood Protection Inadequate in Kerr County

If you are new to Kerr County, and even if you have lived here for some time, you may not know that you live in “Flash Flood Alley”—an area that has some of the worst flash-flood prone land in the world. In the past 83 years, Kerr County has had some truly horrifying floods. The one most remembered for our area, for the deaths and the property devastation, was the August 2, 1978 flood—but other major floods occurred in 1932, 1946, 1952, 1987, 1991, 1997, and, the last big flood, in 2002.

While most people believe that they won’t be affected by a big flood, the truth is, they are wrong; if anything, the chance of experiencing a disastrous flood in the Hill Country has increased. Global warming has created extremes in weather, resulting in more severe tropical storms sweeping in from the Gulf of Mexico. The drought that has plagued the Hill Country since 2006—with the terrible, worst year of 2011—has denuded terraces, and swept away topsoil, exposing the bedrock of the ancient seas. Water flows faster across these devastated landscapes.

There are many issues involved in floodplain management, and in the next few weeks we intend to explore these issues and explain why, at the current time, protection from killer floods is not being handled properly in Kerr County. (See “Old River Road RV Park Being Built in the Special Flood Hazard Zone.”)

Altering the floodplain of the Guadalupe River, as well as the floodplains of its major streams, changes the way that water flows and is allowed to drain. Under federal law, FEMA—the Federal Emergency Management Agency—is responsible to insure that citizens have protection from flooding. FEMA enters into contracts with local governments to carry out floodplain management. Kerr County’s floodplain management is carried out by Road and Bridge, and the county hires a part-time engineer, John Hewitt, as the “Flood Plain Administrator” (FPA.) The City of Kerrville has its own FPA, and manages the floodplain within its city limits. Even though there are many issues with floodplain management right outside the city—in the ETJ (Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction), these areas are managed by the county.

Today, more than ever before, the politics of floodplain management place people at risk. It’s all about money. Developers do not want to be told that they cannot build in the floodplain. Cities and counties don’t want to be told that they will not receive tax revenues from a particular land parcel because it is in the floodplain, and should not be developed. Private property owners do not want government interfering and telling them what to do with their land. Sadly, there are corrupt engineers that manipulate the floodplain to allow developers the maximum use of their property—at the expense of the public.

Do you live in an area that has flooded in the past? In the final analysis, you should find out. Subdivision developers won’t tell you, realtors won’t tell you, and most of the time, local government won’t tell you. The lives of your family, your pets, and your property may depend upon taking the initiative yourself and preparing for the next big flood.

Areas that we will be exploring:

  • Why does eastern Kerr County—the Ingram, Hunt, Kerrville, Center Point, and Comfort communities—experience such deadly flash floods? What climatic forces are at work that create record rainfalls in short periods of time?
  • Have we learned from the floods of the past? “Historic Floods in Kerr County”
  • Eyewitness accounts of flood survivors
  • Floodplain Administration: How are floodplains determined in Kerr County? FEMA requires that communities be involved in floodplain determination. This hasn’t happened in Kerr County.
  • As a citizen, what rights do you have, and what access to local government do you have, if you are concerned about flooding around your property?
  • Between Kerrville and Comfort, there are several major streams that flow into the Guadalupe River. In the past, these streams have contributed significantly to death and destruction by floods; yet most of these streams are unrecognized, not studied, and not taken into account when developers want to build in the floodplain.
  • Much of Kerr County has FEMA maps that are old, hurriedly put together in the first place, and are just plain wrong. What can we do to update these maps?
  • As a community, what can we do to insure that floods of the past will not be forgotten, and that newcomers are more aware of the dangers of living in “Flash Flood Alley?”
  • Without adequate scientific information, floodplain decisions cannot be made accurately. How can we all work to insure that confluence water rises, cresting heights, and water inflow from streams are gauged and recorded?

Mary Matthews

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