AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s Watershed Protection Department is working on a plan called Rain to River. It will guide the work the department does over the next decade.
“It’s going to serve as a blueprint for our work in operations. It’ll help us set goals, prioritize our work and make decisions. It will also help us track and report on our progress in achieving our goals. So we want the resulting plan to be accessible and informative to a broad audience,” explained Katie Coyne, the city’s environmental officer.
The last time the plan was updated was 20 years ago. The Rain to River plan will focus on how rainwater makes its way across the city’s landscape. That’s because each time it rains — rainwater flows into our creeks, lakes, springs and the Colorado River. However, rain can also pick up pollutants, erode creek banks, and flood homes and businesses which is why Coyne said it’s important to craft this plan alongside the community.
“The community is at the heart of this process, shaping vision goals and priorities for the new plan will be open to changing the way our department functions based on those values and priorities that the community tells us about,” she added.
The department is able to tackle some of the flooding issues through construction projects such as drainage infrastructure improvements to prevent future problems. At present, the department is working to upgrade the storm drain system in the Brassiewood Drive area.
Watershed Protection Department officials say the project will reduce the risk of flooding homes, yards and streets. The project includes detention pond improvements, upgraded storm drain pipe and new storm drain inlets.
With the Rain to River plan, those at the Watershed Protection Department want to address climate change, population growth and racial inequities something Coyne said is personal.
“I am the city’s first environmental officer who’s a woman and especially a queer woman,” Coyne said. “So really thinking bigger about climate injustice, equity and public health and all of these things that are a part of this plan is not just important to me and to the department and to the work of the city it’s important to me personally.”
For example, ensuring those who call the Dove Springs neighborhood home near Onion Creek which has experienced devastating flooding in the past have their voices heard.
“Equity is a core driver of racial equity for this plan, who you want to engage, but not just in terms of engagement, but how we fundamentally take action in a way that actually leads to impact in the long term for remedying historic injustice,” explained Katie Coyne, the city’s environmental officer. “And so if we’re talking about all communities in the eastern crescent, we’re certainly talking about places like Dove Springs, where in 2013-2015, there were historic losses of property and life that we certainly need to acknowledge.”
Coyne believes they “are just starting to get a little bit better about acknowledging the trauma associated with climate change, the trauma associated with displacement from your home or from your neighborhood networks.”
She added that it is important to ensure “climate change is a core part of the way we want to make sure we’re providing trauma-informed engagement. And so actually, using that language of trauma is important, especially in communities like Dove Springs which have had repeat events that have displaced the community and have led to loss of life.”
The city’s environmental officer said it is critical to protect both people and the community while “remedying historic harm and injustice.”
Tuesday from 6:30-8 p.m. the department will host a virtual community meeting in English, Spanish and American Sign Language (ASL). The virtual event will kick off the start of the planning process. They also ask community leaders who plan to host an event or meeting to invite the Watershed Protection Department so they can inform the community about the plan Rain to River. The department will also hire community ambassadors to help reach all communities impacted.
“For those ambassadors that make sense based on their community connections, what they’re comfortable doing whether or not that’s a conversation at a barbecue or a more formal one-on-one interview with the grandma who lives next door,” Coyne said. “I think really customizing those to make sure we’re reaching communities in ways that folks feel comfortable connecting with the community that they have trusted relationship with is a critical part of that.”
There is also a survey online for those who would like to provide feedback.