City shares plan to protect homes at risk of flooding in northwest Austin


AUSTIN (KXAN) — At a community meeting Tuesday night, the city of Austin presented their plan to improve flood control for the Oak Knoll neighborhood in northwest Austin.

Austin’s Watershed Protection Department said that 18 buildings in the area are at risk of flooding and of most of those are homes. They believe the problem is that the drainage pipes created in the 1970s in the neighborhood are not up to current standards.

“What this project is going to bring are pipes, inlets and then the pipes carry the water from the street to a creek,” said Reem Zoun with Austin Watershed Protection. This project will take two and a half to three years to carry out, Zoun said.

Funds for these projects come from the Drainage Utility Fund, fueled by the drainage fees Austinites pay within their city utility bill.

There are other projects the city is actively working on as well. They are all prioritized based on cost and risk posed in the area. For example, flooding that went inside a home would be prioritized before flooding which filled up someone’s yard, a spokesperson for the department explained. Oak Knoll happened to fall into one of their high priority areas.

“Every time there’s a rain of 5 or 6 inches, certainly 8 or 9 inches, we have major problems, ” said Dr. Gary Prant, who owns Arbor Foot Health Center, near the area where the city’s Oak Knoll project is taking place. He showed KXAN how the water from nearby Jollyville Road floods his parking lot.

When the water got so high his office started to flood, he made his own solutions with concrete barriers and a French drain around his building.

A map of the plan for Oak Knoll Storm Drain Improvements. City of Austin Map.

“Not only that it ruins your office, it has a terrible smell, it can mess up your equipment and it does nasty things, ” Prant said.

His office is at the lowest point of the business complex he works in. To be clear, he doesn’t blame the city for his drainage problems at his office. But he does believe there are ways the city can make life a little easier for his neighbors.

“The city can help perhaps along the street along Jollyville Road where we have some pooling,” Prant said.

He also noted that he doesn’t want the city to ask him to pay any more money to help prevent flooding. He recalled being asked to build a detention pond at a property nearby he wanted to develop years ago.

But under the third draft of the city’s CodeNEXT plan, residents will be asked to step up to help prevent flooding in their communities. Under the plan, residents who want to develop or redevelop may be asked to offer some kind of stormwater management, whether that is a detention pond, green infrastructure or rain gardens, said a spokesperson for the city’s watershed department.

“As you put in more concrete and put more asphalt and you just increase the intensity of development for a system that wasn’t built for it, you always have the risk of more flooding,” said Austin City Council Member Allison Alter, whose district encompasses the Oak Knolls area. She explained that the development in her district prevents some water from being absorbed into the ground and can lead to flooding.

“Flooding also happens when our infrastructure isn’t set up to meet the demands of the infrastructure on our streets when we’re not anywhere near a flood plain, and I think that’s what we’re experiencing in the Oak Knoll area, as I understand it,” Alter said.

The city and residents will both need to be mindful of how their development flooding going forward. Alter noted just last year in a spot near the Oak Knoll project the city actually bought out properties in danger using watershed funds.  The city found its own system was at fault and that it would have been more expensive to fix the infrastructure than buy the properties out, Alter said.

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