AUSTIN (KXAN) — Multiple homes located on Mearns Meadow boulevard became surrounded by a rushing river during Thursday night’s torrential downpour after a nearby storm culvert became clogged with dead trees and debris.

Homeowners in the area are cleaning up the mess and say they are frustrated with the city for not doing more to prevent this level of flooding.

Severe flooding damage

Ryan Albright and his wife were enjoying their first night of their month-long European trip when their alarm system kept alerting them of movement outside their house. The movement Albright’s security camera picked up was not a car or intruder. It was rushing water.

“Water that’s knee high or higher rushing down up against your house and there’s nothing you can do,” Albright explained.

His mom and dad drove up from San Marcos to help with the beginning efforts of cleaning up. A cleaning crew at the house gave an estimate of $7,000 to just dry the floor boards in his home.

Albright’s neighbor, Scott Stephan, was in his home watching the rains fall down when he noticed the waters coming into his room. He and his wife packed up their two young children and drove to his in-law’s house.

“Once we realized we were in some kind of danger, once we realized how deep the water was out here, I think that’s when we snapped into crisis mode,” Stephan said.

Both men say they are frustrated with the city because they claim it takes a long time to get the Austin watershed department to clear a storm culvert located behind their properties. A creek bed runs along their backyard property line.

Stephan and Albright said it took more than a month to get debris from the previous winter storm cleared from the culvert.

“The prioritization of picking up branches in the front yard, if that’s the excuse, versus preventing property damage to people’s homes is inexcusable,” Albright said.

While both men start the clean-up process in their homes, another neighbor was getting his hands dirty inside the culvert. James Rodgers has lived in the area for 40 years and adopted this stretch of Little Walnut Creek through Keep Austin Beautiful.

He said the watershed protection department (WPD) cleared the culvert 10 days before the storm. The WPD did confirm with KXAN that a crew cleared the area near a culvert on Mearns Meadow and Quail Valley boulevards on April 11.

During the storm, flood waters pushed more dead trees and debris that was upstream into the culvert. Rodgers was using a saw to clear some of the small branches, and he said this happens too often.

“This can be prevented,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers explained that the culvert becomes clogged so often that the watershed protection department should change its guidelines and start clearing more dead trees from the banks of the creek.

KXAN asked the WPD if it would change its guidelines for clearing debris in this area.

A spokesperson with the department said, “Our current policy is to clear debris in drainage easements upstream of culverts if we think there is debris that may cause blockages and increase the risk of flooding. We rely upon input from citizens to help identify areas of concern.”

People can contact 311 to report an issue with a culvert. Stephan said he called 311 to report the current condition of the culvert and said he was told by the operator that it would take about five business days for a team to clear it out.

Delayed city project could help with flooding

Albright and Stephan also point to a delayed city project as another reason this recent flooding could have been prevented.

They are talking about the Little Walnut Creek Flood Risk Reduction project that started in summer 2021. The project website said a new culvert underneath Mearns Meadow boulevard will reduce street flooding and benefit many homes, including taking some of the homes out of the flood plain.

But the project was delayed in November 2022. The City of Austin’s website lists the status of the project as, “This project has been placed on hold while the project team works to select a new contractor. The City of Austin is working quickly to restart the project, which is set to be completed in 2025.”

KXAN reached out to the public works department to understand further why the project was delayed, and whether the new culvert would have prevented this recent flooding, but a spokesperson for the department said they could not provide any comment until a later date.

The WPD said it is still evaluating what happened in this area, but said the project would “significantly reduce the flood risk in this area.”