AUSTIN (KXAN) — A man was swept away in rising waters in downtown Austin Wednesday afternoon, and his body was recovered in Lady Bird Lake.
Austin-Travis County EMS responded to a water rescue reported at 800 W. Ninth Street at 12:51 p.m., which is off Shoal Creek. They couldn’t find anyone in the water there, but Austin police reported seeing the man floating downstream under the South First Street Bridge.
STAR Flight assisted in the search.
A body was recovered near the Congress Avenue Bridge in Lady Bird Lake and ATCEMS pronounced a man dead at that scene.
City plans for Shoal Creek
According to the City of Austin before flooding happens on Shoal Creek, crews are getting debris and trash out of the way so water can come through. It can easily flood there in the next few days.
“It was really flowing. It was cool to kind of take it in,” said Elliot Hilliard.
Hilliard and Lexi Bohannon walked by Shoal Creek on the way back from dinner. They had plans this weekend until the last forecast.
“It cancelled a lot of plans. We had a plan to go on a boat and plans to go camping and we had to cancel everything,” said Bohannon.
This walk could be quite a show in the days ahead. Steep hills and little soil to soak up the water makes Shoal Creek a concern for the city.
“There’s not much soil in this city. There’s a lot of rock. So there’s not much place for the water to go once it hits the ground,” said Kevin Shunk, Austin’s Floodplain Administrator.
Six months ago they finished a $900,000 dollar feasibility study of Shoal Creek and just wrapped up a public comment period. One of the ideas they’re looking at is a large tunnel to divert water.
The city just went through tunnel construction along Waller Creek that went years over schedule and millions over budget. The other option is a series of smaller projects like storm drain and channel improvements.
“The tunnel, yes, that’s an option but it’s a very expensive option. We looked at some other things we could do along the creek that would reduce floods and would not be as expensive as a tunnel,” said Shunk.
Those smaller projects could be near completion in five years; for a tunnel, much longer than that. Right now city engineers are working out the preliminary engineering work before they decide which projects to pick.
Shoal Creek empties out on the western side of Downtown Austin, into Lady Bird Lake and the Colorado River. It’s sourced from a few areas. Two branches join in the Brentwood/Crestview area. One branch starts as far north as Loop 360, just south of Braker Lane and one branch starts in the Spicewood Point area, off Spicewood Springs Road. The area surrounding the creek makes up the watershed. So even when rain falls west of MoPac or up at the Domain that water can run into Shoal Creek.
Shunk says Williamson Creek in South Austin is an even bigger concern than Shoal Creek. As of last month, the city has bought out more than 60 properties along the creek. The process has been going on for years. It is for the homes most at risk. The city is nearing the end of this phase, as it prepares to study current risks and ways to protect homes in the future.