AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city of Austin’s Watershed Department is about to take on Mother Nature in a bid to control the destructive moods of Shoal Creek once and for all. A $900,000 year-long study will examine a plethora of ways to redirect or tame damaging flood waters, city documents show.
Among the ideas on the table, building a large tunnel to Lady Bird Lake, similar to the nearly-completed Waller Creek tunnel in Waterloo Park. The Waller Creek project is designed to redirect tons of rain water into Lady Bird Lake during heavy rains. Although over budget, the project aims to free up 100 acres of floodplain for development.
The tunnel concept for Shoal Creek was first recommended in a 26-year-old report from the Army Corps of Engineers, but a well-intentioned piece of Austin history could bring a halt to a single tunnel plan.
KXAN has learned a 142-year-old deed could stymie that solution. In 1875, 23 acres of what’s now Pease Park was sold to the city of Austin for a dollar. The property owners were none other than Texas’ 13th governor, EM Pease, and his wife. There was one condition: the land “never be used or appropriated for any other purpose than as a public park.” A second donation in 1929 for an adjoining eight acres contained the same covenant.
“We’re getting squeezed with construction and growth and we need every single acre and to put this at risk, would be a travesty,” said downtown resident and Pease Park advocate Mitchell McGivern.
Over the years, urban growth has also challenged the covenants. In 1950 the city nixed plans for a junior high school, an archived newspaper clipping shows. Also scuttled, a plan in 1956 to build a bridge from the old 19th Street west across the park to Rainbow Bend as “an additional crosstown boulevard for the city,” according to legal documents stored in the City Archives.
Watershed Engineer Pam Kearfott tells KXAN the Army Corps report will not be ignored and parts of it will make their way into the discussion over how to safely and affordably reroute Shoal Creek’s waters after rain events.
“We’ll take what they did, we’ll learn from it, we’ll look at other options [such as] channel modifications, like a flood wall or some kind of berm to help water from spilling out of the creek,” Kearfott said. “We can also look at maybe building some detention ponds farther up in the watershed to hold water back.”
The Watershed Department study will take up to a year. The first of three public hearings on the Shoal Creek Flood Mitigation Study are set for March 9 at Cirrus Logic downtown.