AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Community College turned to some unique citizen scientists in a recent project examining flooding in Central Texas: fashion, UX design and anthropology majors. The project is part of the school’s Citizen Science Undergraduate Research Experience and is funded by National Science Foundation.

As part of the project, the students discovered some startling facts about who’s prepared for flooding, who is most impacted and how flooding impacts Barton Creek and Barton Springs.

“We spent a long time recruiting in a lot of other departments,” said Professor Leslie Davis, an oceanography instructor at ACC.

She said that turning to non-scientists helps bring a new perspective to their studies.

“You really want to draw from a diverse group of students.”

Eleven students were chosen for the program, out of dozens of applicants. Each participated in a five-week research project focused on flooding in Central Texas. This region of the country is frequently labeled, “Flash Flood Alley,” because of its thin soil and frequent, deadly floods.

Flooding and Barton Creek

Three projects were conducted by the students. Kacie Vazquez del Mercado, Katie Crain and Katherine Corley were part of one group researching the impact flooding has on Barton Creek and Barton Springs Pool.

“Our research focused on the correlation between rainfall as well as certain water quality parameters in the Barton Springs and Barton pool area,” Vazquez del Mercado said.

Their team used data gathered by the U.S. Geological Survey over the past five years, plus data they gathered themselves, to detect the impact.

ACC students research shows the impact flooding has on Barton Springs. (Courtesy: KXAN Photo/Julie Karam)

They found that, following a flood, high levels of oxygen in the creek led to an increase in E. Coli. The bacteria, while commonly found in people, can be dangerous if ingested or if it gets into an open wound. Temperatures also plummeted due to flooding, which was beneficial for E. Coli’s growth.

“We saw a very direct correlation with rainfall in E. Coli,” Corley said.

Rainfall and flooding are expected to increase as climate change worsens, the students said. In their presentation, they quoted one hydrologist who said that if flooding isn’t curtailed, Barton Springs faced irreparable damage.

Living in a floodplain

Other students researched people’s knowledge of floodplains. One team conducted surveys and found that 68.4% of respondents didn’t know that Shoal Creek and Walnut Creek were within 100-year floodplains.

Another team explored the impact flooding has on race and income. They looked at the areas surrounding Austin’s most flooded roads and found that 75% of households that lived near them were considered low-to-medium income households. About half of those residences housed people of color.

Davis said the students have raised the bar with their research, adding they will now have an opportunity to present their findings at a national geological conference held in Denver later this year.