Flood response could improve after $51 million in upgrades to Buchanan Dam

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Lake Buchanan is a major water source for Central Texas and it’s home to the Buchanan Dam.

The Lower Colorado River Authority just wrapped up a $51 million upgrade to the gates of the dam that hold the water in place, or release water in the event of flooding rains.

“If you’re going to be in ‘Flash Flood Alley’ and you’re going to have dam structures like we have, you need to make this kind of investment to make sure they can do their jobs when we need them to,” said John Hofmann, vice president of water for LCRA. He described the upgrades as a “total rehabilitation of the gates.”

Preparing for Central Texas floods

One of the main improvements was the addition of dedicated hoists to quickly raise a flood gate to allow water through in the event of excessive rainfall.

Upgrading the Buchanan Dam took more than 12 years to complete because only a few of the dams 37 flood gates could be worked on at any one time.

The upgrades allow LCRA to petition FEMA to raise the peak water level allowed during hurricane season by two feet. This will allow extra water storage during our typically rainy months, holding onto precious water while delaying the release of floodwaters downstream, although it’s rare that Lake Buchanan would ever be so high.

“It does have an empty space in the upper part of that reservoir that allows it to capture flood flows when they initially come in and that buys very valuable time, especially when you start to see the type of flooding that we’ve seen over the last several years in Central Texas,” added Hofmann.

Maintaining and upgrading the dams across the Highland Lakes is a perpetual process.

Which dams are up next?

So which dams are next in line for repairs?

“All of them!” Hofmann said Right now we’ve just completed Tom Miller Dam. We’re in the process of starting an operation at Wirtz Dam. Buchanan Dam’s concrete work will continue over the next several years, we just finished the gate work. Starke Dam is also in the process of doing a project and then Mansfield Dam is in the middle of a rehabilitation project as well.”

Because of the cycle of drought to deluge here in Central Texas, these flood gates could go years at a time without being used operationally, but other times could be used several times within a year.

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