San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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July 18th, 2008
The do's and don't's of flooding

Some areas of San Marcos are particularly threatened by the menace of flooding – looking back at previous years shows that this is a very real danger. The best way to deal with this is to be informed about and prepared for whatever flooding may occur this year.

According to the San Marcos Fire Marshall, Ken Bell, “What a lot of people see, in addition to standard flooding due to waterways, is drainage. We’ve been working for years trying to improve drainage, which spawned the Drainage Utility, and we’re already seeing improvements as we move through areas, rebuild streets, and do total reconstruction on some roads. Some people won’t see improvements for years to come, but you have to just do one section of the city at a time.”

This city has three sources of possible flooding: the Blanco River, the San Marcos River, and Purgatory Creek.

Fire Marshall Bell also says that “Areas around each of the dams sites that surround our city are potential flood areas. Where the dams were constructed was based on the collection areas above them.”

“All of our public works departments really stepped up on keeping drainage ways clean,” says Bell, “by actually going in and shoveling out all the silt and other things like that. What we’re looking for is for people not to dump debris, brush pilings and things like that in those drainage areas because if that gets blocked up then it has nowhere to go but over property lines. It was designed to go through these ditches and waterways and we try really hard to keep them clean.” If you see dumping or debris in the ditches or streams, contact the Environment and Engineering Department at 393-8130.

Even properties well off of the floodplain need to be aware of the danger of rising water. Maps of the floodplain are available at the San Marcos Public Library, or you can visit the offices of the San Marcos Engineering Department on the second floor of the Municipal Court Building at 630 E. Hopkins St.

There are ways to flood-proof a home. The direct approach is to just raise the house up a few feet to get it above flood levels. According to the city website a small wood frame can be erected for less than $10,000. Another way to protect a home is to regrade the lot or build a small flood-wall or earthen berm. If flooding is not too deep or the house isn’t in the flood-way, and the lot is big enough, this may be all that is needed. Water-proofing the walls and sealing doorways with watertight closures is another tactic.

Check with the city before you make any major decision about your flood-proofing. Building on or even just altering your property requires a permit from the city. They carefully monitor construction and re-modeling because of the environmental risks involved.

An important aspect of preparation is flood insurance. There is only so much that can be done to prevent damage so the possibility of losing property is one that should be considered. Flood damage is not covered in most Homeowners insurance policies, however San Marcos participates in the National Flood Insurance program so a separate flood insurance policy can be purchased, even if the property has flooded before. If there is a pre-existing flood insurance policy then you need to be aware of how much it covers. Some policies simply cover the home and not the contents in it, and the most common type of flooding in San Marcos does more damage to personal belongings and furniture than it does to the structures themselves.

If the worst happens and the area floods, it is important to understand the hazards involved in coping with the high water.

The biggest threat to citizen welfare during the last flood, according to our Fire Marshall, was “people passing barricades and not following signage and other direction that was established by the Traffic Department.” Ignoring these signs puts people at risk of becoming part of the problem by adding to the number of rescues required by our volunteers and Fire Department.

“Stay off the roadways,” advises Bell. “We have an uncanny amount of folks that tend to want to go out and see what’s going on and they actually clog the roadways, interfering with the response of the emergency crews.”

Never under any circumstances drive a vehicle into an area where water has covered the road. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else. Water levels and currents are unpredictable at best, especially if there are flash flood conditions, and the road or bridge may have been washed out. All it takes is a couple feet of water to carry away a vehicle with passengers in it.

Drowning is the number one cause of fatalities in a flood. Unfortunately it is very easy to get caught by flood waters. It only takes six inches of moving water to knock a person’s feet out from under them and flood waters can be very deceptive. When you are walking in standing water, use a stick or pole so to test the ground ahead for sudden drops or holes.

The second biggest killer in a flood situation is electricity. Some appliances, like televisions, keep electrical charges even when they are unplugged. Have your electricity turned off by the power company if it looks like water may come in contact with any power lines. Make sure that any electrical devices or motors that get wet are checked out before running power to them again, as water may still be inside or parts may be damaged by getting wet and electrocution is a very real possibility.

Sometimes gas lines can be ruptured from debris in a flood. Using a flashlight as a light source anywhere near gas lines ensures that no sources of ignition are provided to a gas leak. Make sure no one nearby smokes or lights anything unless you know that the gas has been turned off and the area has been well ventilated.

In the event of a flood, tune in to your radio or public access t.v. stations, “We give public notices before, during, and after major events, weather events particularly,” said Bell. “We have reverse 911 available for certain areas, and we do partner with KTFW during disasters and they’ve been trained on Emergency Reporting where they turn off their music and do nothing but information transmission. We have public television available to us and we are currently being issued a license for the new low-power radio system that we’re installing on the north side of town so that we can transmit our own emergency information during a disaster.”

More information is available on the San Marcos City Website, at the San Marcos Public Library, or at the offices of the San Marcos Engineering Department on Hopkins. Stop by if you would like to speak to someone about areas of high risk, or call them at 512-393-8130.

By SARAH STEVENS
Correspondent

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