Hays County Commissioners Will Conley, left, and Karen Ford, right, at a recent commissioners court meeting to discuss a flood risk management study. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
The Hays County Commissioners Court unanimously agreed to spend as much as $370,200 in the next three years for the first two sub-phases of a flood risk management and ecosystem restoration study in an approximately 295 square-mile area of northern Hays County.
Once Phases 1a and 1b of the Interim Lower Colorado River Basin-wide (LCRB) feasibility study are completed, commissioners court members will have to decide whether to pay for the remaining phases of the study, which may take six to seven years to finish. The scope and costs for the remaining phases of the study are yet undetermined.
The federal government estimates the total cost of Phases 1a and 1b to be $1,480,800, half of which it would pay — assuming Congress appropriates the funds in the coming years. LCRA Project Manager John McLeod assured Hays County commissioners recently that his organization has “a pretty good record of funding” such studies, seven of which, he said, have been successful. If not for a grant from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), the county would be liable for the other half of the $1,480,800. But with the grant, the county will fund one quarter of the cost, hence the current figure of $370,200.
“The planning process is iterative, and periodic revisions to current cost estimates are to be expected,” states the study’s Project Management Plan (PMP). “All cost changes will be agreed to in advance with the study sponsor and the resource providers.”
The county budgeted money this year for the study, though not quite enough, as TWDB offered $214,000 in grant money this year, which the county must match. Hays County Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) proposed to use $84,000 from the LCRA fund to cover the difference.
About $200,000 per year is generated by a six-percent fee paid by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) under a 2001 contract negotiated when LCRA laid a water pipeline along U.S. 290 from the Colorado River. LCRA, a conservation and reclamation district created by the Texas Legislature in 1934, has no taxing authority and operates solely on utility revenues and fees generated from providing energy, water and community services to Central Texas.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will conduct the study on behalf of the county and LCRA.
The LCRB feasibility study is an extension of USACE’s larger examination of the Colorado River. USACE finished studying the river and now is branching out to assess flood risks associated with the Colorado’s tributaries.
Phase 1a of the feasibility study will assess northern Hays County’s risk for damaging floods, including the examination of about 210 square miles, including Onion Creek, Bear Creek and Little Bear Creek near the Travis County line. Phase 1b will involve USACE examining approximately 85 square miles, which includes the Pedernales Rivers. According to the PMP, Phases 1a and 2b will assess more than 220 stream miles, about 87 miles of which would involve a very detailed study, with USACE measuring every bridge and culvert and examining the topography.
Completion of Phase 1a and the beginning of Phase 1b could occur by September 2011, and the initiation of Phase 1c could happen by January 2013.
Phase 2 of the feasibility study would entail the county and USACE signing a separate PMP with the county and the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) for a flood risk assessment of the Blanco River Basin area.
USACE Fort Worth District COE Project Manager Stacy Gray said recently that it is not yet possible to reliably estimate the costs of Phase 1c or Phase 2.
The feasibility study may result in construction projects such as levees, channel modifications, flood walls and other structures designed to divert, control or exclude water flows from flood-prone areas. USACE may recommend nonstructural flood-control measures, such as removing or prohibiting damageable properties from the flood-prone areas, raising structures, and evacuating floodplains.
Floodplain evacuation may involve efforts by local government to buy private land in flood-prone areas and keep the area clear of damageable structures. No costs or funding sources for the possible construction projects or non-structural flood control measures have yet been determined.