COVER: The Blanco River roars over Uhland Road following a thunderstorm in January 2012. A flash flood warning system at Uhland Road and three other low-water crossings are currently inoperable because of vandalism and theft. County officials this morning approved funds for emergency repairs. MERCURY FILE PHOTO by BRAD ROLLINS
by BRAD ROLLINS
The Hays County Commissioners Court today approved $103,412 for emergency repairs to vandalized or stolen equipment that have disabled flash flood warning systems at four low-water crossings in the San Marcos and Buda areas.
The damaged or missing sensors include those where Lime Kiln and Hilliard Roads cross Sink Creek in an unincorporated residential area north of San Marcos. In addition, the warning system on Uhland Road at the Blanco River in eastern San Marcos is inoperable as is the warning system on Chaparral Road at Little Bear Creek near the Travis County line.
“This is a very serious issue. It’s putting people’s lives in danger. When I first realized what happened, it kind of made me angry that people would be messing with these devices,” Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe said in court this morning.
Partially funded with state and federal grants in 2004 and 2006, the system automatically turns on flashing lights when sensors in creeks and rivers at 18 of 42 low-water crossings in Hays County detect rising water levels. The system also sends real-time updates a public website that maps flooded crossings and those likely to soon be impassable.
The warning system is critical to preventing deaths, especially when roads are flooded after rainfall has stopped and drivers are often oblivious to the dangers posed by water rushing toward them from upstream, Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley said.
In November 2004, Laurie Pineda, a 24-year-old Kyle resident, drowned when her car was swept away by the Blanco River on Post Road after an intense thunderstorm had passed. A passenger in Pineda’s vehicle was able to cling to a tree until emergency workers arrived, but the driver went missing for more than six years despite days-long search by land, water and air. More than six years later, in March 2011, fishermen in a canoe downstream from Post Road found part of a human skull lying on the riverbank. DNA testing later identified it as belonging to Pineda.
County Judge Bert Cobb said county staff is looking at security measures to prevent vandalism and theft, which cost more than $802,613 to purchase and install. Despite the periodic expense of repairing needless damage, however, the judge said the warning system has inevitably saved lives.
“The lack of incidences tell me that it has worked. Even as we’ve become more populated, we‘ve had fewer deaths,” Cobb said.