Need for Action
In any given year, damaging floods are likely to occur on at least one major river or stream in Texas, affecting hundreds or even thousands of homes and businesses, and often, loss of life. According to a recent United States Corps of Engineers study, floods destroyed $1.96 billion in property in Texas from 1989 through 1998, the eighth largest flood loss of any state. On the average, Texas suffers $32 million in losses each year from flooding. More Texans died in floods during this period than any other state: 145 out of a national total of 957.
The problem of protecting lives and property has become severe as areas, which were once sparsely populated, are now witnessing a rapid expansion of homes and businesses into the floodplain. The Colorado River basin has experienced its share of devastating floods, including the 1998 City of Wharton flood, the 1997 Llano flood, and the 1991 Christmas floods. In 1998, a devastating flood occurred in southern Texas across the Guadalupe River basin and the extreme southern portion of the Colorado River basin. The close proximity of the floods served as a reminder that natural disasters can happen anywhere, anytime, and to anybody.
Floods Continue to Mount
Because watersheds do not follow political boundaries, the enormity of the devastation caused by riverine flooding can only be addressed through regional coordination and planning. Currently the only regional water-related entity in the area is the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). Because of its existence as a regional entity and its legislative directive to prevent or aid in the prevention of flood damage, the LCRA has become very active in promoting watershed-based studies and planning. Since the floods of 1998, the LCRA has initiated several partnerships with local, state, and federal agencies to address the growing needs of floodplain management along the Colorado River in central and southeast Texas. The LCRA has already committed to investing millions of dollars to map the river basin’s topography and expand the weather and monitoring systems. By partnering with state and federal government and with the cities and counties in the basin, the LCRA has begun to lay the groundwork for regional approach to flood issues by providing resources to develop a regional coalition of local governments to address floodplain management.
As flood losses continue to mount in Texas and across the nation, public and private entities need to form partnerships to collectively address the many complex issues facing our communities. Communities, developers, and residents need to work cooperatively to ensure all are fully informed of the flood risks and techniques to minimize flood losses.
Counties and cities need to work cooperatively with citizens to ensure sound floodplain management principles are employed where floodplains are developed. Greenbelts should be encouraged where feasible to preserve the natural benefit of floodplains, while providing recreational opportunities for future generations. Local, state, and federal initiatives should be coordinated to ensure that resources are leveraged to obtain the greatest positive benefits. Coordination and cooperation are keys to effective floodplain management.