Bastrop County officials and residents will now have more tools to monitor rising river levels with five new gauges the Lower Colorado River Authority installed downstream of Austin following calls for more technology after the 2015 Halloween flood.
The additional gauges, which crews finished installing this month, expand the river authority’s Hydromet system, which consists of 270 automatic river and weather gauges from the Hill Country to the Texas Gulf Coast. The system provides data about river levels, stream flow, temperature, rainfall totals and humidity, according to LCRA officials.
During the 2015 Halloween weekend flooding, Bastrop County officials expressed concerns that predictions for how high the river was expected to rise varied widely, which hindered their emergency planning.
The storm brought record-breaking rainfall to the Central Texas area, where runoff swelled creeks and rivers in Bastrop County resulting in more than 35 displaced residents, damaged bridges, culverts and roadways, many of which were already in disrepair following the Memorial Day weekend deluge.
County Judge Paul Pape and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, called on the LCRA to improve the flood-monitoring technology upstream from Bastrop County.
In response, LCRA officials pledged in November to add the new gauges within three to six months.
“We owe it to the residents of Bastrop County to give them every available tool to avoid a loss of life and property in the event of a devastating flood,” Watson said in a statement. “I’m thankful that the LCRA has responded so quickly to my request and is helping provide us additional tools.”
The gauges — estimated to cost the LCRA about $300,000 for the technology, installation and maintenance — were placed along the Colorado River near Utley, Webberville and Upton, along Dry Creek near Elroy and along Walnut Creek near Rockne, LCRA officials said in a statement.
“That’s a giant step in flood awareness and protection for all of Bastrop County in the future and I am very pleased with it,” Pape said in an interview this week.
LCRA’s Hydromet database, which is accessible to the public at hydromet.lcra.org, provides rainfall totals, streamflow and other data from gauges along the Colorado River and nearby streams.
To install the new tools, LCRA obtained permission from landowners, Travis County and the Texas Department of Transportation.
“As residents of Flash Flood Alley, we know how quickly floods can occur in this region and how important it is for local officials and residents to know how much water is headed downstream,” LCRA general manager Phil Wilson said in a statement. “We are proud to continue LCRA’s longstanding commitment to the entire river basin by providing additional, valuable information about real-time conditions.”
Now with the Highland Lakes nearly full, Pape said he and other officials downstream of Austin are going to face new challenges if the area sees major rainfall.
“We’re going to have to be even more vigilant going forward,” Pape said.