AUSTIN – The rains started innocently enough – a refreshing break from a summer long drought that had lowered the…
AUSTIN – The rains started innocently enough – a refreshing break from a summer long drought that had lowered the landscape and sent residents in this water loving city for relief, swimming and boating in its spectacular artificial lakes.
But what has happened is more scary: The season has become one of the wettest autumn in the record, causing five deaths in the central Texas region and troublesome a whole city’s water supply.
This city of one million people took unprecedented steps this week to ask residents to boil drinking water for three minutes to kill some bacteria, the culmination of a series of floods that have deposited large amounts of sediment from the earth, like oil and other pollutants in its water system, overwhelming
Warning intensified Tuesday when pollution caused a state-urged wake-up call.
Texas rain this fall has been historic: Since September 1
, Central Texas has seen somewhere from 200 to 500 percent of the normal rainfall it receives, according to the National Weather Service. Austin has received 15 inches so far and marks the 18th worst case.
“Most of the state was in drought,” said meteorologist Brett Williams. “And it’s basically all broken for several weeks.”
The floods led to the death of four people, sweeping away from a RV park in Junction, a city about 140 miles west of Austin. A fifth person died in a low-water crossing.
Texas Gov Greg Abbott (R) has put the state operation center on increased preparedness like floods this month raging through the nearby Hill Country, washing a bridge and ripping into homes.
The dramatic measures reflect the challenges of a city familiar with the historical risks of sudden floods that have been exacerbated by unusual weather patterns, creating a high-speed torrent that swept across a large rural area and kept the sediment shut when it straight towards
Due to climate change, large floods have become more common, “says Raymond Slade, an Austin-based hydrologer.
Residents who left water worry about engineers and other experts are now feeling the effects on their daily lives. On Wednesday, Austin opened seven water distribution centers for them. “We give out water to people who can not cook it or can not afford more bottled water,” said Bryce Bencivengo, a spokesman for the city. Bencivengo said that most of the water was bought, some donated and some were given by the state.
Standing a neon yellow west and holding a rainbow parade, Robert Aleman stood next to a blue sign with the words “WATER AGUA” directing drivers to a distribution center in southwest Austin, where city workers from a smashing of departments charged cases of bottled water in vehicles.
Sabrina Lau Marquez, 37, came to get water with her mother. She is used to boiling water for formula for her 1 year old son, she said, but she was grateful for the bottles as a backup. Originally from New York City, Marquez said she was impressed by the possession of her citizens.
“If it was New York, there had already been a riot,” she said.
Distribution centers will be open until the water supply advice is lifted.
Help in dealing with Austin’s water crisis has come from different places. Some breweries gave out water that they had cooked to brew beer, and several companies also released free water.
Since Monday, San Antonio Water Systems has delivered water for institutions, including Travis County Failure, City Animal Welfare and Emergency Operations Center, Bencivengo said. More bulk water from San Antonio and trucks from Fort Worth were expected to arrive soon.
Central Texans know their floods. Flash Flood Alley, as this area is sometimes called, is one of the country’s most flood areas, thanks to a combination of geography and geology. Heavy precipitation is created when moisture from the ocean meets Hill Country’s colder mountain air. The rain swooshes quickly by the granite and limestone landscape, which enters rising torrents as it rushes downward.
Among the most memorable floods was 1935, when Colorado swollen tributaries destroyed the bridge in Llano before they split Austin into two and rushed, unhindered, towards the ocean.
The answer has been to create a massive chain of ponds that form Highland Lakes. They act as drinking water reservoirs, give rise to hydropower and are part of a system of waterways that look like veins through central Texas, supporting life and offering recreational opportunities. The Lakefront property is a sought after escape from the summer heat.
Lady Bird Lake, anchor downtown Austin, is often filled with paddleboarders, kayaks and rowing teams in practice. Just a few days after thousands, Zilker Park filled the annual Austin City Limit music festival, flood water made the lake a turbulent container of what looked like chocolate milk. Someone puts an orange life vest on a statue of musician Stevie Ray Vaughan, his back to junk-filled morass. The popular hiking and cycling trail was temporarily closed.
But above all, Austin lakes protect the city from the Colorado River by catching water, which according to John Hofmann, vice president of the Lower Colorado River Authority, enters the top end of the system at a rate of “250 Olympic Water Basins Every Minute.”
The unbelievable performance of engineering has been successful despite challenges in what the Texas Demographic Center calls for one of the fastest growing regions in the United States.
“There will be only a flood when there are people nearby,” said Don Riley, former deputy commander of Army Corps of Engineers, and notes that excess water often goes unnoticed when washing over farmland.  The floods have already required some rescues. On October 8, Jamie McDonald, who runs across the United States to raise $ 1 million for charity under the name of “Adventureman”, woke up in his hotel room about 40 miles outside Austin to “lots of shouting and screaming,” said the British in a telephone interview.
Outside on the balcony a crowd had formed and shouted the encouragement of a naked man who was on a tree in the water. Soon a helicopter came and swooped him and put him on a solid ground.
“It was spectacular to see how they handled it,” said McDonald. “It definitely adds a horror factor to me.”
That’s when the water began to rise – first 10 feet a day, 24 feet another and finally 39 meters, said Briley Mitchell, Executive Director of the Llano Chamber of Commerce.
“The field was just saturated,” he said. “It just created the perfect storm.”
Moravec reported from Austin. Sellers reported from Washington.