After historic Texas flooding, officials will likely open more floodgates on Central Texas dam


At a briefing Wednesday, LCRA general manager Phil Wilson called this “a historic flood” and urged people, particularly those living along the Highland Lakes, to protect their safety.

“This is a very serious situation and the dynamics are rapidly changing,” Wilson said.

The LCRA monitors flood activity 24/7 from its River Operation Center in Austin. Officials have now closed Lakes Buchanan, Inks, LBJ, Marble Falls and Travis. Until the additional floodgates are opened, the City of Austin said it is unable to determine if any city streets will flood. Angel Flores, an emergency management spokesman for the city, said crews are on standby, monitoring the weather and any changes caused by opening additional floodgates.

John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas’ state climatologist and a Texas A&M University professor, said October typically brings heavy rain, due to a combination of cold fronts and warm water already in the air. He said extreme rainfall has become more frequent in recent years.

“Climate change leads to more rain in any given event,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “The weather patterns we have are the source of things that lead to heavy rain.”

Astrid Caldas, a senior climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said there is a definite connection between climate change and heavy precipitation events.

“We have seen a nationwide increase in heavy precipitation events,” Caldas said. “For each 1 degree centigrade warmer in the atmosphere, it has the potential to hold up to 7 percent more water vapor, and then the rain has the potential to be heavier.”

Ed Janecka, county judge in Fayette County southeast of Austin, said floodwater released from Mansfield Dam is expected to reach La Grange by Saturday. He said the city is not anticipating any flooding but that he’s monitoring the situation.

Janecka said the dams are currently doing their job and that his only cause for concern would be if a lot of rain falls between Austin and Fayette County.

“Everything is working fine up to this point,” Janecka said. “As long as LCRA does their job, what they were mandated to do, and they are doing it – we won’t have flooding here.”

La Grange Fire Chief Frank Menefee said his department is ready to respond if necessary and will do whatever they can to keep everyone safe.

Known as Flash Flood Alley, Central Texas and the Hill Country are some of the nation’s most flood-prone areas, according to the LCRA. After water leaves the Mansfield Dam, it flows through Austin, Bastrop, LaGrange and down to Bay City before entering the Gulf of Mexico.

Brent Lyles, executive director of the Colorado River Alliance, which advocates on behalf of the river’s health, said heavy water flow has both positive and negative implications downstream.

“On the good side, high water flow is part of a natural cycle,” Lyles said. “Pollutants, whether that’s trash or chemicals, get flushed out and it brings new water into the system. On the negative side, one of things that happens in heavy, heavy flooding is that local wastewater systems can sometimes overflow and whatever has been on the landscape gets flushed into the river.”

However, Lyles said the primary concern during a flood event is always safety.

People can sign up for updates from the LCRA Flood Operations Notification Service (LCRA FONS) regarding flood operations at dams along the Highland Lakes and Lake Bastrop. There is an option to sign up via a registration form or by phone at (512) 578-3246. The U.S. Geological Survey also has an application called Water On-The-Go, which allows users to locate stream gauges and water conditions near them.

Carlos Anchondo is the water fellow at The Texas Tribune. This story is published courtesy of the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.