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$1.9M for low water crossing updates

Hays County Commissioners recently authorized an agreement with Water and Earth Technologies for the installation of low-water crossing warning systems within the county.

In a deal that will cost the county $1.9 million, Hays County Judge Bert Cobb said in a recent commissioners court hearing that he believes the project provides a better handle on how the county can manage low-water crossings in a timely manner for the utmost public safety.

Water & Earth Technologies (WET) is a water resources and environmental engineering firm that provides engineering services in the areas of surface and ground water hydrology, flood warning, data acquisition, and data management systems.

Markus Ritsch, Vice President and Principal Engineer with WET, said the majority of these 22 low-water crossings flashers are pre-existing. He said WET would be retrofitting these existing flashers with new and updated equipment. 

The new low-water flashing locations that will be installed have not  been determined at this time. 

In addition to the installation and retrofitting of 22 low-water crossing flashers, there will be five dam monitoring stations along with 10 rain gauges installed throughout the county.

The five dam monitoring stations will be detention basins that are located at the five National Resource Conservation System (NRCS) structures that surround the city of San Marcos.

The county, with the aid of the National Weather Service, will determine the locations for the rain gauges.

These locations have not been officially finalized, but the county, the national weather service and WET are actively researching potential locations for the 10 rain gauges.

“We are still in the preliminary stages of the project,” said Ritsch. “We are logistically planning our work schedule, identifying equipment to order this week and figuring out what aspects of the project we can begin immediately.”

WET has also started working with the Hays County IT department making sure infrastructure is set up properly for the new systems. That includes getting software installed and having servers configured to process the data. Once completed, this will provide the county with the ability to provide data to both the NWS and Hays County citizens alike through a front-facing public website. 

“We have to integrate hardware from several different manufacturers,” Ritsch said. “A big part of our startup effort will relate to getting equipment ordered and received in a timely fashion so that we can integrate it and get it installed.”

The low-water crossing warning system that is currently in place does not provide or retain any historical data of the closure notifications.

Hays County Emergency Management Coordinator Kharley Smith said the ability for the new system to retain historical data is one of the program’s biggest benefits.

“Not only will we see how many times a low-water crossing closes, that helps us look at infrastructure projects, but the data collected out in the field are stage values,” said Assistant Emergency Management Coordinator Justin McInnis.

McInnis said the data is useful to be able to look at trends over time and planning infrastructure. County residents will also see what’s going on at area streams with real-time data.

Ritsch said that the biggest obstacles are the logistics of simply getting started. The county expects to complete the entire project by 2018. Ritsch claims the company is starting to gain traction.

“We’re working as quickly as we can to order equipment and get the system installed because it’s quite a bit of work to do in the 12-month period allotted,” Ritsch said.

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