Is it time to dam the Blanco River?

Nine days after the catastrophic flooding on Memorial Day Weekend five years ago, the issue was raised in the Hays County Commissioners Court — can we dam the Blanco River?

It had been talked about for years, Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe said in 2015, when the death and destruction the raging Blanco had brought May 23-24 of 2015 was still fresh in everyone’s mind. “It may be necessary to have those discussions again,” the longtime commissioner had suggested on June 2, 2015.

The Blanco, which joins the San Marcos and then the Guadalupe, is only about 87 miles long but is the longest river in Texas with only one dam. As development in western areas of Hays County replaces more natural areas with pavement, downstream communities are even more at risk for devastating river rises.

Ingalsbe’s comments were met with agreement by Bert Cobb, who was then county judge. He went further, envisioning several dams that would work to mitigate future events. While a series of watershed dams were built in the 1980s to protect the city of San Marcos, they retain water that comes down the watershed of Sink and Purgatory creeks, not the Blanco.

Though there was discussion, nothing happened. In fact it took Hurricane Harvey’s destruction in Southeast Texas more than two years later to get the gears in motion. In advance of the November 2019 election on amendments to the Texas Constitution, southeast Texas State Rep. Dale Phelan, whose district suffered mightily because of Harvey, went on a speaking tour to encourage passage of Prop. 8, which allows for creation of a flood infrastructure fund though a one-time transfer of $793 million from the state’s rainy day reserve.

Prop. 8 passed with widespread support.

Its language reflected the fact that floodwaters do not respect political boundaries, and that regional cooperation and action are essential to making flood-prone areas more resilient in the future. Phelan’s presentation fell on welcoming ears in Hays County, which experienced three 100-year floods in October 2013 and May and October 2015.

Flash forward to the present day, communities are facing a June 15 deadline to apply for loans and grants from the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) to put to uses like flood control, flood mitigation and drainage projects.

The FIF is administered through the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), which is working in cooperation with the General Land Office and the Texas Division of Emergency Management to assist communities in determining the most appropriate flood-related projects.

As those plans are being developed, the TWDB has subdivided the state into 15 flood-planning regions based on watersheds. Hays County is one of 10 counties in the Guadalupe River Basin and among the most flood-prone, as areas of it are designated as “Flash Flood Alley.”

Not only do regional efforts require that cities and counties focus their attention on areas outside their political boundaries, they also require time.

To date, no concrete action has been taken toward any Blanco River mitigation projects; however, the TWDB will be discussing regional and state planning at its 9 a.m. meeting May 21.

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