Report: Onion Creek floods could happen more often

Jake Navarro looks out over a flooded Onion Creek on Thursday Oct. 31, 2013 in Austin, Texas. The National Weather Service said more than a foot of rain fell in Central Texas, including up to 14 inches in Wimberley, since rainstorms began Wednesday. (AP Photo/ Tamir Kalifa)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The devastating flood on Onion Creek last fall shocked first responders and families. Now, a new report suggests it could happen again.

A researcher at the University of Texas told city leaders in Austin to expect another flood there, and says it is important to buy back homes now rather than wait any longer.

“It was a mistake,” Dr. David R. Maidment, a hydrology professor, said. “The subdivision should have never been built there in the first place. It was built there a long time ago, and now we’re trying to deal with the consequences of that.”

Maidment also says government agencies need to work together. The report says the Halloween flood was the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane, and that the next flood could be worse.

A look around Onion Creek neighborhood today shows that most houses in the floodplain have been left abandoned, their owners choosing not to come back.

GOING IN-DEPTH // Flood Preparations

  • One big change in place for future floods are new “reinforced” water height gauges.
  • One month ago, KXAN was there as workers put the devices in. These boxes are important for your safety because they are the early warning sign when flood waters could be headed your way.
  • Two of these gauges broke on Halloween morning. The US Geological Survey installed four new gauges in Travis County for a price of $82,000.
  • The USGS told County Commissioners on Tuesday they plan to upgrade six more.
  • Austin’s flood plain maps are available online. For an interactive look into whether your neighborhood is in a floodplain, click here.

But one couple who has been here since 1994 chose to accept the risk and stay put.

“The water was about four feet already inside of the house,” Manuela Alcantar said. “And it was horrible.” Jose and Manuela Alcantar live in the Onion Creek floodplain with their two dogs. Jose has been in a wheelchair for 20 years.

“This is the only thing we had,” Manuela said, referring to her couch. After floodwaters devastated their house, they slept in their garage for months. “This couch knows how much I cried and how much we went through.”

But they almost didn’t make it.

“I had my water right here,” Jose said, pointing to the top of his chest.

“He told me to save myself,” Manuela said. “And I said ‘no, if you drown, I will drown with you.’ I couldn’t live with myself if he drowned and I saved myself.”

Jose and Manuela chose not to accept their buyout offer. “We’re too old to make a move,” Manuela said.

And they say they have come to terms with the risk that comes with staying here.

“If God says this is going to be your thing, you’re coming home with this, we’ll be ready,” Manuela said. “Nothing else we can do.”

Travis County Commissioners on Tuesday discussed the progress of the flood buyout process, saying they still face a steep hurdle.

It will cost the county about $1.5 billion to make offers to every property owner in just the unincorporated parts of the county. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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