Live cameras added to flood-prone low water crossings

AUSTIN (KXAN) — KXAN continues to follow changes the City of Austin is making after last year’s devastating Halloween floods. The city has increased 911 center staffing and installed new, sturdier flood gauges, and is now adding an extra layer of protection for the next time floods strike.

“Flooding is a really big problem here in Texas,” said Matt Porcher, a City of Austin employee working to protect people from dangerous flash flooding.

The Halloween flood killed five people in Travis County and caused more than $100 million in damages.

Porcher is now working to prevent another tragedy. He’s leading a test project to install infrared cameras underneath local low water crossings, the same kind used by game hunters. For the first time, emergency coordinators will have a real-time view of area creeks.

“They can look at the markers on the bridge pylons and know how many feet it is until the water over-tops,” Porcher said. Even at night, these cameras will provide reliable images.

Onion Creek at Bluff Springs Road is one of the spots in Austin that is vulnerable to dangerous flash flooding, and it is where the city installed the first test camera.

“This will save us from having to send a crew out to visually inspect that location,” Porcher said.

Back in September, floodwaters swept away Travis County Deputy Jessica Hollis’ patrol car while she was checking on a low water crossing. A day later, her fellow deputies recovered her body in Lake Austin. On average, flash flooding kills more people in Central Texas than any other type of severe weather. Porcher hopes these cameras will put fewer people in harm’s way.

“So far it’s been really successful, so we would like to build it out,” Porcher said. “We would like to have it on more creeks.”

The city’s Watershed Protection Department says Austin is the first flood-prone area to try this new technology. Unlike flood gauges, which were fortified after failures during the Halloween floods, these cameras are actually designed to wash away. If flood waters reach the camera and it breaks off, a warning message will replace the live camera feed online alerting residents that dangerous flooding is taking place.

Two cameras are already up and running along Onion Creek in southeast Travis County at Bluff Springs Road and River Plantation Drive. One more is in the works where William Cannon crosses Onion Creek.

The total cost for the two-year project is $18,000, and is funded by the drainage utility fee you see at the bottom of your City of Austin utility bill.

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