Hays County looks to add new warning system at low water crossings

The county plans to spend $2.2 million to improve warning system.

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) – Hays County is working to make sure that those living in the county are aware of what can occur during a flash flood.

The commissioners have already started looking at applying for a $7,000 grant that will help them improve technology at low water crossings. That money will go to help with new rainfall gauges, dam water level monitoring systems and low water crossing warning systems.

“It was very difficult for all the residents living in this area,” said San Marcos resident Brittany Howard. She knows all too well what can happen in a flash flooding event, that’s because she lives right next to a low water crossing. “There were cars that were under water and everything.”

Hays County was one of the first to install technology like rainfall gauges and water level monitoring systems to their low water crossings, but that was 10 years ago, technology has changed. “The new technology will benefit the residents because you will have the real time information,” said Hays County Emergency Management Coordinator Kharley Smith.

That information can include anything from how fast the water is rising to how much water is already over the roadway. With that data going directly to a computer that means a county worker will no longer have to physically go out to the low water crossing to check the levels, report back and then prepare the notification, instead it will be sent out within minutes of the river rising.

“The system, in real time will update ATX floods, which will allow ATX flood sites to send out push notifications so that they are able to get those warning in a more timely manner,” said Smith.

County commissioners are now issuing a proposal to look for companies to install the technology. The proposed project will require the company to install equipment at two base stations and 25 low water crossings, which will provide discharge and stage values. Additionally, 10 of the 25 low water crossings will house precipitation gauges and four of the 25 low water crossings will have a camera for near real time visual feed of the low water crossings during flash flooding events.

The technology the county is searching for will share data gathered with the National Weather Service, ATX floods, and river authorities. That information will then be delivered straight to those who have registered online to receive alerts that a low water crossing near them is flooded or closed.

“We do want to install more permanent gates that any first responder would have access to closing and that would limit the residents from maybe making bad decisions from driving around the barricade or moving the barricade because they didn’t think it warranted a closure,” said Smith

Altogether the project will cost around $2.2 million. But with the opportunity to receive the alerts about low water crossing right on your phone and possibly save a life, county leaders say it’s worth every penny.

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