Thoroughbred Farms still looking for answers after several deadly floods

Flooding in the Thoroughbred Farms neighborhood Dec. 18, 2015
Flooding in the Thoroughbred Farms neighborhood Dec. 18, 2015

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Three people died, 400 homes flooded in and around the Austin area on the morning of Oct. 30, 2015.

People in parts of southeast Travis County were hoping to get answers Thursday on the future of their Thoroughbred Farms neighborhood. That neighborhood has seen several deadly floods in the past three years.

Travis County Commissioners Court is releasing the preliminary results of a study conducted for the Thoroughbred Farms area, along with other neighborhoods in the Onion Creek and Dry Creek East watersheds. Officials are trying to figure out why the damage was so much more destructive than ever before. The study is looking at changes in topography and drainage patterns and possible man-made causes.

“They’re scared naturally. If you’ve flooded twice in the last seven months you are thinking about your lifestyle choices, trying to figure whether they can go back and unfortunately we can’t get answers fast enough,” said Stacey Scheffel, Administrator of Travis County Flood Plain.

The study has concluded that recent construction in the area has had no impact on the amount of flooding in Thoroughbred Farms. The flood in October of 2015 was, at a minimum, a once-in-500-year event, having a 0.2 percent chance of occurring during any given year. Eleven to 15 inches of rain fell over parts of southeast Austin in under six hours. In nearby creek basins, the rainfall causing the flooding was calculated to be a once-in-2,300-year event.

These results are bringing angry, frustrated reactions from homeowners in the area, who have lived without seeing major flooding in Thoroughbred Farms for decades before 2013. They blame the construction of Circuit of the Americas, roadwork on the 130 toll road and culverts being put in on FM 973.

“I don’t understand the culverts on 973. I believe they’re totally… not, maybe, 100 percent of everything that happened but maybe 80 percent of what happened. We never flooded until those culverts were done.”

Researchers of the study say that a lot of this work is downstream of the affected neighborhoods, and is sometimes even outside of the watershed of these neighborhoods.

Travis County says now that the study is out they will likely consider two options for the area; structural changes or buyouts.

Commissioner Brigid Shea says people in the area are once again picking up the pieces. Shea said the flooding might be related to recent road construction on nearby FM 973.

“It’s especially tragic that the Thoroughbred Farms area was impacted,” said Shea. “They don’t have extra income…They’re not flush with a second home. These are working people struggling to pay their bills. Many of them just finishing fixing up their houses from the previous flood.”

Still, the neighborhood will likely have to wait to see possible solutions in action. The county’s floodplain administrator and the county judge both mentioned a 2017 bond as possible funding for flood mitigation.

“What recommendations can we make to them so that their lives are not at risk? I think they’ve lost enough,” said Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gómez.

One proposal was to ensure that homeowners are aware of their flood risk.

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