Public Notice: Think Global
Act local: Flooding and more
City Watershed Protection staff gave a somewhat sobering presentation to the Zoning and Platting Commission Tuesday evening on Atlas 14, the National Weather Service's ongoing long-term national rainfall study. Not that we haven't heard it before: The Atlas 14 project has been going on for a while, its findings are generally understood, and many won't be surprised that indeed, it has been raining more, with greater flood risks.
Specifically, Austin falls in a horizontal band, the I-10 corridor running from Houston through Austin and San Antonio west to Del Rio, that has seen, and should expect, significantly more rainfall than the historical norm. The data so far indicates that what was previously considered a 100-year flood event is now occurring every 25 years, and what's been considered a 500-year event is really a 100-year event (that is, a flood with a 1% chance of happening in any given year).
For anyone who lives in a 100-year floodplain, or even a 500-year floodplain – and statistically, a lot of you reading this do, even though you don't realize it – this is not an abstraction. Floodplain maps determine insurance rates, building and zoning regulations, infrastructure and public safety needs, and more.
So again, that's the gist of the message that Kevin Shunk, floodplain administrator for the Watershed Protection Dept., was bringing to ZAP on Tuesday, along with a response strategy. But there's a wrinkle, he emphasized: The calculations would be different, depending on how much of any given watershed were filled with impervious cover: "The current 500-year floodplain is based upon existing impervious cover conditions; in the long term, the new 100-year floodplain, with all our new floodplain studies, will assume fully developed conditions in the entire watershed." In other words, in calculating the new floodplain boundaries, the city will assume that all properties in the floodplain are built out to their maximum impervious cover. But in the interim – while the LDC is being rewritten – "City staff is using the current 500-year floodplain as a proxy for the Atlas 14 100-year floodplain to guide the mapping of the transition zones" (as they clarified recently), which in turn are based on existing impervious cover, not what's permitted under the current code, let alone the new one. So at best, WPD is going to have their hands full as they try to adapt to changing conditions; let's hope the conditions don't change faster than our ability to keep up with them.
Taking the larger view, the student-organized Austin Climate Strike takes place this Friday, Sept. 20, inviting concerned citizens to "Walk out from your school, home, or place of work on 9/20 at 9am! Meet up at noon at the Texas Capitol for a program of speakers and a networking opportunity to meet more like-minded people and organizations!" It's part of a weeklong Global Climate Strike, to coincide with the UN Climate Action Summit being held Sept. 23 in New York. The Austin group has developed a list of five demands:
A. The City of Austin MUST divest all monies from the fossil fuel industry by 2030.
B. The Lower Colorado River Authority and Austin Energy MUST close Fayette Coal Plant.
C. The State of Texas MUST declare a robust climate emergency plan.
D. The City of Austin MUST close Austin Energy's coal and natural gas plants by 2025 and provide workers with just transitions and training to jobs in renewable energy.
E. The State of Texas MUST promise to have 100% renewable electricity generation by 2050 and give an update every 5 years.
The second annual National Expungement Week is Sept. 21-28, with events in 30 cities throughout the country "to highlight the need to fully integrate those disenfranchised by the War on Drugs within their respective communities." The N.E.W. Austin expungement education clinic will take place on Sept. 28, 1-5pm at Huston-Tillotson University in the Davage-Durden Student Union, with legal advisers on site to answer questions and provide free record-sealing education and services for those who qualify. Also info on voter registration, employment and licensing opportunities.
Old Buildings in a Changing Austin: Historic Preservation, Density, and Affordability is the latest event in the Imagine Austin Speaker Series: "Dr. Mike Powe from the National Trust for Historic Preservation will discuss how older, smaller, mixed-age buildings in Austin relate to housing affordability and economic vitality as our city grows." It's free to the public: Wed., Sept. 25, 7-8:30pm at the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River St. Info at austintexas.gov/imagineaustin/speakerseries.
Over the Lege Part 4: The House Awakens is the return of this acclaimed political satire series, focused solely on the Texas Legislature. They promise "you'll be shocked and awed with sketches, singing, celebrity guests, and improvisational comedy." Sept. 20-22 & 27-29. Fri.-Sat., 8pm; Sun., 2pm, at the Rollins Theater at the Long Center. https://thelongcenter.org.