Whole Earth Provision Co. Grand Reopening

October 13, 2015  | By Shoal Creek Conservancy

After being closed for nearly 5 months due to heavy damage from the Memorial Day flooding, Whole Earth Provision on North Lamar is hosting a grand reopening this weekend and next! Join us in welcoming them back by visiting their North Lamar location during “Coming Home, Giving Back,” and benefit Shoal Creek Conservancy in the process. Whole Earth has generously committed to donating a percentage of their profits from the weekend celebrations to the Conservancy to help fund our work on flood issues. We invite you to pay Whole Earth a visit on October 17th-18th and 24th-25th to take part in the event that will feature giveaways and some Q and A’s with experts on parks and trails around Texas. You can find more information about the event, here. You can also read a Q and A between Whole Earth Provision Co. and our Executive Director, Joanna Wolaver, below. Thank you for supporting Whole Earth Provision and Shoal Creek Conservancy!

Q – What were the circumstances that contributed to the severity of the Memorial Day flood on Shoal Creek?

One hour after the rains ended on Memorial Day 2015 – a deluge of 5 inches in 4 hours – water levels at Shoal Creek’s 12th Street gauge rose to 20.76 feet. Adjacent low-lying areas were inundated with a wall of water several feet deep. In 1981, when Austin received 11 inches of rain in 3 hours, water levels at the same gauge reached 23.3 feet. This makes the water levels in 2015 the second highest on record – 34 years plus a day since the highest was recorded.

A number of factors contributed to the severity of the flood this past Memorial Day. The Central Texas Hill Country is the most flash flood-prone area of North America. Shoal Creek is a particularly “flashy” creek with water levels rising – and falling – rapidly with large amount of rain. Among other factors, the saturated conditions of the soil due to the rain in the days prior to Memorial Day likely exacerbated flooding in this already flood-prone creek. In addition, intensive development of the Shoal Creek watershed prior to any regulations that protect our creeks, such as limits to impervious cover, have significantly increased the risk of flooding. In a sense, Shoal Creek functions as an enormous storm drain during heavy rain with water flowing off parking lots, homes and other impervious, funneling down the creek and pooling in lower Shoal Creek (downtown Austin).

Q – What sort of efforts are being made to solve the flood issue?

The Memorial Day Flood of 2015 was not a one-off event. We can expect similar, if not more intense, floods along lower Shoal Creek unless steps are taken to mitigate this risk. This flood underscores the need for watershed-based flood mitigation plans throughout Austin and in Shoal Creek in particular. Shoal Creek is the fourth most flood prone watershed in our city after Upper and Lower Onion and Williamson creeks. Flooding poses a major risk to life and property. The Conservancy is currently partnering with the City to identify and implement solutions to the flood issues, in addition to the major water quality and erosion challenges facing Shoal Creek.

In addition to the Conservancy’s partnership work with the City, in response to the flooding, the City Council created a Flood Mitigation Task Force to study the issue and offer recommendations for flood mitigation through the city. This task force held their kickoff meeting in late September and will be meeting monthly between now and April 2016.

Q – Has the work done by the city of Austin on the creek had a positive impact on flood prevention overall?

After the Memorial Day Floods of 1981 that killed 13 people, the City invested significant funds within the Shoal Creek watershed to mitigate the flood risk, including buying out flood-prone homes and building large retention ponds. These storm water management improvements reduced the flood risk further north in the watershed. However, as we saw this year, flooding continues to be a major problem particularly in the lower reach of Shoal Creek through downtown. A long-term flood mitigation solution is needed on Shoal Creek.

Although this need remains, the City and its partners does a great job with limited resources to protect the public and the creek before, during and after flood events through activities ranging from enforcing development regulations to reduce the impact of new developments on flooding to providing emergency response. A summary of these activities is available here: http://www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=238669.  Another great resource for Austin residents is ATXflood.com, which offers text or email alerts when waters rise near your home or business.