Twenty Years Ago This Week, the Great Flood of 1998 Changed S.A. Forever

Twenty years ago this week, the Great Flood of 1998 transformed San Antonio.

25 people died, thousands of homes were flooded and property damage was in the hundreds of millions of dollars due to the relentless flooding, but Nefi Garza, an engineer with the city's Transportation and Public Works Department, says the flood also set in motion a series of improvements which showed their worth when San Antonio experienced the wettest September in its history last month.

"We rated that a Fifty Year storm event, which is huge for our area," he said.  'Despite that, we had a total of five people who had water in their homes, and most of that was due to construction in the area."

The Great Flood of 1998 prompted the city's new Tree Preservation Ordinance, which allows Mother Nature to do much of the work in dealing with flood conditions.

It also led to a change in the way developments are platted, leading to more of what is called 'impervious cover,' which is areas where water can soak into the soil as opposed to being trapped by concrete.

Developers were ordered to do more to keep new properties out of flood prone areas.  The flood also led directly to two major projects, the Howard Peak Linear Creekways, which cleared the area around the city's creeks for use for hiking, biking, and, not incidentally for flood control, and for major extensions to the Riverwalk, in the Mission Reach and the Museum Reach, as well as for the San Pedro Creek project downtown.

And, Garza says it led to a project most of us don't see, a huge underground tunnel complex which is set up to divert flood waters under the city.

"80% of a flood will go underground," he said.  "It drops 150 feet in three miles underneath the city."

Floods have shaped San Antonio over the last 300 years.  It was a series of devastating floods downtown in the 1920s which led, for example, to the creation of the Riverwalk, as well as Olmos Dam.

And Garza says all of these projects have made it more likely that we all not again deal with the death and damage that we saw in San Antonio twenty years ago this week.

Garza says San Antonio is located right in the center of 'Flash Flood Alley,' something we flirted with last month.

"We did not have the massive flooding that we would formerly have expected from that fifty year storm event."

PHOTO: ONE OF THE CITY'S UNDERGROUND FLOOD TUNNELS UNDER CONSTRUCTION.  COURTESY, SAN ANTONIO TRANSPORTATION AND PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT

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