Atlas 14 is a study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the first of its kind since 1961. Using updated rainfall intensity data, NOAA has redefined critical storm events.
The Commissioners Court adopted these new updated standards in April, even though it will likely take years for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to update its flood insurance rate maps to align with the results of the study.
“It is roundly supported an we all recognize that this is an exception that serves the goal of our voting on Atlas 14 even though it’s an exception to Atlas 14,” County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said.
In May and October of 2015, Travis County experienced floods that were declared Presidential Disaster Areas. As a result of that declaration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided funds to be distributed to affected areas to facilitate long-term recovery.
In August of 2018, the Commissioners Court approved an application for this federal funding to support the drainage improvement project on Crystal Bend Drive. However, the proposed project does not meet the recently adopted Atlas 14 criteria.
“We have been directed by the [Texas General Land Office, which is in charge of disbursing those federal funds] that if we move forward with revising the design criteria thus revising the scope, budget and timeline of the project, the project would most likely not be approved moving forward,” county staff wrote in a brief.
Public Works Director Morgan Cotten said it would cost the county an additional $500,000 to update the project to meet Atlas 14 standards, in addition to likely losing out on the federal funding that has been allocated.
Commissioner Jeff Travilion, whose precinct includes Pflugerville, said without the variance the county will lose out on safety improvements enabled by the drainage project as well as federal financing.
“While it will be imperfect—it will not be Atlas 14 [standards]—it will be an improvement,” Travillion said.
Eckhardt made clear that this project qualifies for a variance not only for cost and safety reasons but also because the project was designed and approved prior to the adoption of the new Atlas 14 standards.
“I just want to be super clean about the record that we’re making here because, understandably, private development will come in to ask for variances for similar reasons,” she said. “And so I want to make sure that we have a level playing field.”