Fort Worth

Flash flooding aftermath: Why Fort Worth can’t fix its major stormwater problems

The weekend flash flooding that led to three deaths once again threw a spotlight on the backlog of stormwater projects in the city.

While the death of a mother and child who drowned in high water in a culvert at Loop 820 and Wilbarger Street occurred at a place that had no known history of flooding, officials said other areas in the historic city center were known to have problems with high water. Officials say preliminary data indicates Saturday’s downpour was a 50- to 100-year flood in that spot.

Officials said the other drowning death on South Cravens Road occurred in an area where water topping the road had been known to occur but nothing to the extent of the flooding seen on Saturday.

All told, the Fort Worth Fire Department responded to 380 incidents in a 24-hour period between Friday and Saturday with 40 of those calls being high-water rescues.

Flooding was also seen in other Fort Worth neighborhoods such as Linwood, West 7th, Arlington Heights and the Magnolia area. That was no surprise to city officials.

Greg Simmons, manager of the stormwater management program, said Monday that it would cost “tens of millions dollars” to deal with the city’s aging drainage system in the heart of the city.

Each year, the city has $10 million to deal with stormwater issues. The goal, Simmons said, is to keep the system running as efficiently as possible and partner wherever possible to improve the situation.

During a report to the City Council last year, Simmons said fixing the single-worst flooding issue in each of the eight council districts alone would add up to $170 million.

The city said last year that fixing the flooding problems in Arlington Heights would run $25 million to $35 million for a band-aid solution and $80 million to build an extensive pipeline system to funnel water to the Trinity River.

During Saturday’s flash flooding, Fort Worth firefighters said they had reports that Jessica Romero and her 2-year-old daughter Llaylanni were submerged in floodwaters within two to three minutes.

When firefighters arrived, the car was submerged in 20 to 30 feet of water, they said.

The challenge of stopping drivers from driving into water continues to be a challenge for officials.

While the “turn around, don’t drown” campaign reaches some people in the community, others tend to ignore that message, said Tom Bradshaw, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service Fort Worth office.

The Interstate 35 corridor from Oklahoma City all the way to San Antonio and the HIll Country is highly susceptible to flash flooding.

Still, it’s been nearly three years since the last flash flooding death in Tarrant County. That occurred when a person tried to drive through floodwaters in southern Tarrant County on Nov. 27, 2015.

While warnings are pushed out on social media and through radio and television, reaching drivers in cars can be a problem.

There’s also the problem of pinpointing flash flooding in time to warn drivers away from a specific location.

“It can be fine on one block and not on the next,” Bradshaw said. “Most of the time you may be able to drive through water but one time out of 10 it can cost you your life. We need to get that message across to people.”

Some people may get notifications on their cellphones of flash flooding but the technology isn’t there yet to warn them off a specific location.

“We are a long ways from there but that is the Holy Grail,” Bradshaw said.

This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @ fwhanna
Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796; @gdickson
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