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When the US Army Corps of Engineers examined Mustang Creek along the eastern edge of Cotulla in 1976, the map it produced showed scores of homes lying directly in the path of a potentially devastating deluge.
Homeowners have since had to tell their insurance companies that their properties are in the city’s flood zone.
Many of them have never been inundated. Only those perched in the Mustang Creek channel itself have suffered damage.
The 100-year flood that was to have washed through so many residences on the corps’ map hasn’t done so.
Although it has been only 46 years since the map was drawn, Cotulla city officials hope this year to revise the flood plain outline, making it far smaller than the broad swath that blots the eastern and northeastern portions of town.
City Hall acknowledges that properties no longer listed as potentially flooding will be more attractive to developers. The water channel passes close to areas of hitherto undeveloped land now within reach of newly paved roads and extended utility lines.
In a brief presentation to city councilors on a return visit Thursday, May 12, researchers Stacy Barna and Ellyn Weimer said they believe hydrology studies and creek clearing will support a flood plain map more realistic to Cotulla’s actual position, and more than five hundred privately owned properties can be removed from the list of endangered homes.
“The 1976 study made the flood plain too wide,” Weimer told councilors. “It included too many homes that did not need to be listed in the flood plain.”
Mustang Creek represents over eighteen square miles in the city’s hundred-year-flood plan, Weimer added, and calculates a serious deluge at 1,800 cubic feet of water per second traveling between low-lying agricultural land to the north and northwest of Cotulla and the Nueces River to the south.
The Nueces River is measured at carrying as much as 40,000 cubic feet of water per second.
Weimer said her study had included the Mustang Creek channel and a number of bridges, culverts and low-water crossings, some of which City Administrator Larry Dovalina described as dangerous.
An examination of the Nueces River channel, Weimer told councilors, had been beset by access difficulties.
“Based on the information we gathered, we can delineate a flood plain whose extent is reduced,” Weimer said, adding that the study she has conducted applies only to areas inside city limits but will be submitted to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“There were seven hundred and sixty-three properties in your flood plain,” Weimer said. “Now, there are only two hundred and ten.”
City Hall has acknowledged that twelve properties have been added to the flood plain and are now included on the list because of Cotulla’s annexations over the past four and a half decades, which have stretched city limits into areas through which Mustang Creek water may flow in the event of a serious flood.
Countywide, Weimer said, 342 properties lie in the Mustang Creek flood plain, although most are agricultural and do not include family homes that may be inundated.
“We are going to change the map by the corps of engineers from back in 1976,” Dovalina told councilors before they took a vote on the alteration that affects hundreds of local residents. “The map showed flooding as far as Hall Street… the water is never going to get to Hall Street.
“You plan to do things to the creek to make the water flow faster,” the city administrator reminded councilors. “You are going to create a pilot channel down the center of Mustang Creek.”
Dovalina pointed to two sites that he said are of concern to City Hall and whose potential safety issues must be addressed in future council action. A creek bridge on Dobie Road and a low crossing near Martinez Park, he said, are “bad for the community because people can drown.”
The revised plan for Cotulla’s flood plain has been submitted to FEMA this month and to the Nueces River regional planning group, an organization that oversees flood plain, hydrology and supply issues for the waterway between Uvalde and Corpus Christi.
Dovalina is a member of the regional board.
“This improves our chances to get funding to improve the creek,” the city administrator said.
In related news, the city’s streets and parks department reported at the same meeting that its crew members had pulled more than a hundred abandoned vehicle tires out of the creek. The clean-up effort has been part of a long-running project by the city to void the creek channel of obstructions such as trash, overgrown brush, tree limbs, and even illegally placed fences that may prevent fast drainage to the Nueces in the event of heavy flooding.
In anticipation of the channel clearance, Cotulla has snapped up pieces of land that lie directly in the path of the creek flow.
“We have been waiting a long time to revise this map,” Mayor Javier Garcia said. “We are planning to apply for funding, and we are almost there. We have also worked on acquiring properties, and when we are done with that, we can move forward.”
The motion to approve the revised map was made by Councilor Eloy Zertuche, seconded by Councilor Gilbert Ayala and supported by Councilor Reynaldo Garcia. Councilors Alejandro Garcia Jr. and Manuel Rodriguez were not present on May 12.