Waller Creek is more than a historical site. It also has a purpose that helps the city function and stay beautiful. In 1839, Edwin Waller gave the creek its name, while the flood of 1915, and others since, reminded the city of its significance. Now the current disputes about how to deal with the creek and the numerous times it played a role in the community prove that it is still as relevant and important as it first was.
Backstory and Context
“Whole sections of the city were submerged for hours. Houses were washed away, cows, horses, chickens, and other fowls were careening down swelled Shoal and Waller Creeks...This morning Austin presents a pitiable sight."4On the first two days of recovery, 32 individuals were either reported missing or dead. Furthermore, out of those 32 individuals, almost half of them were identified as minorities that resided along Waller Creek; 7 African-Americans, 5 Assyrians, and 3 Latinos. This fact, along with other evidence of the time period, demonstrates that most residents that resided along Waller Creek were minorities or from a low-income background.
As a result of the 1915 flood that occurred in Waller Creek, along with floods that occurred after, the Waller Creek Development Plan was created in 1975 as a way to manage the water level within the creek through flood control systems, land use, and architectural designs. Nonetheless, the city of Austin needed a more innovative approach to the problem that heavy rainfall presented to Waller Creek and the city, especially after Austin’s “Memorial Day Flood” in 1981.4 As a result, the city of Austin and the Waller Creek Conservancy began to look for solutions until they eventually chose the construction of a tunnel that would manage the water level in Waller Creek.
As stated before, the city of Austin approved and financed the creation of a $161 million tunnel with the intention of controlling the flash floods that affect the creek in order to protect lives, structures, and the downtown area. Originally approved by Austin voters in 1998, the construction of a mile-long tunnel from Waterloo Park to Lady Bird Lake began on April 8, 2011. The tunnel works by allowing for the reverse of the creek’s flow in order for the water to be channeled up to Lady Bird Lake. However, inspections indicated that the tunnel faces structural problems originating in its construction that have generated concerns about the future cost, capability, and effectiveness of the tunnel.
In recent years, the tunnel has been found to have structural issues that defeat the purpose of why the tunnel was built. The construction issues lessen the tunnel's ability to do flood control and ultimately shortens the lifespan of the tunnel. The Waller Creek Tunnel was said to have been primarily built wrong, going off the specifications needed for the structure to have its integrity.
While the repair of the damages to the structure is important, it is still unclear what the future will hold for Waller Creek. The repair of the creek will cause a delay to development in the surrounding areas and at the same time cost an estimated amount from $15 million to possibly $45 million. The city has reviewed several options but as of right now it focuses on making the construction company that was hired responsible. A lawsuit was filed this year by the city of Austin against S.J. Construction with demands of $22 million from the company. The lawsuit is still in action and it is predicted a verdict will be announced soon. The investment in solving the flooding problems will bring in economic "flood" brought from the number of visitors to the future river walk.2
There are many proposals that could potentially reinvent the Waller Creek area. A $15 million grant, the largest donation to parks in Austin's history, is for the redevelopment to the area. The construction of the area will begin in 2019, and if the plans carry out as planned, it could potentially become as popular, known, and visited as the San Antonio Riverwalk.1 The main goal with the reconstruction is to showcase the values of Austin and embrace the growth that is to come for the city. By attracting more people to the downtown area, it will bring a new life to the area.
2. Findell, Elizabeth. Waller Creek Tunnel wasn’t built right, won’t function fully, city says. Statesman. Sep. 25, 2018. Oct. 5, 2018. https://www.statesman.com/news/20180309/waller-creek-tunnel-wasnt-built-right-wont-function-fully-city-says.
3. Jones, Joseph. Life on Waller Creek: A Palaver about History as Pure and Applied Education. AAR/Tantalus Incorporation, 1982.
4. “Timeline.” Waller Creek Conservancy, www.wallercreek.org/about/timeline/.