Federal, county and city government officials were on hand Wednesday morning at Legion Park in Austell to introduce new technology that will warn residents of impending floods. The area around the park, which sits on Sweetwater Creek, was among the hardest hit when 20 inches of rain fell in 24 hours in 2009.
“That’s more than half the rain we might receive in a typical year,” said Robert Mason, acting chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Office of Surface Water. “This area here was under 20 feet of water.”
Mason was on hand to roll out a Web-based flood inundation map, the first of its kind in a major urban area in the Southeast. Residents can access the map on at ga.water.usgs.gov/FIM
/Sweetwater to find where the threat of flooding is greatest. It will also allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local agencies to make decisions about where to evacuate residents and block roads.
The website also allows users to check out Sweetwater Creek using a live webcam and see projections of how many people could be displaced and how much damage could be caused by flooding.
U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Atlanta) said the program will give officials immediate knowledge of where a flood’s greatest impact will be.
“Yes, we lost 10 lives. Yes, we lost $250 million in property damage and loss,” Scott said. “But that will never happen again because of this innovation.”
Cobb Chairman Tim Lee said the program was made possible by partnerships between the county and the federal government and the city of Austell. He emphasized the importance of making sure people know about the service.
“It’s one thing to have the technology,” Lee said. “It’s another thing to make sure our citizens know how to use it.”
While he said 46-mile Sweetwater Creek, which brings in water from Paulding County and delivers it into the Chattahoochee River in Douglas County, has the most critical needs for flood warnings in Cobb County, Cobb Water System Stormwater Division manager Bill Higgins said other areas that could benefit from the computer system include Nickajack Creek at Veterans Memorial Parkway, Sope Creek near the Chattahoochee River and Noonday Creek at Shallowford Road or Chastain Meadows Parkway.
“There’s a lot of really intense development up there,” Higgins said. “God forbid we have another event like this.”
Scott said the federal government is looking for funds for more programs like the one along Sweetwater Creek.
“We look to where there is the greatest need,” he said. “When there is a need, we identify it and get the funds to it.”
A light post at Legion Park features a red high-water mark more than 23 feet off the ground, showing how high the flood waters reached in September 2009. Another landmark to the floods in the park is the former Austell Senior Center, which was closed after being flooded for the second time in four years and replaced with one further north on Austell Powder Springs Road in Clarkdale Park. Austell Mayor Joe Jerkins said the city will eventually take over the senior center building from the county to use it for youth baseball activities in the park.
Jerkins told the audience of about 50 people, which included northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham, that the city will be served well by the new website.
“We don’t know when that will happen again — it may not never — but this is really something that is good to have here,” he said.