Experts say the devastated university town’s flood warning system isn’t properly connected

UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. — Dozens of homes remain flat in University City after July’s flash flooding.

The city is dealing with tens of millions of dollars in damage, including city vehicles that could have been moved. Now we’re learning about a potential vulnerability in the city’s early warning system.

The flash floods hit areas in University City that had never been flooded before. It resulted in about 50 rescues and a whole fleet of city vehicles before most people woke up.

Entire house contents lined the streets of the college town until September because the town lost all of its garbage trucks to flooding.

An ambulance is one of about 20 vehicles that will no longer drive, including police cars, which have now also been destroyed as they awaited – immobile – an insurance adjuster.

“What’s shocking is the repetition of these things…how frequently they occur,” said Bob Criss, a geologist and Washington University professor emeritus.

“That was maybe a 50-year flood,” he said.

Criss volunteers with retired engineer Eric Stein as the stormwater commissioner appointed by the college town to make a difference.

“We have many citizens who have trouble sleeping at night when a storm comes,” Stein said.

They say newly installed and strategically placed rain gauges have provided accurate warnings.

“This warning is dialed right into the Des Peres River, and if you get one of these, it means you’d better move your car,” Stein said.

But they say the computerized rain gauges aren’t linked to an emergency notification system that sends out alerts like Amber Alert.

“It’s kind of frustrating,” Stein said.

“We have the ability to issue real alerts through this system,” Criss said.

The City Council will take action that Commissioners Criss and Stein plan to share next week.

“I’ll describe that, our system, a little bit on Monday and I’ll make several recommendations to the mayor and city council,” Criss said.

University City declined to be interviewed, opting to send out a written statement that said, in part, “The mayor and council are pursuing construction of a catchment basin that will help mitigate some of the flooding in University City as well as in the Communities to mitigate downstream from the university town. Rainwater management is a regional concern where the mayor and council are taking the lead.”

Stein and Criss say they need to act fast.

“If you’re in this current, you’re gone,” Criss said.

Both stormwater officers, along with another colleague, recently wrote a report on the flash flood, which can be found in the report below.

2022 UCity Flash Flooding Report from Kevin Sean Held on Scribd

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Sarah Y. Kim

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