Austin, TX Dam Break and Flood, Apr 1900

Ruin of the Austin Dam. - After an unusual downpour of rain, a section of the Austin dam (April 7, 1900) suddenly gave way; the waters of the Colorado poured in terrific torrents over the valley, causing some loss of life and great loss of property. Austin lost not only the million dollars spent in building the dam, but also her pleasure resort, beautiful lake Macdonald.

Mrs. Anna J. Hardwicke Pennybacker, A History of Texas For Schools: Also For General Reading and For Teachers Preparing Themselves For Examination, Revised Edition (Austin, Texas: Mrs. Percy V. Penny Backer, Publisher, 1924)


[In] 1893.... Austin Dam was completed just northwest of town.In 1895 dam-generated electricity began powering the four-year-old electric streetcar line and the city's new water and light systems. The dammed river formed a lake that became known as "Lake McDonald," for John McDonald, the mayor who had whipped up support for the project—attracted new residents and developers, while the waters of the lake itself drew those seeking respite from the Texas heat....

However, structurally the dam was likely doomed from the start, as it was constructed on the spot where the Balcones Fault passes under the river. Silt had filled nearly half the lake by February 1900, and the dam's design failed to accommodate the force that could be created by a large volume of water. However, the flow of the Colorado proved to be far more variable than the project's promoters had claimed, and the dam was never able to produce the kind of steady power needed to drive a bank of mills. The manufacturers never came, periodic power shortfalls disrupted city services, Lake McDonald silted up, and, on April 7, 1900, the Austin Dam was dealt its final blow after a spring storm. At 11:20 am, floodwaters crested at 11 feet atop the dam before it disintegrated, with two 250-foot sections – almost half the dam – breaking away. In all, the flood drowned 18 people and destroyed 100 houses in Austin, at a total estimated loss of $1.4 million, in 1900 dollars. -,_Texas