RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas (KVEO) — After months with very little rainfall, one might believe a drought is here to stay, but eventually the summer rains will return and we will be quickly reminded of the ever-going flash flooding issue in the Rio Grande Valley.
Some residents in the RGV are still dealing with the impacts of the 2018 and 2019 floods and Hurricane Hanna this past summer and many are asking themselves when they might see water rushing into their homes again.
“Our hearts hurt every time somebody’s home gets water in it, because it’s an awful feeling of desperation to see that water come up into your property,” said Roy Rodgriguez, McAllen City Manager.
Dr. Jungseok Ho is an associate professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and is studying inland rain here in the RGV. He blames the flooding on two main reasons: the geography of the area and the explosive population growth.
“This area is flat, then you try to deliver all the stormwater through several major drainage channels to the Laguna Madre. so, this kind of system, geometric system, is prone to flood,” said Dr. Ho.
Hildago County Drainage District General Manager Raul Sesin calls this a challenge that they must overcome.
“The drop here in the west our county, to put it into perspective, to Edinburg is about 300 feet, almost a football field, then as you go east from Edinburg to the Laguna Madre, which is our ultimate outfall, it’s about 80 feet,” said Sesin. “Water comes from the west; it moves a little bit fast then slows down through the Edinburg area as it makes its way east.”
The major drainage channels use gravity to move the water towards the Gulf of Mexico, but Dr. Ho says they are outdated and were originally designed for agricultural use. Mr. Sesin says this infrastructure is currently being upgraded.
“That kind of drainage channel is way below our expectations now,” said Dr. Ho. “Trying to expand the drainage channel and to make another infrastructure, like stormwater detention, but those are pricy to follow the skewing of the population.”
As part of his research, Dr. Ho and his team are developing a rainfall and storm surge flood model.
This type of model can help local municipalities better address trouble spots in our infrastructure.
Dr. Ho says using that model our current drainage for a 50-year rain event will still cause major issues across the RGV.
McAllen City Manager Roy Rodgriguez agrees.
“We are in trouble,” said Rodriguez. “A 50-year event is a lot of water and we have only done about 20% of our projects. That’s why we got to 38 projects this year, that is very, very aggressive for any community especially for a city our size. We want to make a big dent on these projects this year…after this, we will be passed the 50% mark of improvements and we will be in a lot better shape.”
McAllen is not the only city working on the flooding issue.
Harlingen Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez says they are spending millions on projects to address flooding.
Mr. Sanchez says they are seeing these improvement projects work; an example he gave was the 13th street drainage ditch, the area impacted by the 2018 and 2019 floods.
“The rains that we had in 2020 weren’t as significant as we had in 2018 and 2019… Hurricane Hanna, we didn’t see flooding in those homes last year,” said Sanchez. “We were able to see the benefit and obviously the adjacent to the canals saw the benefits of this drainage ditch being improved.”
The city of Harlingen is also working with Cameron County, Hidalgo County, and 11 other municipalities including Mercedes, La Feria, and San Benito, to study how regional watershed changes can be made in conjunction to limit future flooding.
“It’s well known what happens in Mercedes, can impact those downstream,” said Sanchez. “You cannot just open the flood gates in Mercedes and not expect to, for example, Harlingen to have an impact; and vice versa, Harlingen cannot do something here that is going to back up the water on the Arroyo because eventually, it might impact La Feria, Mercedes, and other towns upstream.”
Mr. Sanchez says that work on the study will begin in March and take approximately 18 months to complete.
While these projects are not overnight fixes, there is something that can be done by residents right now to improve drainage in your area. that is to stop dumping into the drainage canals.
“All of our precincts and cities work very hard to eliminate the trash that stops some of those flows, and you would be surprised on what some of the items that are stuck inside some of these canals, that people dump. we have to start policing ourselves as well,” said Tom Hushen, Cameron County Emergency Manager.
Mr. Hushen added that illegal dumping not only backs up existing drainage, it also prevents them from addressing the overall stormwater drainage issue.