HIDALGO COUNTY, Texas (KVEO) — Gaps in the levee in Hidalgo County are getting a lot of attention from officials in the county. Before the Department of Homeland Security agreed to repair the damage caused by the border wall construction, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said the county would go forward and repair the levee itself.
On May 4, Cortez was joined by Hidalgo County District Three Commissioner Everardo ‘Ever’ Villarreal and Representative Henry Cuellar to give an update on the situation.
The press conference was held in front of the hole in the levee. The gap is wide enough to drive two semi-trucks through, and the potential danger that presents was cause for great concern.
Hundreds of thousands of families are at risk if floodwaters breech the holes in the levees in Hidalgo County.
“A lot of families that could be impacted,” said Villarreal. “The Army Corps of Engineers let us know that it was about 250,000 families that could possibly be impacted in case we have a catastrophic event.”
With hurricane season rapidly approaching, and reports showing that it could be a more active year than usual, there is a great desire to get the levee repaired as quickly as possible.
“If [hurricane season] happens right now, as you can see with this complete breach of the levee, it would have devastating effects on our area,” said Villarreal.
Construction crews were sent away when President Joe Biden paused border wall construction in January, but they’ve since returned.
Several state and federal agencies have a stake in the earthen levees that protect the Rio Grande Valley from flooding, and Rep. Cuellar said it had been a slow process figuring out what would happen with the levees as a result.
Judge Cortez was just happy to see crews working again.
“Today, they started to mobilize everything back. They have been reengaged, all of the contractors have been re-engaged so they have all of their equipment back,” he said.
Contractors will be filling in large breaches in the levee, as well as strengthening any other weak points along the barrier.
Filling in the big gaps won’t take too long, officials all agreed it would be a matter of a few weeks, but strengthening the weakened portions would be another matter altogether.
“Part of the problem is they shaved off –let’s say a third of it– so there’s a third missing. So there’s still a levee, but it’s not as strong as it was before,” said Cortez.
When asked how far a potential flood could get, Judge Cortez said it would depend on the severity of the storm. Any flooding that did happen as a result of a storm would head east, toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Water could potentially reach McAllen, and a severe storm could cause it to go even further.
Villarreal told KVEO that there is an emergency plan in place in case a tropical storm or hurricane takes place before the levee is fully repaired.
Plans that were not possible when the contractors were gone, “but now that they’re here to stay while they finish our levees, those plans are back in motion,” he said.
Repairing the levees back to their full strength could take up until September, but the fact that work is now beginning means all the officials were breathing a little easier.
“You don’t understand the sigh of relief that I had today now that our contractors have started working,” said Villarreal.