EPWater in high gear on stormwater improvements

EPWater in high gear on stormwater improvements
Posted on 02/21/2022
Ojo de Agua channel after rain event

Under January’s approved stormwater budget, EPWater announced it would accelerate planned projects and implement the full master plan within 10 years. New federal and state funding announced last week will help the utility to manage costs and move soon on some of the needed infrastructure improvements.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it will fund $7 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for two El Paso stormwater projects. About $3 million will go toward the Clardy Fox Pump Station in the Lower Valley, and $4 million will go toward the Northgate Diversion Channel in the Northeast. The funding represents 75% of the total cost, and the utility will provide a 25% match.

The Texas Water Development Board also announced Flood Infrastructure Fund assistance to the Will Ruth Pond project, a long-awaited project located in Northeast El Paso. The utility will receive $5.1 million in grant funding and additional low-interest financing to begin construction later this year.

The 93-million-gallon pond will collect stormwater from Dyer Street and the surrounding area and prevent it from flowing into nearby neighborhoods. With better flood control, hundreds of homes near Will Ruth Pond will be mapped out of the floodplain, which could save many homeowners from having to pay for flood insurance.

Progress on Repairs from the 2021 Monsoon

Ojo de Agua after repairsWhen storms hit the Borderland with record-breaking rain in summer 2021, El Paso Water moved to fast-track stormwater system repairs, and the Public Service Board acted quickly to pass an emergency declaration that allowed EPWater to hire additional contractors.

The utility documented 65 locations citywide where channels, ponds and drains were damaged or blocked with debris and rocks.

Two channels critical to the West side stormwater system took a particularly hard hit. The Ojo de Agua and the High Ridge channels are essential for diverting stormwater runoff from the Franklin Mountains. Both concrete channels and surrounding rock walls sustained significant damage.

“We knew we needed to act fast because monsoon season was still ongoing,” Stormwater Engineer Rafael Velazquez said. “But the emergency declaration really saved us a lot of time.”

The reconstruction on both channels wrapped up in January, sporting fresh and thicker concrete for renewed strength.

Roughly 29 smaller stormwater projects throughout El Paso have been completed since the emergency declaration was approved.

Preparing for the next big storm

Improvements to stormwater infrastructure also are underway in Central El Paso.

In August, the area recorded a record 3.2 inches of rain in one hour, classifying it as a 230-year storm, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. In 2006, the same area received 1.5 inches of rain in one hour, falling into the category of a 100-year storm.

“Since the inception of the Stormwater Utility, most of our structures are built to a 100-year standard; however, older structures and dams in the Central watershed were simply overwhelmed due to previous design standards,” said Gisela Dagnino, Engineering Division Manager for Stormwater.

Crews are adding more capacity at the Morehead Dam, burrowed along the mountainside behind Morehead Avenue. During the August storms, rushing waters carried rocks and dirt downstream to the heavily trafficked Alabama Avenue.

Farther north at the Memphis Dam, crews are strengthening slopes to withstand high-velocity rushing waters, erosion and ultimately reduce future damage.  

Investments in planning and future infrastructure

To offset the massive costs of new stormwater projects, EPWater continuously pursues funding alternatives and partnerships to minimize the impact to customers.

In September, the utility and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly announced a $3 million, 3-year feasibility study of the Central Cebada watershed. The study will run models on flooding dynamics in the Central watershed and audit the Central drainage system to look at sufficiency of existing dams and evaluate solutions.  Based on the results, there’s an opportunity for the Corps to potentially fund a portion of the cost of design and construction for projects from the study.  

“The Corps of Engineers has been a great partner with us,” said Government Affairs Manager Hector Gonzalez. “We have collaborated in the past on water and wastewater projects, but with their expertise and our needs, we have shifted our funding focus to flood control infrastructure needs here in El Paso.”

Find this story and more in the Engineers Week Supplement.

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