EPWater takes emergency action

EPWater takes emergency action
Posted on 07/12/2021
Alan Shubert speaks about stormwater safety along with El Paso Fire Department, the Drowning Prevention Coalition, and the National Weather Service partners..

There’s no doubt about it -- monsoon season is officially upon us. Beginning on June 27, a series of heavy rainstorms blanketed the borderland for several days, putting much of the city’s stormwater infrastructure to the test.

El Paso Water hosted reporters on July 8 to provide an update on the utility’s response to the storms, and we joined with partners to urge stormwater safety. Partners included El Paso Fire Department, the Drowning Prevention Coalition, and the National Weather Service.

“The entire region has taken a big hit as a result of the rain events of last week,” said Alan Shubert, EPWater’s Vice President of Engineering, Operations and Technical Services. “We are working as fast as possible to add additional manpower and resources to help make emergency repairs to our hardest hit areas.”

At its next regular meeting on July 14, the Public Service Board will be asked to formally approve an emergency resolution that allows the utility to fast-track repairs to areas like Sam Snead in East El Paso and the Ojo de Agua Channel in West El Paso.

El Paso typically receives about nine inches of rain per year. Recent rain events toward the end of June 2021 brought more than half of our annual rainfall in less than a week.

“El Paso’s monsoon season timeframe is defined as June 15 through the end of September, and some areas have already exceeded the average rainfall for the monsoon season this year,” said Anthony Brown of the National Weather Service.

What worked

Construction at Sam SneadIn 2008, the City of El Paso established the stormwater utility and placed it under the control of EPWater to oversee operations, maintenance, and capital improvements. In the 13 years since the stormwater utility was created, EPWater completed more than 35 major stormwater projects and dozens of localized flooding projects throughout the city, adding more than 100 million gallons of stormwater capacity.

“The stormwater projects we’ve completed in the areas of West, Northeast, and Central El Paso have worked,” said Shubert. “However, we are only a few hundred million dollars into a billion-dollar problem, and we are prioritizing these projects based on cost and public impact.”

The Gateway Ponds project consists of two ponds on the east and west sides of I-10 between Piedras and Copia exits, connected by a 5 ft diameter pipe, as well as a new pump station and force main. This project significantly reduces flooding on the busy interstate and in the surrounding community.

The Silver Springs Dam project in West El Paso was completed earlier this year. A new sediment basin and box culverts were built to slow rushing stormwater and capture debris. In recent rain events, the dam held mountain runoff and diverted it into channels, preventing significant flooding along Silver Springs Drive and downstream to Sunland Park.

Along Fairbanks Road in Northeast El Paso, an area notoriously known for dangerous runoff from the Franklin Mountains, an underground conduit was constructed along with a three-chamber sediment catch basin. The new infrastructure decreases the speed of rushing stormwater, allowing sediment to drop to the ground, keeping it off neighboring streets and improving public safety.

Turn Around Don’t Drown

Shubert along with Captain Kris Menendez of the El Paso Fire Department and Wayne Thornton of the Drowning Prevention Coalition encouraged the public to avoid flood waters and remember to “Turn Around Don’t Drown.”

“Flooding is the second leading cause of weather-related deaths behind extreme heat,” said Thornton. “Tragically, Texas has already seen 30 child drownings this year, including two in El Paso.”

Drivers should never underestimate the weather or drive through standing water. Capitan Menendez says most drowning deaths due to flash flooding are preventable.

“A mere six inches of fast-moving flood water can knock over an adult,” said Menendez. “It takes just 12 inches of rushing water to carry away most cars and just two feet of rushing water can carry away SUVs and trucks. It is NEVER safe to drive or walk into flood waters.”

EPWater urges everyone to keep these tips in mind during monsoon season:

  • Be aware of changing weather conditions.
  • Fast-moving water can fill streets within seconds.
  • An upstream storm can send water crashing through arroyos and canals even when local conditions are sunny and dry.
  • Do NOT hike or walk-through flooded channels or arroyos.
  • Water continues to flow from the mountain after storms pass through the neighborhood.
  • Know where children are; keep them away from stormwater canals, ponds, and channels.
  • Never attempt a rescue; you might become the next victim.

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