Federal experts tour central drainage system

Federal experts tour central drainage system
Posted on 09/02/2021
Stormwater tour being given to staff of the U.S. Corps of Engineers

On a hot and humid day in early September, El Paso Water staff led representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) on a tour of several ponds and dams in Central El Paso. The tour kicks off a $3 million, 3-year feasibility study of the Cebada watershed that the Corps will complete to determine how to reduce the flood risk in the area.

“We are looking at the comprehensive problem in this part of the city with runoff coming from the Franklins,” said Mark Doles, Chief Plan Formulation with Corps. “Part of that is looking at the infrastructure that is already existing - how does it function, how does it perform and at what point is there a gap where we can improve on that or add to it?”

The Project for Flood Damage Reduction Feasibility Study was one of only eight new studies selected nationwide to receive funding under a highly competitive program that can lead to project funding. The study will run models on flooding dynamics in the Central watershed and audit the Central drainage system to evaluate alternative solutions. In the end, the Corps will produce a Chief’s Report of findings and recommendations for congressional consideration.

“What is fantastic about this program is there’s an opportunity for the Corps to potentially fund 65% of the design and construction costs of needed flood control projects based on the outcome and recommendations of the study,” said EPWater President and CEO John Balliew. “That could mean millions of federal dollars in flood control investment here in El Paso.”

Central El Paso has been hit hard this monsoon season with record rainfalls in localized areas. One area received 3.2 inches in less than an hour on August 12.

“El Paso only gets 8 to 9 inches of rain in a year, and they got a third of that or more in an hour in this neighborhood,” said Jason Laney, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “This is equivalent to a 230-year storm, and there is no infrastructure that can hold up to that.”

The Corps toured existing stormwater infrastructure but also heard about future projects in central El Paso that are identified in the Stormwater Master Plan.

“We’ve partnered with the City of El Paso for decades now, and we have built systems to the north of this watershed, to the southeast and southwest of the Franklins, said Doles. “So Central El Paso is one of the remaining areas that have not been addressed on the federal side.”

The current stormwater fee for the typical residential customer is $4.51/month. This is lower than the initial fee of $4.75/month when the utility was created in 2008. Due to strong community pushback, the fee was lowered, and has only been raised slightly over the years.

“Partnerships with entities like the Corps are crucial to keeping stormwater fees affordable for El Paso Water customers,” said Balliew. “We have completed $216 million in projects in the stormwater master plan, with over at least $450 million remaining. If we wanted to complete all the projects in the master plan over the next 10 years it would require a 240% increase in fees. We know that’s not realistic for our customers.”  

Once the study is completed and submitted to Congress, it could 2-3 years before funding is available to El Paso Water for improvements.

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