Stormwater project stands up to the test

Stormwater project stands up to the test
Posted on 08/17/2021
Stormwater project stands up to the test

Recent storms have tested parts of El Paso’s stormwater system, revealing both improvements still needed and the effectiveness of completed projects that worked to reduce flooding and increase public safety.

“Everything we have built has worked very well,” said Shubert. “What has not been built does not work,” said Alan Shubert, Vice President of Operations and Technical Services.

The Silver Springs Arroyo Dam was completed in 2020 to reduce flooding along Silver Springs Drive and nearby on North Mesa Street in west El Paso. It is an area that was hit hard by the destructive storms in 2006 and later declared a Federal Disaster Area.

The intense storms and the lack of a sediment basin in the Silver Springs Arroyo resulted in large amounts of debris and stormwater that traveled downstream at a high rate of speed, damaging public and private property.

Building a solution

 The dam was designed to a 100-year flood standard to slow down the flow of stormwater and discharge at a controlled rate into the existing Silver Springs Channel. To capture the stormwater and debris coming off the mountain, EPWater invested $2.3 million to construct an earthen dam, box culverts, stilling basin and emergency spillway at the Silver Springs arroyo.

“Flooding is one of those things that Mother Nature unleashes on somewhat of a random basis,” said Shubert.

Silver Springs Arroyo DamThe Silver Springs project was put to the test in late June when El Paso experienced a series of heavy rain events to kick off the monsoon season. The dam collected boulders and debris that would have otherwise ended up on residential and busy streets, potentially creating dangerous driving conditions.

Silver Springs is one of a handful of major city projects that – when combined – add up to 100 million gallons of additional stormwater capacity.  EPWater has built stormwater ponds, pump stations and channels in the Northeast, East, Central and West parts of El Paso.

“Much of the City’s stormwater infrastructure is hidden from view, so the public does not necessarily know of or see our stormwater drainage systems,” said Shubert.

Making progress

 Silver Springs DamWhen EPWater took over the newly created stormwater utility in 2008, more than $650 million in capital projects were identified to decrease the flood risk citywide. To date, an estimated $220 million has been invested to complete these projects. Before 2008, there was no dedicated source of funding for stormwater improvements. The monthly stormwater fee paid by residential and commercial customers goes toward building new projects and supports ongoing maintenance of the system.

“It is a balancing act between keeping stormwater fees affordable for our customers and what and how much we can build,” said Shubert.

Shubert adds that to complete the hundreds of stormwater projects identified in the master plan within the next ten years, the utility would have to increase stormwater fees by about 240 percent. Instead, EPWater has opted to spread stormwater investments over a longer period of time and to actively pursue federal and state funding.

“Instead of socking our customers with higher fees, we prioritize stormwater improvement projects that deliver the most benefit for the cost to improve public safety” said Shubert.

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