For weeks, EPWater crews have been working to clear out retaining ponds and assisting the City of El Paso Streets and Maintenance Department to remove debris off streets, trying to stay ahead of any storms.
This year’s monsoon season has brought intense rain events that have set records and drawn comparisons to the storm of 2006, and the season is not over yet.
Back on August 12, part of Central El Paso received 3.2 inches of rain in one hour, equating to what the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) classifies as a 230-year storm. The same area in 2006 received 1.5 inches of rain in one hour, falling into the category of a 100-year storm.
“This is a reminder that we can design flood control structures to withstand a certain level of storm, but even these can be overwhelmed by localized downpours,” said John Balliew, El Paso Water President and Chief Executive Officer.
Some of the hardest hit areas were on the east crest of the Franklin Mountains near Fort Boulevard and Alabama Street. Large rocks and debris were carried down from the mountain by runoff and scattered through the streets, damaging property and vehicles.
A series of storms in mid-August resulted in nearly 200 calls from the public about flooding, blockages, overgrown vegetation, and illegal dumping.
Since the stormwater utility was created in 2008, EPWater has built new dams, ponds, channels and pump stations across the city that have helped reduce flooding – especially on I-10 – and have protected private property. However, the utility acknowledges there is much more work to do, particularly in the central watershed area.
“The force of nature can do a considerable amount of damage, especially when stormwater is coming down at a high velocity carrying rocks and debris,” said Balliew. “Some of our concrete channels were badly damaged by this force.”
EPWater has documented 65 locations citywide where channels, ponds and drains were damaged, or blocked with debris and rocks. Much of this infrastructure was put in place long before the stormwater utility was created, and structures were built to flood standards that are far lower than those in place today.
After the severe June storms, the Public Service Board passed an emergency declaration that allowed EPWater to hire additional contractors to repair damaged infrastructure and remove debris blocking hundreds of inlets and culverts.
The stormwater fee of $4.51 paid by customers every month funds the maintenance and operation of the stormwater utility, capital improvement projects and the debt service needed to construct improvements.
The Stormwater Master Plan, approved in 2009, identified more than $650 million in needed projects citywide to reduce flooding. The utility has completed an estimated $222 million in projects to date. The utility has prioritized projects that improve public safety and that take the most properties out of the floodplain.
“If we were to tackle every project over the next ten years, fees would have to increase by 240-percent,” said Balliew. “We know that’s not realistic. It’s always a balancing act to keep the stormwater fee affordable while delivering projects with the most benefit for the cost.”
Click here to watch a KTSM interview with EPWater President and CEO John Balliew on EPWater’s response to the recent storms.