“I love stormwater because it’s very dynamic,” said Dagnino. “Many people think a pond project is just a hole in the ground, but our work is extensive and ultimately provides protection to our community.” | Photo courtesy EPWater
Stormwater Division Manager Gisela Dagnino was appointed to the state’s first Regional Flood Planning Group for the Upper Rio Grande Region, a group charged with identifying specific flood risks and strategies to improve public safety and reduce damages caused by flooding.
It has been almost 15 years since the storm of 2006 devastated the borderland, highlighting a city-wide need for robust stormwater improvements and the creation of a stormwater utility operated and maintained by El Paso Water.
“Due to our desert climate, El Paso sees a limited amount of rainfall per year. Yet, because of our unique landscape and proximity to the Franklin mountains, many parts of the city are vulnerable to flash flooding,” EPWater officials share. “This is where Dagnino and her team get to work.”
Dagnino started at EPWater in 2001 and has since climbed the engineering ladder to her current management position.
“I love stormwater because it’s very dynamic,” said Dagnino. “Many people think a pond project is just a hole in the ground, but our work is extensive and ultimately provides protection to our community.”
Dagnino says stormwater improvements are some of the most complex and costly projects for a utility to undertake.
“In El Paso, we sometimes experience a year’s worth of rain in a span of a few days, which can be overwhelming for existing stormwater infrastructure. El Paso Water developed a master plan that identified priority projects and many of them have been completed, improving flood control and public safety across the city,” utility officials said.
The utility plans to invest more stormwater funds for future projects and will continue to pursue grant funding to minimize the impact on our customers.
In 2019, the Texas Legislature created the state’s first-ever regional and state flood planning process administered through the Texas Water Development Board, which will oversee the creation of 15 regional flood plans.
El Paso is designated within the Upper Rio Grande Region-14, the largest of the 15 regions throughout Texas, and home to five major lakes and reservoirs.
Given Dagnino’s expertise in stormwater engineering and knowledge of the region, it was no surprise when Chairman Omar Martinez reached out to Dagnino to encourage her to apply for a position on the regional flood planning group.
“We wanted to bring Gisela on board as a voting member before making key decisions such as selecting technical consultants or finalizing the planning budget,” said Martinez.
Gisela and other voting members have the task of developing the state’s first regional flood plans by January 2023, culminating in the state’s first-ever state flood plan. Dagnino says that EPWater’s role in the planning process is crucial because the utility offers unique subject matter expertise on stormwater and drainage infrastructure. Additionally, critical stormwater projects identified within the regional plans become eligible to receive money from the newly established flood financial assistance fund.
“By directly participating in the planning process, it enables El Paso to understand the process and better compete for project funding from the $1.6 billion that has been dedicated by the state for flood control infrastructure projects,” said Dagnino.
Dagnino’s work is most visible when there’s a downpour. Although El Pasoans likely don’t notice the stormwater system on sunny days, they do take notice when stormwater rapidly clears from local streets… or when it doesn’t. Dagnino says that community voices are important in helping pinpoint stormwater needs.
“The public can act as our eyes in local neighborhoods; they live through these weather events in real-time,” she said. “We need their input and participation as we draft this groundbreaking plan that will impact many of us in the years to come.”
All meetings of the Region 14 Flood Planning Group are open to the public and convene monthly. For more information on the regional flood planning groups and meeting schedules click here.