Under a cloudless Monday morning sky, El Paso Water officials as well as representatives of the El Paso Fire Deparment gathered to talk about floodwaters, safety and new equipment meant to keep the city safe during the monsoon downpours.
With the recently completed $25 million pump station and pipeline located near Texas Avenue and Magnolia Street as a backdrop, El Paso Water officials said the completion of the pump station represents the largest single investment that it has made thus far to alleviate flooding along the interstate during the monsoon season.
The new station will enable stormwater flowing from the central mountain ranges to be captured and transferred down to the river; however officials were quick to remind residents of the dangers of flooding.
“It’s important to get the word out,” said El Paso Water Vice President Alan Shubert, “I can’t stress enough that vigilance is never ending in terms of flooding. No matter what we build as engineers, there’s going to be flooding and it’s going to be dangerous.”
“Moving water can cause a hazard, and if there are barricades in the roadway, they are there for a reason,” said El Paso Fire Department Water Rescue Captain Kristian Menendez. “Be very careful with the water. No matter what level it is, if it’s moving it can be dangerous—whether its two-inches or 12-inches, it provides a hazard.”
Menendez said that six-inches of moving water can knock a person off their feet. It only takes 12-inches of moving water to stall or move a vehicle.
From 2005 to 2014, there was an annual average of 3,536 fatal, unintentional drownings in the United States. With the annual summer rains, El Paso is too often faced with fatal and near-drowning incidents across the county. Since 2013, El Paso fire officials have responded to more than 30 drowning and near-drowning incidents.
Fire department spokesman Carlos Briano said that six drownings occurred in 2016—four of them were at canals.
A recent drowning involved a 15-year old who attempted to save his 12-year-old friend who had fallen into a canal at Fabens on July 1.
“Unfortunately, every year the El Paso Fire Department has to respond to water rescues and recoveries in flooded streets, arroyos, and canals,” Briano said. “These are not safe places. The public needs to remember that it only takes a few inches of water to overpower a person or vehicle.”
Santa Teresa National Weather Service meteorologist David Hefner said it only takes six inches of water to disrupt a vehicle. He said weather officials recommend that people and motorists avoid running water altogether.
“You generally want to stay away from any running water. It causes two problems— the physical force behind it is often times is too overwhelming for pedestrians and motor vehicles,” Hefner said. “Running water can also cause damage to the roadway or walkway. What looks like shallow water might be deeper due to erosion”
Because of the dangers surrounding floods, El Paso Water has launched the “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” campaign that consists of billboards, radio public service announcements and social media outreach through September. The campaign highlights these messages to keep El Paso residents safe during the monsoon season.
Flash Floods Can Kill in a Flash
- Don’t drive on a flooded street. A few inches of rain can stall a car, and rapidly rising floodwater can sweep it away. Slow-moving water can become raging torrents. Even shallow water can be powerful.
- Avoid streets where curbs are nearly submerged and barely visible.
- Don’t drive around barricades; they’re there to protect you.
- Don’t walk through a flooded area. Just six inches of water can knock you down.
- Do not allow children to play in or around arroyos, drains, irrigation ditches, stormwater pipes or canals! An upstream storm can send a wall of water crashing through arroyos, channels and canals, even if local conditions are sunny and dry. Fast-moving water from a brief storm can fill a drain, ditch or ponding area within seconds.
- Be cautious at night when it’s difficult to see flooded areas.
- Be prepared – Stay tuned for radio weather updates on the latest statements, watches and warnings concerning heavy rain and flash flooding in our area.
- Never attempt a rescue; you may become the next victim.
Storm Drains Can Be Deadly
- Stay away from stormwater facilities: People can become trapped, injured or even drown in stormwater facilities, and calls for help might not be heard. Storm drains can contain broken glass, dangerous chemicals, snakes, rats or other animals. Stormwater pipes can be wet and slippery. They can contain steep inclines, deep pits and grates.
The Magnolia Pump Station is one of the largest improvements to the Central Stormwater System. The other additions include the Gateway West Pond, which was completed in May, and the Gateway East Pond scheduled for completion this fall. The pump station and two ponds are located in Central El Paso along Interstate 10.