By Omar Martinez
In the arid desert, flooding is misinterpreted as an apocalyptic catastrophe affecting an unlucky generation every few decades. In actuality, it is a widespread problem in the Rio Grande region, especially in El Paso.
You see, El Paso County soil cannot absorb water quickly because of how dry it gets and how compact it is. Stormwater, as a result, is generally free to flow wherever the land takes it, oftentimes reaching into vulnerable communities within the city of El Paso.
As previously agricultural and undeveloped land in El Paso County is replaced by commercial and residential development, growing communities such as Vinton, Anthony, Canutillo, Socorro, San Elizario, Clint, Fabens and Tornillo could also face increased flood risks.
In 2021, El Paso saw its wettest summer monsoon, with 9.76 inches of rain. Our larger region does not have the infrastructure to adequately prevent flooding when we see monsoon rain of this magnitude. With climate change, storms seem to be happening more sporadically and at larger, more unpredictable sizes than we have seen before in our region.
Thankfully, we have a unique opportunity as a region to do something about it and better our region’s preparedness when it comes to freak flooding events.
I serve as the committee chair of the Region 14 Upper Rio Grande Regional Flood Planning Group, overseen by the Rio Grande Council of Governments and the Texas Water Development Board.
Since summer 2021, we have been conducting extensive research into our region’s geographic layout and predicting where flooding may occur and to what extent.
This research has included land surveys using satellite imagery, as well as extensive qualitative surveying in the general communities of our region.
With preliminary data, we visited Pecos, Texas; Presidio, Texas; and El Paso to host public meetings and hear from individuals about the flooding issues they were seeing on their commutes to work, in their neighborhoods and anywhere else they could alert our attention to as a potential flood risk.
Now, more than a year later, we have developed a preliminary flood plan that our committee believes will adequately address the flooding risks in our region of the country. However, there is still a final opportunity and we need to hear from you.
Our committee will be holding one more public meeting at 5p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 14, at the Rio Grande Council of Governments office, 8037 Lockheed, Suite 100 in El Paso. This is one final opportunity to hear from everyday El Pasoans and others in Region 14 about the flooding and damage they have borne witness to in West Texas and all are invited to attend.
Our plan to mitigate flood damage to property and people will only work if we hear from as many people as possible. While we can do our best to predict where flooding may occur, our committee wants to focus our resources and efforts on places where you and your neighbors, family and friends know it is already occurring.
If you cannot attend the meeting, or want others you know to share their input with our team, you can access our draft flood plan here and provide feedback online. Please, take a moment to review it and invite others to do the same.
We cannot risk implementing a plan that does not solve the very problem we set out to address — flooding and flood damage in the Rio Grande region. With your help and your input, we can make sure this plan works to protect our people, our homes and our communities.
Omar Martinez is the chair of the Upper Rio Grande Flood Planning Group.