El Paso

ONLY ON ABC-7: County stormwater plan identifies root of Socorro flooding issues

Stormwater report on Socorro flood

EL PASO, Texas - A storm in 2004 is to blame for a failed embankment, which is creating flooding issues for residents in Socorro, according to a 2010 Stormwater Master Plan.

The master plan, conducted in 2009, was presented to El Paso County Official, Water Utilities and Texas Water Development to address the stormwater needs throughout the city.

Public input was received during three public meetings, interviews with residents in the flood prone areas, and city and county officials. In addition to the public meetings, a series of technical working meetings were held with representatives from El Paso County, EPWU the City of Socorro, the Village of Vinton and the TWDB.

The county identified 54 proposed projects totaling $153,460,000 to address flooding issues throughout the county.

According to the plan, the basin in El Paso Hills has a failed embankment that is not functioning properly. The document states: “According to El Paso County staff, a portion of the embankment failed in a 2004 storm event. Per a 2009 site visit, this failure has not been repaired.”

The failed embankment creates uncontrolled water flow in certain streams, which results in problems for residents.

County Commissioner Vince Perez tells ABC-7 after Storm 2006, there was a need to explore stormwater infrastructure inside and outside of city limits. The failed embankment identified is on private property and Perez says regulations didn't really exist when it was built. Perez adds cities have the ability to zone and impose but counties are limited in the ability to do that. 

He says there has to be a very strategic and methodological approach as to how to go about it. 

"Are we going to acquire that land, if you go back in time, you would probably rebuild that subdivision in a very different way, similar to how they design current subdivisions but those are the cards we're dealt with unfortunately and the challenge for us is how do we fix this flooding issue considering all this jurisdictional and private property issues."

"This particular subdivision was approved back in 1973, the regulations that were in place back in 1973 aren't the same that they are today. Today, when a subdivision is built, developers are required to hold 100% of their water. In that particular subdivision, there's an arroyo and back then when it was platted, a lot of the rainwater was just dumped into the arroyo and over the years that hasn't caused major problems, but as you have more development north and south of I-10, that's inadequate infrastructure, that's not the same as a retention pond," Perez said. 

The master plan states that the “uncontrolled flows” cause flooding just upstream of Coker Road. Additional runoff and sediment converge before passing under I-10, which is about 1,050 feet upstream of Coker Road and the Mesa Spur Drain. The report states that the arroyo becomes “undefined,” with “no clear outfall to the Mesa Spur Drain.” The combination thus creates flowing for a number of residents.


Seven years later and Commissioner Perez says he isn't aware if any of the issues identified were ever addressed.

"Specifically, as associated with the plan, I don't know as to what projects were done immediately after or if there was an implementation plan put in place. We were fortunate in the intermediate years there wasn't a repeat of Storm 2006. I think one of the major challenges in implementing the 2010 plan was jurisdictional issues," Perez said.

Perez says it's also a multi-jurisdictional issue because there's a mix of areas in the plan including unincorporated areas, Horizon, Clint, Fabens, Tornillo, etc. He says each of them has some role in implementing a plan, challenged any projects from taking place.

Commissioner Perez says at the time the masterplan was done, there was no real urgency to address the issues. He adds Socorro's population has grown by 20-25% and the problem areas identified in the study have changed. 

"Are these areas identified back in 2010,  still the main problem areas that are causing the flooding today? Some of the boundaries have changed,  Socorro has since annexed more areas other areas that were previously unincorporated and in the county of El Paso are now perhaps in the city limits and now there's some development that's occurred in some of the areas that were reccomended for projects," Perez said.

Perez says funding had a major role to play in the delay. 

Perez says this year the county approved $5 million to start on long-term infrastructure issues. 

"The plan right now is to hopefully bond that money out to leverage funds to build long-term infrastructure with great need. But we also need to work collaboratively, particularly with these water districts."

Perez says the county last week met with the different water districts. He hopes to implement something similar to the city's stormwater fee, that would provided sustainable revenue for infrastructure projects. 

Perez says while the projects were delayed, there was planning done. Perez says several years ago, the corps of engineers identified basin areas in the county in need of possible infrastructure. He says they found the cost-benefit ratio was too high and it was very unlikely the county would be able to leverage federal funds. 

He says the fact that funding has been allocated is a step in the right direction. 

"All of the stakeholders have come together and recognized the this problem continues to get worse, and realize that there has to be a long-term solution and they have to come together and work collaboratively and identify which infrastructure projects are the highest priority, how much funding are we realistically going to have to work with and what can get done and make the most impact," Perez said.

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