After the Flood

One year after the devastation left in the wake of what the National Weather Service dubbed the Great June Flood of 2018, many who were affected by last year’s storms are still recovering. In observance of the first anniversary, we set out to learn more about life after the flood, and how local residents and officials are preparing for similar, or stronger weather events. This is the fourth and final part in the series.

Perhaps the best thing to come from the Great June Flood of 2018 is that Hidalgo County leaders chose to impose stricter guidelines on developers to help mitigate future flooding.

Traditionally, local governments focus on making improvements to the existing drainage system to mitigate flooding. Hidalgo County has 40 such projects that were funded through a $190 million bond passed in November 2018, including a new detention pond near Mile 9 and Farm-to-Market Road 1015 that is already under construction.

But as more homes and business pop up, permeability decreases and the threat of flooding increases.

And while it’s impossible to control the weather, there are other proactive steps local elected leaders can take to decrease that threat, including imposing specific retention requirements on any new developments.

“We need to continue to grow to sustain what we’re doing, but there has to be a balance,” Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 Manager Raul Sesin said. “We need to make sure that what gets planned and constructed has a good level of safety behind it because if you build something and it floods, it’s not really worth anything. It has no value.”

Before the June floods, the county mandated developers design infrastructure to accommodate for a 10-year weather event. This county subdivision requirement also applied to cities within the county.

Several cities, like McAllen, however, chose to up the ante and self-imposed a stricter 50-year storm requirement.

“Before, certain cities had certain standards. One more stricter than the other,” Sesin said, noting they couldn’t go below the 10-year mark. “Then the district adopted the standard 50-year-event design. You (now) have to design any facility, detention-wise, for a 50-year-event, district wide, and it’s being imposed on all the cities now.

“They’re playing on the same level field.”

Hidalgo County workers have been working to complete a drainage project north of Weslaco, seen Monday, June 17, 2019. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

County leaders had been discussing tightening the requirements for a long time, trying to weigh the costly improvements that developers would have to pay against the public benefit.

Initially, county commissioners considered raising the requirement from a 10-year event to a 25-year event, but then the June flooding hit.

“We started thinking more about it, and then this event came through and we said, ‘No, we need to do a minimum of 50.’ And that’s what was adopted,” Sesin said. “The requirements were already there as far as detention. It was just the amount (that was changed). Now it’s standardized.”

The new requirements will give the county an edge, Sesin said.

“We’re way ahead, in my opinion, than other parts of the state,” Sesin said. “Other parts of the state are starting to see issues.”

A drainage project that is underway north of La Villa on Monday, June 17, 2019. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

He believes the border colonia laws that the Texas Legislature enacted beginning 30 years ago have helped the area stay ahead.

“Since 1989, the Texas Legislature has enacted a series of bills and resolutions to address the issues associated with border colonias, designed to improve the quality of life for residents,” the Texas Secretary of State’s website stated. “These laws have focused on the delivery of water and wastewater services, improving health and safety infrastructure and halting colonia proliferation.”

These laws, however, only applied to the border region and now other parts of Texas, which were not subject to border colonia laws, are now seeing similar problems.

“They’re starting to have some of those pains,” Sesin said. “We’re way ahead of that.”

More in this series

The trickle down: Local governments still reeling from 2018 flood

Las Brisas couple recounts the Great June Flood

4 days, 4 nights: 2018 flood still reverberates in Cameron County as a wake-up call