Nine on 9: EP Water CEO discusses heavy rainfall and condition of stormwater infrastructure

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The recent storms dropped several inches of rain around the borderland, causing flooding, damage, and even leaving two people dead.

Two dams in La Union New Mexico got so full they were overflowing and sent several neighborhoods to area shelters for safety.

President and CEO John E. Balliew spoke with KTSM’s Daniel Marin about the storms, flooding, condition of current infrastructure, and future stormwater projects.

Balliew explained why the central area experienced severe flooding even though past and completed stormwater drainage projects have been completed. He said water comes off the mountain and the Fort Bliss area and Fred Wilson and naturally wants to end up at the river. The freeway and the surrounding streets are in their natural path.

A series of ponds were erected to alleviate the flooding and most hold about 50 million gallons of water. This time around they filled up and had to be pumped out. The rest of the water followed its path to the river but there was so much water it rose as it made its way.

President and CEO of EP Water John E. Balliew explains the stormwater fees and how the funding is utilized. Before 2008 the stormwater function was part of the city department and it was funding by the general fund. There was a lack of money available for the types of projects wanted by the city.

The fee was then established to offer a permanent funding source. In 2008 it was a monthly fee of $4.71 for the average customer. Pushback from the city and customers resulted in a rollback. Today the average fee a customer pays is $4.53 a month.

The fees generate about $26 million a year, which includes a portion that is interested in principle paid for the money that had to be borrowed in 2008 for the construction of the first set of improvements to infrastructure.

Some projects encountered problems causing the timeline to extend beyond what was expected and planned for. In explaining the project at Sam Snead, Balliew says it was a project created back in the 1970s to funnel drainage down the street at a very high rate. Many vehicles have been swept by the fast-moving water, so the utility took on the project to build a large concrete structure to carry all that water. The project, Balliew says, is almost complete.

They are working on getting the street resurfaced and open and operational. There are about six other streets in the same area that will be requiring the same type of treatment, but having learned their lesson from the huge project on Sam Snead, the utility says they will conduct the construction on a lesser scale.

The good news is the area which is on the floodplain right now will be mapped out of it and those homeowners with mortgages will no longer be required to carry flood insurance.

El Paso Water encourages residents to engage the utility by providing information on areas of concern, either because of damage or flooding.

Pictures and descriptions can be sent to swengineering@epwater.org. The utility is also getting ready to set up a committee to review and prioritize stormwater infrastructure. This community met back in 2008 to work on the stormwater master plan and again in 2018.

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