Hidalgo County reports breached levees fully repaired, additional repairs to be completed by end of June

Workers use heavy machinery to repair parts of a levee on Tuesday, May 4, 2021, in Abram. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The breached levees along the Rio Grande that caused flooding concern among local officials are now fully repaired, more than a month after county officials began sounding the alarm over situation.

Repairs to the three levee breaches were completed earlier this month while additional repairs to the levees are scheduled to be completed by the end of June, according to a news release issued by the county.

The update from the county follows a meeting on Thursday between Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez, County Comissioner Precinct 3 Everardo “Ever” Villarreal, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Brigadier Gen. Christopher G. Beck, commander and division engineer of the Southwestern Division.

While some levees see repairs in the Valley, others remain at standstill(Opens in a new browser tab)

The breaches in the levee system were a result of excavations done by contractors working on border wall construction directed by former President Donald Trump. Following a proclamation issued by President Joe Biden upon his inauguration in January, that border wall construction stopped but left the levee system weakened.

The three repaired levees, which Villarreal said were repaired within two weeks that the contractors began working on them on May 4, were completely breached but there were actually a total of 13 miles of levee throughout Hidalgo County that had been at least partially shaved off and still needed to be addressed.

Work on those 13 miles is the additional repairs the county alluded to and which Villarreal said contractors were currently working on.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not respond as of press time to questions about the levees, including an inquiry about what those additional repairs consisted of. However, Villarreal explained that contractors were constructing a concrete levee, on top of which would be 7-foot steel bollards to protect vehicles from driving off the side of the levees.

When Cuellar held a news conference in Abram on May 4 to announce that the repairs on the three breached levees had started earlier that day, he said the work on the concrete levees was scheduled for completion in September.

But with the news that it is now expected to be completed by the end of June, Villarreal said he was pleased with the rapid response.

“I feel that things are going a lot better than what I expected,” Villarreal said. “They moved extremely fast; I didn’t know that they were going to be so quick to take action and we’re very grateful for them doing this.”

With that additional work still pending, and the start of hurricane season just a few days away, Villarreal said the Army Corps of Engineers assured they had contingency plan in place to mitigate the impact of hurricanes on the levee system.

That emergency consisted of at least two components, according to Villarreal.

“One of the things that I did not know was that when they started shaving off part of the levee to start the construction, as soon as they shaved off what they needed to in order to start working, they sprayed the same part of the levee with some type of fiber that would protect from water penetration,” Villarreal said. “After that, if there were any hurricane or tropical storm that would hit the Gulf of Mexico, one of the contractors has inflatable walls and those would stop the water from hitting parts of the levee.”

Another option, Villarreal said, is to use specialized liners supplied by one of the contractors to cover the levee.

“So if you can imagine, when water comes up and hits the levee, it’s like a little wave, so it hits it and it goes back and it starts removing dirt from the levee,” Villarreal said of the needs to have plans in place. “So that’s what debilitates an already debilitated levee and can cause a breach and once a breach is caused, obviously everything goes out of control.”

Of the continued construction work, Cortez, the county judge, stressed the important role levees serve in the community.

“The repairs to our levees are crucial in keeping our residents and their homes safe, especially as Hurricane Season begins next week,” Cortez stated in the news release. “Our meeting with General Beck alleviated our concerns regarding a possible breach. We know the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are ready to assist us if our area is hit with severe weather and our levees are damaged.”