Four Hidalgo County cities form drainage committee

EDINBURG — City leaders from four municipalities in Hidalgo County formed a drainage committee to tackle drainage issues more efficiently and enable their cities to be on the same page.

The mayors of McAllen, Edinburg, Mission and Pharr announced the creation of the Hidalgo County Municipal Drainage Committee on Wednesday, through which the cities aim to establish uniformity in the way they enforce rules and regulations to allow their interconnected drainage infrastructure to work more efficiently.

(Read: Recent flooding overwhelms Pharr, Hidalgo County response efforts)

“There’s a big communication that needs to take place between the cities,” Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina said. “Sometimes we get caught up with tunnel vision and what’s going on in our city and not realizing that working together, we can get things done a lot faster.”

Molina said the four mayors already involved — himself, McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos, Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña and Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez — will each reach out to mayors in other cities within the county with the goal of bringing in all 22 cities into the fold.

“We want them to adopt similar standards and policies to allow more efficient methods of diverting and detaining water so that we can consistently mitigate flooding for our residents in the region,” Molina said.

Villalobos said the four mayors began meeting a little more than a month ago to discuss the issue and he reiterated the need for the cities to be on the same page.

“When it comes to drainage, it’s like a highway system — it’s all connected,” Villalobos said. “So what does that mean? That means that we all need to work together. So we’ve been talking a little bit about what we’re planning to do and just like Molina stated, we have to do something and be consistent on what we do.”

Some of that consistency Villalobos referred to deals with how cities enforce their rules and regulations in their extraterritorial jurisdictions, or ETJs.

“Specifically, getting a little tougher on variances because we need people that subdivide to do whatever’s proper,” Villalobos said.

Hernandez, the Pharr mayor, said variances granted by cities tend to help individuals but not the community as a whole.

“If we have you living in a hole, for instance the city of Pharr where it’s below sea level, and you’re building there construction — homes, business, whatever it is — you’re setting yourself up for failure,” Hernandez said, “and it’s not fair for the public to not know or to disclose that kind of information or for the city to give a variance.”

Hernandez continued, “Our plan is to make sure everything is united as far as the variances, as far as the infrastructure so it drains into the ultimate system and that’s the county system.”

He described it as a two-phased approach.

“We’re actively doing what we’re supposed to be doing as mayors in our cities — we’re modernizing and making sure everybody sticks to the same rules and engagements so we don’t make the same mistakes from the past,” he said. “At the same time, however, we do need the county to do its job — we need them to invest proper resources to get the money where it should be and get it out, the water, out of our cities.”

O’Caña clarified that their committee was not meant to replace the Hidalgo County Drainage District but to supplement their efforts of moving water through various arteries into their main canal.

“We want to be able to take our arteries and veins and our hydraulic study for the city of Mission  and grow capacity to the system,” O’Caña said, “and then turn it over to the county so the county can grow the capacity that they need to move the water from all four cities to the Gulf of Mexico.”

O’Caña further stressed the need to improve the drainage infrastructure by pointing to the flooding that Mission residents dealt with just a few years ago.

“In 2018, the city of Mission had 80% of Mission underwater and from there, we figured out that there were 10 major factors that caused the city of Mission to be underwater,” O’Caña said.

One of them was a phenomenon known as a  water hammer.

“If you’re not familiar with a water hammer, that means our system was working well but when it was moved out, something blocked the system and the water came right back. And it came right back to our system and our system starts in the front lawn of our residents,” O’Caña said. “So the water started going inside our residences, inside the living rooms, and you know what happens after that.”

“We’re working towards having a flood-free county,” the Mission mayor added. “That’s the goal of this committee, and together we can do it.”