HARLINGEN — Federal, state and local officials have announced a contract has been let to a company tasked with culling vegetation along a 6.3-mile stretch of the Arroyo Colorado to help move flood water out of the city.

The $1.2 million contract, announced by the International Boundary and Water Commission, will cover a stretch from U.S. Business 77 at McKelvey Park to Cemetery Road, just upstream from the Port of Harlingen. The same stretch also will be dredged, probably beginning later this year.

Vegetation will be removed along the arroyo and native plants put in to re-establish the riparian corridor.

“The idea behind all this is once it’s done, in collaboration with IBWC and the City of Harlingen, we all want to get back in there and survey the existing conditions so that we can use that survey information to update our hydraulic model,” Carlos Sanchez, assistant city manager, said Wednesday. “And that hydraulic model is what’s going to tell you the capacity of the Arroyo Colorado.”

The arroyo is supposed to be able to move 21,000 cubic feet per second out of the City of Harlingen, but due to siltation and obstructions along its banks, its current capacity is nowhere near that mark.

“IBWC in their projections they’re talking about restoring the capacity to 21,000 cfs and so that’s still to be verified,” Sanchez said. “The cfs right now where it’s at is, before starting to see some impact, it’s 4,200 cfs.”

“The key point is to get to 21,000 without it impacting the city, and so that’s going to take some collaboration, with the city making improvements on our storm sewer system to keep water from backing into the street at that flow,” he said.

Funding for the project was announced simultaneously by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela.

“We can’t prevent natural disasters, but we can prepare for them,” Cornyn said. “I’m pleased to help deliver the funding needed to restore the Arroyo Colorado’s native vegetation and with it, peace of mind for residents of the Rio Grande Valley that their community will be safer from unwanted flooding.”

“For several years, we have been working with IBWC on a strategy to return the Arroyo Colorado to its original design capacity and decrease the threat of flooding to the residents of Harlingen and surrounding communities,” Vela said. “… I am pleased the IBWC is taking another important step forward today with this contract for removal of much more vegetation.”

IBWC officials said the winning bid for the project was from Swift Operating Partners LLC of Boulder, Colorado. The project will begin this spring and is expected to be completed within a year.

“The City of Harlingen is excited to see this project get under way,” Mayor Chris Boswell said.  “With hurricane season just a few months away, the improvements will help the Arroyo Colorado convey water quicker, thus providing flood protection for our community.”


rkelley@valleystar.com