McALLEN — Federal lawmakers in Texas are calling for help from the federal government and asking specifically for aid to the Rio Grande Valley, which has suffered significant agricultural losses.
Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz wrote a letter on Friday to Kevin Shea, acting U.S. secretary of agriculture, reiterating a request by Gov. Greg Abbott to have the USDA “expeditiously issue a disaster designation” for Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy, and any other county that demonstrates a significant agricultural production loss as a result of this week’s severe winter weather.
“The Governor and local officials have informed us that the agricultural losses and crop damage across the state are of a magnitude that is beyond the response capabilities of the state and local government,” the senators wrote.
Texas Democratic congressmen also noted the Valley’s agricultural losses in a letter they sent to Bob Fenton, Senior Official Performing the Duties of Administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The letter asked Fenton to direct his agency to quickly approve the request from Texas for a major disaster declaration for communities affected by the extreme winter weather and subsequent mass power and water outages beginning Feb. 11.
“In the Rio Grande Valley, citrus and vegetable farmers anticipate massive losses and throughout the state, dairy farmers have had to throw out $8 million worth of milk per day,” the letter stated.
The correspondence was signed by 13 House members, including the Valley’s three local Democrats — Reps. Henry Cuellar, Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Vela.
“As members of the Texas Congressional Delegation, we will do all we can at a federal level to make sure a failure like this does not happen again. But we look to FEMA to help us recover from this disaster in the weeks and months to come,” the letter stated.
The congressmen anticipate water damages to climb as power is restored and temperatures climb.
“For those with flooded homes and collapsed ceilings as a result of pipes bursting and for those with fire and smoke damage from their attempts to stay warm, recovery will take even longer,” they wrote. “Even access to clean drinking water is at risk as local water systems must be tested for bacteria to remove boil-water notices, which are in place in 680 water systems statewide.”
Several systems throughout the Rio Grande Valley, including in Edinburg, Alamo, and the Sharyland Water Supply Company, issued boil water notices after power outages and other issues knocked out their water delivery systems.
“Although we expect the extreme winter temperatures to wane, the long-term damage to our homes, businesses, municipal services and infrastructure, energy infrastructure, and agricultural and food systems cannot be overstated,” the letter continued.
All of this comes as Texans deal with an economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that has already challenged local industries and governments, the congressmen said.
“We therefore urge FEMA to support any requests for expedited assistance without a full field damage assessment,” the letter stated. “FEMA should be prepared to work with the State of Texas and be as flexible as possible should the state submit an expedited request for disaster assistance for the communities impacted by this winter weather and power outage.”