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Ron Garza, executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, and Martha Sanchez, community organizing coordinator for La Unión del Pueblo Entero, met for the first time at the LRGVDC offices in Weslaco on Dec. 7, 2106. The LRGVDC board of directors heard a presentation about drainage issues in Valley colonias.

WESLACO, RGV – Raul Garcia Jr., senior project manager at Halff Associates, presented findings from a drainage study in local colonias during the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council’s meeting Dec. 7.

For over two years, Halff Associates, a consulting firm for engineering, architecture and other related services, conducted a drainage study over 78 colonias in the Hidalgo, Willacy and Cameron counties.

Proponents of the study have included two colonia community groups, ARISE and La Unión del Pueblo Entero, as well as the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service.

The Texas Water Development Board Stormwater Drainage Study for the Colonias of the Lower Rio Grande Valley has three phases and is nearing completion. The initial phases included narrowing down the colonias based on the highest risk of flooding that experience structural damage.

“There are over 1,000 colonias listed on the office of attorney general and the secretary of state’s list,” Garcia said. “We used this to come up with a matrix and to narrow it down to a smaller list of colonias [for the final phase].”

Of the 78 colonias, 61 are in Hidalgo County, 15 are in Cameron County and the rest are in Willacy county. The colonias were further analyzed and the study showed that 79 percent of the colonias have residents with low to moderate income, 16 percent have a population of over 250 and 50 percent are not in designated floodplain areas–meaning the statistics may be inaccurate.

The findings from the study is meant to bring in funds to alleviate flooding in the critical colonias. There’s a process to figure out which grants the colonias qualify for such as communities with low to moderate income.

However, Garcia said residents from the colonias have been through several studies that haven’t been successful in retrieving the money.

“Some of these residents are really tired of studies–a study here, a study there,” Garcia said. “But this is really a stepping stone to get their money. We want a report that is defendable, that we can provide for grant money and show them there are solutions for the issues that they have.”

Garcia said the reason colonias are experiencing so much flooding is because years ago, the districts were designed for agriculture. Now that the cities are being developed, there is more runoff water going into the ditches. Many times the ditches overflow into the colonias and other surrounding areas.

“If nothing is done to the ditches that collect runoff, then things are going to continue to get worse. The colonias can expect to have significantly more flooding,” Garcia said.

La Unión del Pueblo Entero, a non-profit organization dedicated to building stronger and healthier communities for colonia residents, supports the findings of the drainage study. Martha Sanchez, community organizing coordinator, said the group wants to make the findings public for community engagement.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a comprehensive study this aggressive, “ Sanchez said. “They were able to narrow it down to [over] 70 colonias that really have structure damage and I think that focus will help to let us know exactly what they need. Having these focused and narrow studies will … help our entities who have the power to address this issue. If the community gets involved and engaged then hopefully we can minimize the damage to these colonias.”

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