EDINBURG, Texas – The four biggest cities in Hidalgo County have joined forces to tackle the No. 1 infrastructure problem in their county – flooding and building an adequate drainage system. 

The mayors of the cities of McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, and Pharr held a news conference on Aug. 4 to announce the formation of the Hidalgo County Municipal Drainage Committee.

The committee wants to fast track the creation an effective and efficient countywide drainage system, a project hitherto under the auspices of Hidalgo County. The city managers of the big four cities were present for the news conference.

As host, Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina kicked off the news conference. He said credit must go to Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña for his vision on drainage issues and bringing the four big cities together.

Hidalgo County Commissioner Ellie Torres was at the news conference. Molina thanked Torres for her presence and joked that Hidalgo County has all the money necessary to fix the drainage problem.

Molina said the coronavirus pandemic has got Rio Grande Valley leaders working together like never before. “We got very close during the pandemic. This was something that unified the RGV. It was something that got us communicating a lot more,” he said.

In the past, Molina said, Valley mayors have sometimes failed to look at the big picture. “We get busy, always working with our blinders on, not looking at our neighbor,” he said. All that is changing with the formation of the new drainage committee, Molina said.

He pointed out the new committee will look at ways to improve drainage, storm water retention and mitigation, and reduce flooding between cities. He said the mayors of the big four cities will be reaching out to the leaders of the other 18 municipalities in Hidalgo County.

“Understand that the end goal for all of us is to have the surrounding cities… we want them to adopt similar standards and policies to allow more efficient methods of diverting water… so that we can consistently mitigate flooding for our residents in the region,” Molina said.

McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos reiterated the importance of the cities of Hidalgo County working together.

“It should not me against you, us versus you guys. No. When it comes to drainage it is like the highway system, it is all connected. That means we need to work together,” Villalobos said.

“Some of that consistency means (looking at the) ETJs. Making sure that we enforce whatever rules and regulations inside our municipality, are also in the ETJ. Specifically, getting a little tougher on variances,” Villalobos said.

ETJ stands for extraterritorial jurisdiction, which allows a local government to exercise authority beyond its normal boundary.

“McAllen’s drainage system is pretty decent. However, once our waters are out, if the rest of the municipalities or the county’s drainage is not proper, guess what is going to happen? We back up,” Villalobos said.

“That is precisely the reason we need to work together. We will work together and we will get the rest of the mayors on board.”

Mayor O’Caña of Mission spoke next. He said the Hidalgo County Municipal Drainage Committee is not looking to replace the Hidalgo County Drainage Committee per se.

“It is intended to supplement, not supplant. We don’t want to take over the county’s system. We want to connect to the system at capacity level,” O’Caña said.

O’Caña thanked the city managers of the big four cities for their attendance.

“It is a marvelous sight to see the four city managers from the four largest cities in Hidalgo County, that work with over half a million people, here,” O’Caña said. 

The four city managers present were: Roy Rodriguez of McAllen, Ron Garza of Edinburg, Randy Perez of Mission, and Ed Wylie of Pharr.

O’Caña said the new committee has also engaged the engineers from the big four cities.

“We put the four city engineers together a couple of weeks ago and we started that to interconnect and look at our drainage system,” he said.

O’Caña said Hidalgo County’s severe drainage problems reared up disastrously in Mission in 2018.

“Eighty percent of Mission was under water,” he explained. Afterwards, city leaders identified ten major factors that caused the city to be under water. “Our system was working well, but something blocked and it came right back,” O’Caña said.

“We are working on having a flood-free county. That is the goal of this committee and together we can do it. Together we can accomplish that. I think the vision is here. Now we have to put it into an action plan.”

Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez was the last mayor to speak at the news conference. He seemed the most impatient to get things done.

Hernandez said the big four cities represent half the population of Hidalgo County. He said the city managers present will be under a lot of pressure to get the drainage issue resolved but he was confident they could do it.

“Make no mistake we are at war with this drainage problem. We have had it before. The difference is we have our civic leaders are now united.” Hernandez said.

“This is not a dog and pony show. We really want to solve something. The county has a lot to gain from this. They (Hidalgo County) have been leading it and with all due respect there is needed improvement.”

Hernandez said the big four cities in Hidalgo County have no problem funding drainage improvements that help the county as a whole.

“We have no problem putting money into our drainage. The problem is they want to see where they spend it. How we spend it. And they want to see results. These guys, you are going to see, are going to get it done,” Hernandez said, referring to the city managers present.

“I am not here to point fingers. But I am here to tell you that we know where the problems are. We don’t need to study it to death. We know how to solve it. Let’s put our heads together and solve it and be transparent with the public and tell them we are willing to spend money.”

What the cities of McAllen, Edinburg, Mission and Pharr are not willing to do is spend money on “pork projects and dumb projects,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez added that it is time to get Hidalgo County’s drainage problems fixed once and for all. “Ten years is not acceptable,” he said.

Editor’s Note: Here is an audio recording of the news conference, including the Q&A with reporters:

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