HARLINGEN, Texas – A regional flood protection planning project that has been decades in the making could be eligible for millions of dollars in state funds.

The Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) has earmarked $8.87 million for the design and implementation of flood control and protection measures for a project covering parts of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties.

The three counties are working with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council (LRGVDC)’s Regional Water Resource Advisory Committee (RWRAC) on the project. TWDB ranked the project 38th out of a total of 285 applications from across the state.

TWDB said the RWRAC regional project is now eligible to submit a full application, of which 90 percent of the $8.87 million is eligible as a grant.

“Stormwater does not respect the limits of jurisdictional boundaries, and developing comprehensive solutions to address our area’s flooding issues requires strategic collaboration and partnership among leaders who are willing to come together, roll up their sleeves, and get to work,” said Hidalgo County Commissioner David L. Fuentes.

Fuentes said the RWRAC project is truly a regional collaboration. He said the project represents the culmination of decades of efforts to regionalize water resource management, which began in the 1990s by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Stormwater Task Force.

Willacy County Commissioner Eduardo Gonzales said the after years of continued and repetitive flooding, no one can doubt that improvements and enhancements are needed along the entire drainage system that carries stormwater from the Rio Grande River, through the three counties, and to the Gulf of Mexico.

“We now have a vision for a regional drainage infrastructure system that will mutually benefit and protect our respective communities, and we thank our state legislative delegation for their support of our initiatives,” Gonzales said.

Cameron County Commissioner David A. Garza said the RWRAC project will fund the expansion of the River and Estuary Observation Network in the Rio Grande Valley (REON/RGV). He said this will comprise a network of real-time water level and flood warning sensors linked to a comprehensive regional hydrologic planning and forecasting system is key.

“For too long, our area lacked the basic regional plan for a comprehensive flood control system,” Garza said. “By working together, in collaboration with our regional partners, we will now be able to work toward tangible solutions to protect our communities,” said Cameron County Commissioner David A. Garza.

Hidalgo County Commissioner Ellie Torres said it is time to identify, prioritize, and fund feasibility and full design development of flood protection infrastructure that maximizes the benefit to the region as a whole.

Once this system is in place, Torres said, the area will be well-poised to compete effectively for large scale, regional flood infrastructure investments and projects on the federal level.

“We are proud of the partnership represented by this regional collaboration, and we thank the Texas Water Development Board for their interest and support of our project, our predecessors who have worked on these projects for decades, our local communities and regional partners for coming together, and our state and federal legislators for their support of our efforts,” Torres said.

Senator Hinojosa’s perspective

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa welcomed TWDB’s decision to prioritize projects for the 2020 Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) cycle. He said the process establishes the amount of funds available for grants and zero-interest loans to fund flood mitigation projects.

Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said TWDB approved 285 abridged applications requesting a total of $2,390,567,776. He said $770 million is available for projects, of which $231 million (30%) is allocated to grants and $539 million (70%) is allocated for loans.

Among the 285 eligible applications that made the first cut, the 2020 Abridged Application Prioritized Project List includes 14 projects within Hidalgo County, Hinojosa pointed out.

Hinojosa said the 2019 Texas Legislature passed several bills related to flooding, including Senate Bill 7 which lead to creation of the FIF program. He said the new FIF program provides financial assistance in the form of loans with an interest rate of 0% and grants for flood control, flood mitigation, and drainage projects. As vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee Hinojosa helped secure funding to start the FIF program through a one-time transfer of $793 million from the “Rainy Day” Fund.

“As the state continues to deal with ramifications of COVID-19, we cannot forget the flood disasters our state has dealt with in the past. I appreciate our local officials on completing the first step of the process by submitting their abridged applications earlier this summer,” Hinojosa said.

“We must also move forward with investing in flood mitigation projects to prepare for future flood events. With today’s action by the TWDB, the state takes another step towards mitigating the damage caused by future flood events. The Flood Infrastructure Fund Program was established for this purpose and I am glad to see the process is moving forward despite the current economic downturn.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner David L. Fuentes, Cameron County CommissionerDavid Garza, Hidalgo County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ellie Torres, and Willacy County Commissioner Eduardo Gonzalez.

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