EDINBURG, RGV – A groundbreaking ceremony will take place on Friday, Oct. 6, for the long-awaited Raymondville Drain Project, a 63-mile drainage improvement system that will impact Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties.

The event, which starts at 10 a.m. on Oct. 6, takes place near Edinburg Lake close to FM 2812 and Seminary Road in Edinburg.

Among those invited to attend are Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, Hidalgo County Precinct 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios, U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez, state Sens. Juan Hinojosa and Eddie Lucio, Jr., all the state representatives from Hidalgo County, and Bech Bruun, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board. The TWDB recently announced a $4.5 million grant for the project.

 Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia

Judge Garcia has made drainage one of his top priorities. He wrote about the issue in a recent Hidalgo County newsletter.

“Drainage is one of the County’s top priorities. There are many challenges to managing storm runoff, including the county’s elevation drop from the northwest to the southeast; a drainage system designed for a rural, farming community; and a history of developments constructed with little to no infrastructure,” Garcia wrote.

“However, we are making progress. At least 30 miles of drainage ditches have been expanded, doubling the capacity throughout the County, and especially in areas that have been most prone to flooding.”

Garcia said the next newsletter will go into greater detail on the progress being made.

“But I am happy to announce that the largest regional project, the Raymondville Drain, was recently awarded $4.5 million from the Texas Water Development Board for work that will provide an outfall for flood waters in the Faysville area,” Garcia wrote.

 Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios

“To date we have secured $17.1 million in funding for the Raymondville Drain, which will stretch 63 miles through Hidalgo and Willacy counties, impacting 1.3 million residents in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Pepe Caso, chief administrator for Hidalgo County Precinct 4, reports to Commissioner Palacios. Caso spoke about the Raymondville Drain Project at a recent Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council meeting in Weslaco.

“It is going to be a gamechanger for the Valley. It is going to be able to redirect a significant amount of the stormwater safely away from the communities that suffer from flooding. We have been working really hard to design it in such a way that it does not affect Willacy County. A lot of water naturally flows through there,” Caso said.

“We want to be able to capture all the water in Hidalgo County. That is going to create capacity in the North Main Drain, which is our main forum. This is a half a billion dollars project but thanks to a grant from the Texas Water Development Board and thanks to a lot of letters of support by the people that are here we have been able to get a lot of grants.”

 U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela

Caso added that drainage projects are hard to build because there is not revenue being generated and they are not necessarily an economic driver. “But, as we have seen with Harvey, these are the kind of projects that give a community resilience,” Caso said.

Don Medina, a coordinator for Cameron County Precinct 4, also attended the LRGVDC meeting and gave its directors a brochure that explains the 31-year history of the project.

“This is a 30-plus year project in the making. At a certain point in time, in 2003, Hidalgo County was not even part of the Raymondville Drain Project, but with the help of Congressman Solomon Ortiz and now Congressman Filemon Vela we have been able, over these years, to change the Water Resource Development Act that started in 1986 and now, in 2016, to include additional funding,” Medina said.

 Texas Water Development Board Chair Bech Bruun

“This is a 63-mile project. If you think about the floodway constructed a few years ago, well now we are doing a floodway to the north, we are going to impact a lot of communities, including the City of Raymondville and Cameron County. As far as regional projects go, this is something that we should all be proud of. There are a lot names on that invitation, all the current state representatives. Spanning Three football fields long and half a football field, 150-feet, wide, it is a big project for all of us.”

The brochure Medina handed out to LRGVDC board members was produced by Hidalgo County Drainage District 1 and Hidalgo County Precinct 4. It included a list of the key milestones achieved for the project. Here they are:

Milestones:


1986

Project for Flood Control, Lower Rio Grande Basin, Texas, Title IV, Section 401 of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 1986, as amended by WRDA 2007. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)

2000 – 2007

S&B Infrastructure/HCDD1 work with Congressman Solomon Ortiz to amend WRDA: 1) detail and specify the limits of the Project to include Hidalgo County near Edinburg Lake; 2) ensure that all costs (planning, design, and construction) expended by HCDD1 prior to the Project Cooperation Agreement would be eligible for credit/reimbursement; and 3) 90 percent – 10 percent cost share.

2003

Hidalgo County not part of the Raymondville Drain Project. Planning studies, including environmental were initiated. As per agreement with the USACE, S&B/HCDD1 would do Hidalgo County portion, USACE would do Willacy County portion.

2006

Hidalgo County 2006 Drainage Bond Program – $37 million identified for Raymondville Drain Project was diverted to Levees

2007

Water Resources Development Act 1986, as amended 2007. WRDA 2007 was enacted with all 3 above, except (3) had a condition that the Assistant Secretary of the Army (ASA-USACE needed to make a determination. This was never done by the ASA, and it was later determined that no one could meet the formulas to get a reduction in cost share (i.e., going from 25 percent to 10 percent).

2011 – 2012

USACE and Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 develop and enter into a new agreement where S&B/HCDD1 would do the planning documents, including environmental, for the ENTIRE project (both the Hidalgo County and Willacy County portions).

2013

S&B and Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 re-submit the environmental document that includes both Hidalgo and Willacy County portions as “The Raymondville Project.”

2014

S&B and HCDD1 focus on Texas Water Development Board coordination and funding for $5.5 million

2015

USACE informs S&B/HCDD1 that WRDA 2014 changed the rules for the project. HCDD1 count not get reimbursed on the project until the ENTIRE project had been constructed by HCDD1 ($240 million).

2015 – 2016

Dos Legislative/S&B work with Congressman Filemon Vela and WRDA staffers to amend language of WRDA 2016, primarily to ensure that there were provisions that HCDD1 could develop Raymondville Drain Project in segments. Request reimbursement as each segment is completed/constructed, and expedite review process.

2016

Water Resources Development Act 2016, signed into law in December 2016, includes segmented project development. Draft policy requires the Assistant Secretary of the Army (USACE) to come up with the guidance for the USACE to follow and for us to follow.

January 2017

Congressman Filemon Vela obtains guidance from ASA for S&B/HCDD1 to re-submit planning documents that includes HEP evaluation portion of environmental document/coordination with United States Fish & Wildlife Service, and is also ensuring that all alternatives in the environmental documents are clearly defined and match all planning documents as well as segmented construction.

March 2017

HCDD1, Dos Legislative/S&B to employ all strategies identified by Congressmen Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez, including an ASA reviewer, improvement to cost share, and expedited review of documents.

August 207

Texas Water Development Board awards $4.5 million grant for Raymondville Drain project identified with Congressmen Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez, including an ASA reviewer, improvements to cost share, and expedited review of documents.

October 6, 2017

State Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa, D-McAllen, helped HCDD1 secure funding for the massive drainage project, along with the entire Hidalgo County Legislative delegation.

Here are some of the talking points made in the brochure Medina handed out:

The sustainability of the Raymondville Drain Project is based on Hidalgo County leveraging local tax payer dollars with state and federal funding. Construction is projected to cost $4.5 million, or 36 percent, asset acquisition is projected to cost $5.5 million, or 45 percent, engineering is projected to cost $2.3 million, or 19 percent, and right of way is projected to cost $35,150, or under one percent of the cost.

The typical width of the proposed channel is approximately 350 feet wide, with a 12-foot average depth.

The majority of all major storm water from Hidalgo County passes through Willacy County and into the Laguna Madre and the Gulf of Mexico. The Raymondville Drain Project, once constructed, will provide storm water management on a regional basis – ultimately contributing to improvements to the watersheds of three counties – by providing a new channel that connects to existing channels, as well as additional improvements to the approximate 63-mile drainage system of in-line and off-line detention, reservoirs, and control structures that stretch from Edinburg Lake in Hidalgo County to the Laguna Madre in Willacy County.

The proposed system will provide opportunity for significant flood reduction for areas of Hidalgo County, as well as the City of Raymondville and Willacy County. In fact, the Raymondville Drain Project is proposed to ultimately follow the alignment of and existing channel that is owned by Delta Lake Irrigation District (DLID) through the eastern portion of Hidalgo County and all of Willacy County. Coordination is on-going with DLID to ensure their concerns and issues are addressed, as well as their input, to ultimately culminate into an inter-local agreement between HCDD No. 1 and DLID regarding the maintenance and operations of the project once constructed.

The project was ranked as the No. 1 project for the 2012 Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Drainage Plan. This plan is a one-of-a-kind, having brought four counties and representatives from over 212 entities together over a two-year period to develop a regional storm water management plan, ranking and voting on needed projects with estimated total construction cost $1.2 billion, the Raymondville Drain project ranked No. 1 in the large project category.

Even without rain or any storm event, the existing main channels of HCDD No. 1’s drainage system are always “wet,” carrying two to three feet of water during drought conditions, so the Raymondville Drain project will be able to control, store, conserve, develop, preserve, and distribute storm waters for purposes such as environmental mitigation and preservation. During coordination with agencies this past year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) requested that water be diverted to La Sal Vieja Lake for the purposes of reducing the salinity of the lake and enhancing the environment of the wildlife.

Coordination is also occurring with Delta Lake Irrigation District (DLID), which also owns a large portion of La Sal Vieja Lake. A study, at the request of DLID, is on-going to determine the impacts of diversion to La Sal Vieja Lake and any effects to the surrounding farm and ranch lands.

Additionally, a study funded by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) supports the concept of water re-use within the HCDD No. 1 system, and coordinating efforts have occurred with the TWDB regarding the Water Availability Model and the amount of water that would be allowed to be diverted for environmental mitigation and preservation effort as a retention and/or detention measure.

The Raymondville Drain project will allow for asset protection (estimated at approximately $40 billion in growth taxable assets), as well as the continued and future economic development and growth along already-developed and potentially flood-prone areas in both Hidalgo and Willacy counties. It should be further noted that the Raymondville Drain is being designed to minimize floodplain areas to allow for continued and future economic growth. Additionally, this protection of the area assets will mitigate possibilities for any potentially needed state disaster recovery funding because of damages from future storm and flood events.