Presidio hosts regional flood planning workshop; locals encouraged to submit feedback online

PRESIDIO — Officials from the City of Presidio, the Texas Water Development Board and the Rio Grande Council of Governments convened in Presidio last Thursday afternoon for a flood planning workshop. The open house style meeting provided an opportunity for Presidio residents to offer feedback to regional experts that will guide a series of longer-term flood mitigation projects. 

“The idea is if you plan properly, then both the federal government and the Texas Water Development Board will fund projects,” explained Omar Martinez, who traveled to Presidio to offer his expertise as an employee of the El Paso County Water Permit District 1. “What we’re doing here is collecting information from stakeholders.” 

The Presidio workshop was the only stop in the Big Bend on a tour through four communities — the communities of El Paso, Fort Stockton and Pecos also hosted events. Land and business owners from Marfa, Alpine and Presidio were solicited to submit feedback to the workshop via mail and over local social media groups.

In Presidio County, a major focus is improving safety for motorists and homeowners who live in populated areas. Flooding in June 2021 led to a death on Alamito Creek in Marfa where there are no flood gauges or gates. Proposed projects include installation of flood safety equipment in Marfa, drainage culverts for low-water crossings on the northbound stretch of FM 170 between Presidio and Candelaria and a channelization project to improve flood drainage in between Highway 67 and the Rio Grande. 

Environmental management projects have also been pitched in more remote areas: on the “forgotten reach” of the Rio Grande upstream of Presidio that often runs dry, there’s talk of a salt cedar eradication project. The invasive plant, also known locally as tamarisk, can consume up to 200 gallons of water a day. Thinning the tamarisk on the stretch of river between Fort Quitman and Presidio could pave the way for healthier riparian ecosystems and better flood drainage for future generations.

The focus on flood planning is especially important in Presidio, where the city has developed an industrial park in an area on the north side of town. The Presidio industrial park is located along the Cibolo Creek drainage, which can become dangerous in significant flood events, like the major flood in 2008 that damaged the Presidio levee and required around 500 Presidio residents to evacuate. The 2008 flood was the last major regional flood event and is the benchmark flood planners have been using to plan for the future. 

Portions of the industrial park have been identified as a flood risk. Biad Chili, Cylex Cement, Solitaire Homes and the Presidio drag racing track were all built with flood mitigation in mind. “They’re fine — some drainage work has been done around them,” said Presidio Municipal Development District Executive Director Jeran Stephens. “But there are a couple of spots in our industrial park that we are not selling or leasing for construction because they’re in a flood zone.”

Presidio officials hope to one day incorporate the industrial park into a foreign trade zone (FTZ) tied to the Presidio Port of Entry. According to Customs and Border Protection, goods in FTZs are not subject to export taxes and are generally exempt from local taxes, creating an incentive for international companies to set up shop locally. Flood hazards could potentially hinder those efforts — if Presidio can prove that it is taking steps to mitigate flood risk, it could ease potential stakeholders’ concerns and lower costs across the board.

Experts present at the meeting stressed that the RIOCOG and TWDB efforts were state-level efforts and separate from flood insurance procedures mandated by the federal government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency surveys communities to determine flood risk, which later determines flood insurance premiums. “Insurance companies live and die by FEMA maps,” explained Brad Newton, Presidio’s city administrator. “Our FEMA maps were made in 1976, before we were incorporated as a city — we have talked to FEMA numerous times to try to update our maps.” 

In flood-prone communities, insurance requirements can have far-reaching economic impacts: Presidio’s chief financial officer, Malynda Richardson, explained that many banks require flood insurance in order to get mortgage financing. “We’re an impoverished community where people often can’t afford the insurance,” she said. 

City officials hope that these state-led flood mitigation projects will prompt the federal government to come to Presidio and reassess the local area for flood risk. “There’s an economic development component to add savings for both people in their homes and businesses,” Martinez explained. “Successful planning leads to money.” 

Locals in the tri-county area are encouraged to fill out the flood planning questionnaire online: https://bit.ly/URGFP-Survey. Questions about the survey can be directed to [email protected] .