Heavy rains forced open­ing of up­stream dams, of­fi­cials say

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By Christo­pher Sher­man

Dam re­leases bring mess and ques­tions down­stream

LA GRULLA — A lo­cal of­fi­cial said he felt help­less this month while the Rio Grande con­tin­ued its rapid rise, flood­ing ru­ral neigh­bor­hoods as a dam emp­tied the equiv­a­lent of two Olympic-size swim­ming pools ev­ery three sec­onds.

Judge Eloy Vera, Starr County’s high­est-rank­ing of­fi­cial, said that when wa­ter of­fi­cials up­stream de­cided to let more wa­ter flow from reser­voirs, life be­came dif­fi­cult for down­stream com­mu­ni­ties such as his.

The Rio Grande hopped its banks and spread to di­men­sions un­rec­og­niz­able as a river, much less the lazy bound­ary be­tween the U.S. and Mex­ico.

“It is kind of frus­trat­ing that we have no in­put into how much wa­ter is re­leased,” Vera said.

Vera, a civil en­gi­neer by trade, said he un­der­stands the tech­ni­cal rea­sons for the re­lease. Still, it wasn’t easy to ex­plain that to own­ers of 130 homes — half in this tiny river com­mu­nity — whose prop­er­ties be­came a sop­ping mess de­spite a two-week stretch of sunny skies.

U.S. and Mex­i­can of­fi­cials in­sist that the flood­ing ear­lier this month that in­un­dated South Texas and northeastern Mex­ico was in­evitable, even though much of it fol­lowed re­leases at Amis­tad Dam near Del Rio and Fal­con Dam near Za­p­ata. The wa­ters forced thou­sands from their homes and closed in­ter­na­tional cross­ings.

When hur­ri­cane sea­son be­gan June 1, Amis­tad was at its high­est level for that day since 1992 but still be­low the so-called “con­ser­va­tion level,” the max­i­mum amount wa­ter man­agers are sup­posed to keep in a reser­voir most of the time.

A month later, Hur­ri­cane Alex came ashore about 100 miles south of the Rio Grande, dump­ing heavy rain. That forced man­agers to be­gin in­creas­ing the flow from reser-

Nathan Lam­brecht

Flood­wa­ters from the Rio Grande sur­round La Grulla, in the Rio Grande Val­ley, ear­lier this month. The Starr County judge said that even though he is a civil en­gi­neer, he found it dif­fi­cult to ex­plain to res­i­dents why dams were be­ing opened.

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