HARLINGEN — Residents like Justin Alexander cringe when they remember big storms flooding their homes, filling up their neighborhoods like “lakes.”
“When there’s a tropical storm, you don’t sleep,” Alexander, a medical technician, said Friday as Tropical Storm Hanna headed into the Texas coast.
Like his neighbors in the Adams Crossing subdivision, he remembers the storm of June 2019, which rushed about an inch of water into his home.
“It’s a whole lake — it’s more like a river,” Alexander said. “Cars were almost up to their door handles. You just pray the rain stops. When you watch it go into the garage, you start moving your furniture and put towels down under the doors. You know when the water goes through the doors, water will start coming into the walls. You know you’re screwed.”
Last week, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted to upgrade the city’s drainage system, calling for a 25-year plan to replace the current 10-year plan.
As part of the plan, the city would require developers to build retention ponds to capture floodwaters unleashed during so-called 25-year storms, or storms with 25-year frequencies.
“If it’s perfect, we don’t know,” Tre Peacock, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission said, referring to the 25-year plan. “We wanted to upgrade it.”
Next month, city commissioners are to consider turning the 25-year plan into part of an ordinance.
Proposed 50-year plan
For months, local engineer JV Garcia has proposed a 50-year plan which would require subdivision developers boost standards by widening drainage ditches.
“We need to upgrade the drainage,” Garcia, who launched the group’s new Facebook page Reinvent Harlingen Drainage, said.
Last week at City Hall, Garcia’s group was calling on Planning and Zoning commissioners to adopt the 50-year plan, which would require developers to widen future subdivision drainage ditches from three feet to four feet.
“If the public doesn’t get involved then everyone’s going to think everything’s fine with our drainage,” he said.
Garcia believes the 50-year plan, which Hidalgo County and the cities of McAllen and Weslaco have implemented, would help prevent future subdivisions from widespread flooding.
In response, Peacock said the Planning and Zoning Commission would consider more “stringent” proposals such as a 50-year plan.
For months, some developers have opposed upgrading drainage standards to avoid paying higher costs, Garcia said.
As part of his plan, he’s calling on the city to better maintain its storm pipes and drainage ditches.
“First and foremost is maintenance of our storm pipes,” he said.
Along drainage ditches, he said, vegetation often blocks water flow.
“You have ditches that look like forests and pipes filled with silt,” he said. “They’re blocked.”
During the June 2019 storm, an earthen dam stood along Cameron County Drainage District No. 5’s main drain near Wilson Road, Garcia said.
“That’s when the rains hit — when they had this cofferdam up,” he said, describing the dam as one of many factors behind the area’s widespread flooding. “It was the perfect storm.”
At district offices, General Manager Alan Moore said the storm dumped heavy rains that overwhelmed the area’s drainage system.
“That storm was totally unpredicted,” Moore said, adding his employees were using the earthen dam as they lined the channel with concrete. “The primary reason we had the extent of flooding is we had 15 inches of rain in four hours.”
As part of his plan, Garcia is also proposing developers install rain harvesting systems in new homes.
In 2019, the June storm damaged more than 1,000 area homes, Garcia said, citing government reports.
In Harlingen, Adams Crossing and Secluded Acres were some of the hardest hit neighborhoods.
“Our neighborhood is kind of in a bowl,” said Alexander, whose home sustained about $10,000 worth of damages as a result of the 2019 storm.
Along Wilson Road, Jennifer Garza said her home sustained about $2,000 in damages after about three inches of floodwater rushed into her garage.
“It was a lake,” Garza, who lives on Cielo Lindo Court, said as she described her neighborhood engulfed in floodwaters. “Water was a little higher than the knees.”
For five days, she said, floodwaters trapped her family in their home.
“We were stuck in that standing water,” she said.