Part of living in the Pearl of the Prairie is that it is a prairie, flat with many drainage challenges.
There have been a number of floods in this community since I came on board in 1992.
In 1994, 1998, 2004, 2015, 2016, Harvey in 2017 and even early June 2019, sections of the city flooded, but the worst one in recent past took place in 2004, changing the focus of El Campo’s drainage issues.
Studies, which actually began in 1998, concluded with four master drainage phases in 2008 and 2010 identifying and recommending ways to help alleviate flooding issues within the city limits of El Campo.
One of those recommendations was the Tres Palacios Channel widening. The Tres Palacios River is the city’s primary outfall system.
Most of the city drains within the Tres Palacios watershed of 261.5 square miles, flowing approximately 59.5 miles from its headwaters north of El Campo to Tres Palacios Bay.
Halff Engineering was selected to design and engineer the extensive project.
Original studies showed channel improvements alone would adversely impact downstream communities. Construction of an off-channel detention pond was essential along with the sloped and widened channel improvements, according to engineers.
The City of El Campo entered a contract with the Texas Water Development Board for a severe repetitive loss grant in 2013, after many discussions, designs and rebidding.
Ten years after the original recommendation, the city’s Tres Palacios Channel Improvement Project became reality with FEMA grants, 2004 Certificates of Obligation, and in-kind services to cover the $7 million to purchase the land, easements, design and construction.
City council approved a contract with Challenger Services Inc. from Ganado in February 2018, but construction didn’t start until September 2018 due to environmental assessments and rain delays.
The Tres Palacios Creek Channel Improvements project has been completed by Challenger Services after moving 1.1 million cubic yards of material to widen the 1.93 miles of undersized channel and creating a 55-acre, 535-acre foot stormwater detention pond to gather and slowly release back approximately 175 million gallons of storm water after heavy rains.
This project is the largest and, arguably, the most beneficial project this community has seen.
It removes more than 400 structures (337 residential and 67 commercial) out of the floodplain.
Some El Campo citizens received four feet of water in their homes during the November 2004 flood.
Just 1 inch of flood water can cost a homeowner as much as $26,800, but this project may take some of those homes out of the floodplain entirely.
Floods are a deeply emotional event that tears at the security of your family as well as your property.
Life along the Gulf Coast will always have that threat with tropical down pours and hurricanes.
Hopefully, we will never have to see if this project works as designed, but the cost of doing nothing is even greater.
– Kevin Thompson is the City of El Campo’s Public Works Director.