News Column

Texas Lawmaker Urges New Drainage District

Feb 25, 2013

Allen Essex

A Willacy County legislator is proposing the creation of a third drainage district in the county.

Willacy County Judge John F. Gonzales Jr. said the bill, filed by state Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, is still pending. Guillen's district includes Willacy County.

Although the new district would increase taxes in its area 4 cents for each $100 in property value, that is the same amount property taxes are likely to be reduced when the county income from "Payment in Lieu of Taxes" from two wind turbine farms will reach its full effect, he said.

"Residents will not receive a tax increase to pay for drainage," Gonzales said. "It will be a wash."

After the district is designed, it will take about three years before the issue appears on a ballot so county residents can decide if they want the new district to be created, Gonzales said. Raymondville, which is flood-prone, will be included in the district.

Since the Raymondville Drain, a ditch that begins in Hidalgo County and crosses Willacy County to the Laguna Madre, is owned by the Delta Lake Irrigation District, the city of Raymondville now pays $60,000 a year to drain its rain and floodwater there, Gonzales said.

If Drainage District No. 3 is created, the city no longer will pay the $60,000, since that payment will be assumed by the district, Gonzales said. City residents would not have a tax increase for drainage, he said.

Precinct 4 County Commissioner Eliberto "Beto" Guerra said the new drainage district would especially benefit a flood-prone area around Lasara. But drainage work funded by grants will not be effective unless there is some place for the water to go.

Some of the district's tax money will be used to buy rights-of-way and dig lateral ditches that will drain into the Raymondville Drain.

County Engineer Raul Flores said Delta Lake Irrigation District is willing to turn over the Raymondville Drain to Willacy County, but then it would be Willacy County's responsibility to maintain it.

However, in order to improve drainage in Raymondville, that major ditch must be widened and deepened, he said.

"The right-of-way is owned by Delta Lake and they have all the say," Flores said. "If we want to put in lateral ditches now, we have to ask them for a permit."

It will take at least three years to design the district and to persuade Willacy County residents they will benefit by creation of a third district, Flores said.

The county judge's plan to offset the 4-cent tax rate may work, but voters must understand that wind turbine income will really pay the costs, he said.

A large sump, or drainage, lake will need to be built outside Raymondville to drain water from the city, Flores said.

The Raymondville Drain is not low enough now to improve drainage from the city, he said. That ditch drains everything north of Highway 186 and the Hidalgo Drain, another east-west ditch across Willacy County, drains everything south of Highway 186, he said.

He definitely supports creation of the new district, Flores said. Raymondville and the whole county have very bad drainage problems.

After floods like the one caused by Hurricane Dolly in 2008, and when water from the Mexican mountains drained into the Rio Grande, Arroyo Colorado and floodway in 2010, enormous damage was done to farms, homes and businesses, Flores said. But that has always been the case, he said.

"I have a picture in my office on Hidalgo Avenue that shows that street during a flood in 1924," he said. "There's a sailboat going down the main street of the town."

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2013 Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas)

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