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EPWU keeps working on storm water master plan; Fees may increase
BY: GENEVIEVE CURTIS
EL PASO: TX-- El Paso Water Utilities continues trying to protect the city from massive flooding especially in the central area where September's flash floods shut down a stretch of Interstate 10 in central El Paso.
"It is frustrating, it's frustrating for us," said John Balliew, president of El Paso Water Utilities, tasked with the challenge of overseeing storm water infrastructure and preventing the city from going underwater, so to speak.
When the Borderland gets slammed by storms, shutting down the freeway, the rushing water is very visible. But the design to deter the floods is happening behind the scenes.
Still, it's a game of catch up for EPWU, challenged to add infrastructure to an already developed city.
"These are mistakes that were made not last year, not 10 years ago, these are mistakes that were made 50 and 100 years ago where the infrastructure wasn't put in then and we are trying to catch up," said Balliew.
The central area remains the Achilles' heel of the overall master plan.
"That area is completely developed so anything we do we have to acquire a bunch of little pieces of real estate and piece it together. So it's taking us time. It's not like it's not our top priority, it is. It is just taken us a long time to get where we are," said Balliew.
Balliew said that those from whom they have to buy property are not willing sellers.
Wednesday, the PSB approved a nearly $800,000 contract to begin construction on one of the ponding areas in central, designed to catch the water before it arrives at the interstate.
Its part of the larger system, which when completed, will be able to withstand a 100-year storm.
But the projects don't come cheap.
One new pumping station alone costs $30 million and Balliew says they need at least three more.
Now the conversation has turned to possibly upping storm water fees.
At the current rate, EPWU only has a certain amount annually to fund the multimillion-dollar projects.
"You have $2.5 million a year income to build things with it doesn't go that far when you're talking about these big capital projects," said Balliew.
Balliew said EPWU shares in the community's frustration.
"It is frustrating, it's frustrating for us but I think the key message here, is we are working in a completely developed area," said Balliew.
But in a few years, the goal is to be able to keep the Borderland dry, despite Mother Nature's plans.
A new pumping station south of the freeway should be completed in the next two to three years and the new pond approved on Wednesday should be finished by May 2014.