Under repair, border levees hold up after days of heavy rain in South Texas

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MISSION, Texas (Border Report) — Recent aggressive action on breached levees by Hidalgo County officials could be the reason that South Texas borderlands have been spared from flooding this week, despite torrential rains.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez had pushed federal officials to fix the levees breaches caused by border wall construction. On Thursday, he told Border Report that “there were no issues with the levees” to date despite upwards of 9 inches of rain falling this week in some areas, like the city of Mission.

Cortez in April threatened the Biden administration that he would direct county resources to shore up the border levee wall himself if federal officials failed to fix holes and giant gaps in the levee prior to the start of the June 1 hurricane season.

In this file photo, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez talks to media on April 14, 2021, in front of a giant road-sized gap in the earthen border levee wall in Palmview, Texas. The breach was caused by border wall construction. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Cortez said that the major breaches have been fixed by crews hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but not 100%. And he said additional repairs will take several months and could last well into the fall.

“It appears that there are some changes in our weather pattern occurring and it seems to be more often than what we expected so all this is critical that we try to make the necessary improvements as fast as we can,” Cortez said.

This is the fourth summer that the Rio Grande Valley has received downpours exceeding or totaling 8 inches of rain in the months of June and July. On July 26, 2020, Hurricane Hanna struck and dumped a foot of rain in some areas.

On June 21, Cortez gave Border Report a progress report on levee repairs and said they were going as scheduled and that he was confident would hold up to heavy weather.

“To the extent that we are in danger of flooding, the answer is no,” he said.

That proved true this week as thick dark clouds moved through the region and the skies opened up repeatedly as wave after wave of rain came down Tuesday and Wednesday. Up to 3 more inches were predicted for Thursday, and a flash flood watch has been extended through Friday, KVEO reports.

At least four major breaches in the levee had been made as construction crews cut road-sized gaps in the dirt earthen wall in order to move heavy machinery south of the wall. All of those gaps have been closed, but Cortez said several areas are still being repaired and “are not as strong as they once were.”

The Biden administration has halted border wall construction, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants to complete a border barrier between Texas and Mexico and on Thursday began a Special Session with lawmakers in Austin and one of their priority items is border security.

Abbott on June 30 visited the Rio Grande Valley and toured the border wall along with former President Donald Trump

Some soil erosion and tears to construction material were seen on Thursday morning beneath the concrete wall that has been built atop the levee at the Chimney Hill RV Resort park in Mission. The area is one of four major breaches that had been reported in the border levee. And the minor erosion likely was caused by fast rain runoff.

Soil erosion and materials used to shore up this section in Mission, Texas, at the Chimney Park RV Resort Park appeared out of place on July 8, 2021. Crews have been working since April to fix a border levee breach here that had been caused during construction of the border wall. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

There are an estimated 1 million people whose lives could have been threatened had the repairs not been made. Border Report in late April was the first to report that Cortez planned to mobilize his own employees to fix the earthen levees and not wait for approval by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

That prompted federal officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to announce a few days later that they were calling back contractors and moving up the timeline for repairs.

Standing water is seen on July 8, 2021, at Chimney Park RV Resort in Mission, Texas, just feet from the Rio Grande and just south of a border earthen levee where border wall construction had begun. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photo)

But Cortez said Thursday that his employees are keeping watch on the situation, as well as Hidalgo County Commissioner Everardo “Ever” Villarreal, whose precinct suffered the most border levee damages.

Said Cortez: “It requires more work.”

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