Commissioner Garza on state flood panel

As part of the process of building a more comprehensive response to flood planning and mitigation, the Texas Water Development Board recently announced the creation of 15 regional flood planning groups across the state. Among those named to represent the Rio Grande Valley are Hidalgo County Commissioner David Fuentes and Cameron County Commissioner David Garza.

The two county commissioners will serve as voting members of Region 15, which encompasses the entirety of the Rio Grande Valley, as well as portions of more than a dozen counties, from Kenedy, Brooks, Jim Hogg and Zapata counties, and north along the path of the Rio Grande to Del Rio in Val Verde County.

According to a Sept. 23 statement released by the TWDB, the establishment of the 15 flood planning regions comes as a result of the 2019 passage of Senate Bill 8, which — for the first time — allows for the creation of a statewide flood plan known as the Texas State Flood Plan.

For Commissioners Fuentes and Garza, whose constituents have borne the brunt of multiple back-to-back natural disasters, seeing state officials finally recognize the importance of taking a regionalized approach to flood planning has been a long time coming.

“It’s neat that it’s new. It’s probably a little overdue because it is an infrastructure issue, but I’m glad the state’s finally addressed it,” Fuentes said during a phone interview Thursday.

“We know that it’s a priority in our area. We’ve had six FEMA declared disasters in five years, since 2015,” he added.

Those disasters included several powerful storms in 2015, followed by catastrophic floods in June 2018 and June 2019. And though July’s Hurricane Hannah didn’t meet the threshold to be declared a FEMA disaster, it, too, wrought widespread flood damage across all four counties.

As each disaster has struck, Valley leaders have invariably been stuck trying to clean up the damage after the fact.

Officials have continually scrambled to keep up with repairing damage to existing infrastructure in their respective jurisdictions while having few resources to devote to making those systems more resilient before disaster could strike in the first place.