RIO GRANDE CITY — Flood waters have inched back up almost a foot on inundated portions of Starr County, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service and county emergency personnel. Until recently, flood waters had been receding.
“This flooding event is by no means over and this recent rise in the flood waters has temporarily diminished hopes of the start of a recovery,” said Omar Montemayor, an AgriLife Extension agent in Starr County.
Until late this week, Rio Grande flood waters had been receding about 4 inches per day, Montemayor said.
“Flood waters from Hurricane Alex in late June started rising again yesterday (Wednesday) and from what we can tell the extra water is coming from the San Juan River in Mexico,” he said.
Water released from Falcon Dam has been flooding Starr County since June 27 with still no end in sight, Montemayor said.
“All that water has to go somewhere and so far it’s done a lot of serious damage here in Starr County,” said Eugenio “Gene” Falcon, the emergency management coordinator in Starr County.
“Governor Rick Perry’s office has already declared Starr County a disaster area, and we are now awaiting a similar declaration from the federal government,” he said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency agents have been in Starr County assessing damage to public infrastructure and will begin assessing damage to private property on Saturday, Falcon said.
Road and bridge damage alone in Starr County has been estimated at almost $19 million, he said.
“In addition to crop, cattle, farm and ranch losses, we estimate that some 178 homes and/or businesses have been flooded and some 166 families are in need of temporary housing at this time,” Falcon said.
Farms and ranches will incur debris cleanup and land-leveling costs once floodwaters recede, he said.
“Onion planting is scheduled to start in about six weeks but that will be impossible,” he said. “It will still be too wet, even if floodwaters started receding today.”
Starr County, located directly under Falcon Dam in Zapata County, does not enjoy the protection of the flood control system found in neighboring Hidalgo County where losses are also mounting, according to Brad Cowan, an AgriLife Extension agent in Hidalgo County.
“Rain showers are starting to slow down the grain sorghum harvest here in Hidalgo County and that’s the last thing growers need,” Cowan said.
“When it starts raining, harvesters have to stop because grain elevators will not accept wet grain,” he said. “It must be absolutely dry.”
Rain is the last thing cotton growers need as well since harvesting is set to begin in about a week, he said.
“Defoliation of cotton fields started in the last few days but none has been harvested yet,” he said. “The ceremonial first bale of cotton has been harvested, but there is usually a lag time between the first bale and the start of the general harvest.”
When planting is not delayed by rain like it was this year, defoliation usually starts the first week of July. Harvest normally begins one week to ten days later.
“We are way behind, but the good news is that the bulk of the grain sorghum crop has been harvested, about 65 percent of it,” Cowan said. “But there’s still a lot in the field and only about 30 percent of the corn has been harvested.”
With rain in the forecast and flood waters still rising, Starr County remains in peril, according to Starr County Judge Eloy Vera.
“It is my belief the damage to homes, businesses, public works and utility systems due to the rain and flood constitutes a public health and safety hazard,” he wrote in a letter to Perry on July 20.
“I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that an effective response is beyond Starr County’s capability to recover without supplementary state and/or federal assistance.”