ZAPATA, Texas (Border Report) — Remote Zapata County on the South Texas border is getting $2 million in federal aid and equipment shipped from elsewhere on the border to help with dredging the dwindling Rio Grande as local leaders try to siphon drinking water for area residents.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, which is an hour west, on Monday announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was granting $2 million in emergency funds. The money will be split evenly between the two water districts in the county: Zapata County Water Works and Siesta Shores Water District.
Heavy equipment that is to be used to dredge the Rio Grande lined a dirt road on Monday afternoon outside the offices for Siesta Shores Water District.
The equipment was brought in by the International Boundary and Water Commission from Yuma, Arizona. But it can’t be used just yet as a bi-national permitting process is still underway.
For weeks the IBWC has been working with Mexican officials, as well as obtaining environmental permits and permission to begin dredging, Xochitl Aranda of IBWC told Border Report.
“We have everything in place. The equipment is in place. The funding is ready to be put forward up to $2 million at two different locations. So the permitting according to the International Boundary and Water Commission should be hopefully very soon,” Cuellar told Border Report.
Aranda came from the IBWC’s U.S. offices in El Paso on Monday for the joint announcement. And she was instrumental in helping to locate the heavy dredging equipment, which if approved, will be placed on top of pontoon boats that will go out into Falcon Lake and try to get water.
This point of the lake is where the Rio Grande empties into it and after months of drought here in South Texas, the lake really is no more than a trickle of river that runs through the middle.
But it is the only source of water for the county’s 15,000 residents who rely on the water.
“As of right now we’re at a dire need for water and the supply is cut to a minimum right now for all the citizens and community in Siesta Shores and the whole of Zapata County,” Zapata County Sheriff Raymundo Del Bosque told Border Report.
“The situation is still critical,” Zapata County Judge Joe Rathmell told us.
Since Border Report was last out to the lake at the end of July, the water level has dropped another foot and is now at 253.1 feet, a 30-year “historic low,” Rathmell said.
Rathmell says that this month the county’s water district was able to build a rock jetty into the river and dredged up 15 feet of silt using a portable pump.
“Our situation has improved for Zapata Water Works but the river is still historically low,” Rathmell said.
Cuellar says this is the first time that he can recall when such a dredging project has been undertaken in South Texas.
“IBWC is running all the traps not only on the U.S. side and also the Mexican side so everybody knows what we’re doing,” Cuellar said.
A dredging effort with IBWC was done a few years ago in West Texas and New Mexico.