Rural Rescue

March 31, 2017
Funding a $6.2 million flood control project in rural Texas

About the author: Benjamin Shuman is senior engineer for USDA Rural Development's Water Environmental Programs. Shuman can be reached at [email protected]. Phillip Pawelek, professional engineer for S&B Infrastructure Ltd., and Elizabeth Garza, assistant area director for USDA Rural Development, contributed to this article.

In 2008, Roma, Texas, experienced a major flooding event; in the ensuing years, it experienced several more flooding episodes that caused further damage to public and private property. Roma is located in Starr County, in the southern part of the state along the Rio Grande, across from Ciudad Miguel Alemán in Tamaulipas, Mexico. It has a population of 9,765 and is economically depressed. The city has experienced rapid population growth in the past 40 years. This led to the construction of residences and structures over historical floodways and floodplains of Arroyo Roma, Los Morenos and other tributaries in the region. In addition, the construction of and improvements to U.S. Highway 83 led to poor drainage in the city.

As a result, upland flows were no longer able to drain properly, causing flooding in the city during storm events. The city lacked the infrastructure to accommodate the large amount of upland flow, which at times would cause neighborhoods, streets and a nearby school along Ebony Avenue to flood.

Ebony Avenue had a soil and caliche (calcium carbonate gravel) mix for its unpaved surface, which prevented water from properly draining. The city was concerned about the Gongora Creek watershed and Ebony Avenue from Northgate Avenue to the Rio Grande, which were in need of storm water diversion. The city also had drainage problems on other streets, particularly Escandon Street and Efren Ramirez Street.

Federal Funding

Help was available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development Rural Utilities Service (RUS), which funds rural electric, telecommunications, and water and wastewater projects. The Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program provides financial assistance to public bodies, nonprofit utilities and federally recognized tribes with populations of 10,000 or fewer.

Infrastructure financing for rural communities through loans, grants and loan guarantees can fund construction or improvement of drinking water, wastewater, solid waste and storm water infrastructure. Working through a network of local and state Rural Development offices, the program provides up to 40-year loan terms. In recent years, interest rates have been at historic lows. Eligible applicants can use the funds for construction and related costs, such as engineering and legal fees, and rights-of-way.

In a typical year, the program provides approximately $1.5 billion in infrastructure funding to rural America through its network of Rural Development offices. While most of these funds traditionally go to drinking water and wastewater projects, Rural Development has seen a recent increase in applications for storm water projects.

Money Into Action

In July 2010, the city of Roma, working with engineering firm S&B Infrastructure Ltd. of McAllen, Texas, and Rural Development staff in Texas, applied for and was awarded a $3.571 million USDA loan and a $2.752 million USDA grant to remedy the flooding.

The engineering firm designed a plan to catch storm water runoff before it reached Ebony Avenue for conveyance and improve community access. In addition, the plan would improve the safety and health of the community by paving and stabilizing the existing unpaved roadway to eliminate pot holes, street erosion, dust and standing water.

The engineer also proposed two upstream detention ponds. The 4.3- and 12-acre ponds would release storm water slowly into a proposed storm sewer system. The project included reinforced concrete pipe and high-density polyethylene pipe, as well as paving, curbs and gutters. The system then would outfall into the Rio Grande. The city hired construction contractor REIM of Mission, Texas, to complete the work.

Work began in May 2014 and construction was completed on time with no major issues. A final inspection was completed by Rural Development staff, the project engineer, the construction contractor and local officials in August 2015.

Thanks to this storm water project, the community’s access to the school is no longer an issue when it rains. There has not been any further flooding for the residents living along Ebony Avenue. In addition, the drainage problems on Escandon Street and Efren Ramirez Street were addressed by the creation of a new sewer district. The project has been a success due to efforts by the engineer, construction contractor, funding agency, and most importantly, the residents of Roma.

Since the passage of the Water Facilities Act in 1937, more than 96,157 loans and grants totaling $53.8 billion have been provided to rural utilities.

Applications for funding may be submitted through the RD Apply Internet portal at or through local and state Rural Development offices. 

About the Author

Benjamin Shuman