Signs of Progress

June 9, 2009

About the author: Cerrissa Marie Cuellar is public affairs specialist for El Paso Water Utilities. Cuellar can be reached at 915.594.5510 or by e-mail at [email protected].


Seated at the western tip of Texas and in the northern extreme of the Chihuahuan Desert, the city of El Paso receives an estimated 8 in. of rain per year, usually during the summer months of July, August and September. In August 2006, however, this border town and its surrounding areas were drenched with continuous rain, resulting in citywide flooding.

In one week, more than 15 in. of rain fell on the “Sun City,” nearly doubling the annual average and causing flood-control reservoirs to overflow. The flooding caused more than $200 million in damage to both public and private infrastructure, and El Paso was left in ruins.

At the time, storm water management was included in the city’s annual budget and funded by taxes. The duties and funds were shared by several city departments, including Engineering and Streets. As the community recovered from the summer floods, the City Council created a separate utility to manage storm water drainage. With hopes of keeping similar disasters from happening again, management of the Stormwater Utility was transferred to El Paso Water Utilities (EPWU).

Establishing a Utility

On March 1, 2008, EPWU began managing El Paso’s Stormwater Utility. Funded with a dedicated stream of revenue collected from a newly created storm water fee, EPWU began a systemized program of maintenance, repairs and improvements.

“We accepted the challenge from City Council in order to provide the best possible system for El Pasoans. Our storm water system was neglected for too long, and the damage we experienced in the 2006 floods, and even last summer, was the unfortunate consequence,” said EPWU President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Archuleta.

For more than a year, EPWU has been working on storm water maintenance projects throughout the city. Workers have removed decades of built-up debris and vegetation from dams, channels and ponds. The improvements have significantly reduced the risk of flooding and the associated threats to the economy, transportation and safety. But as EPWU approached the end of its first year of management, questions still arose about what was being done to reduce flooding and improve public safety in El Paso.

Informing & Involving Ratepayers

“People expressed a desire to know where their user fees were going,” said Vice President of Communications and Marketing Christina Montoya. “We created four traveling ‘signs of progress’ to be posted at different projects around town and then moved when projects are completed. This way, people will know when they see crews working at a site that it is a storm water project.”

Residents have responded positively to the signs, and the community appreciates the effort to keep them involved and informed, according to Montoya. The signs cost $250 each. They will continue to be displayed at major storm water maintenance projects and locations throughout the city to keep the community informed.

Furthermore, people are encouraged to say hello when they see storm water workers and ask questions about the projects they are working on; in return, the citizen reaching out gets a free T-shirt. The T-shirts, too, have elicited a good response.

“Our four satellite offices say people are interacting with the crews on a more frequent basis,” Montoya said. “They’ve given away close to 200 shirts.”