Posted on August 22, 2022
Falcon Lake is about to undergo a major makeover, as equipment needed to dredge the lake has been secured and will be arriving as early as next week.
The machinery will be able to begin the sediment-removal process, intended to increase the lake’s capacity while helping restore its natural habitat.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX-28) announced this week that Zapata County would receive the machinery. The process is intended to improve water levels to ensure Zapata County residents continue to have access to the critical water supply.
“When Sheriff Del Bosque, Judge Rathmell, the commissioners and the rest of the community reached out to me with pictures of what was happening at Falcon Lake, I knew it was imperative to seek immediate action,” Cuellar said. “I immediately contacted (U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and Water Commission Maria-Elena) Giner to see if bringing equipment to dredge Falcon Lake was a possibility, and after several discussions, we were able to secure this equipment from Arizona to come down to Zapata and begin the dredging process as soon as possible.”
Cuellar said a meeting was held with IBWC engineers and Zapata County officials to gather the required information to obtain the 404 permit that will allow the process to begin. They are hoping that the dredging process will begin on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Acting Principal Engineer of Operations U.S. Section- IBWC Xochitl Aranda, P.E. stated that once they were presented with the evidence that showed what was going on in the lake, they quickly made sure to have their agency look into the matter and offer assistance.
“We had a meeting, and the concerns were presented to us,” Aranda said. “Wherever we are able to help our stakeholders — we are a solution-oriented agency, so we will like to offer our help every way that we can while completing our mission.”
On a fast track, both Zapata County and Siesta Shores Water Control and Improvement District can get $1 each to make sure the funds to make the equipment work are provided. The work will take about two weeks to complete as 6,000-8,000 cubic yards of sediment are expected to be taken out from the lake and then disposed of appropriately as Zapata County mandates, according to the congressman.
“By removing this sediment from the bottom of the lake, it will increase the depth and water volume for the lake and restore the stormwater detention capacity, eradicate any debris or deep-rooted plants that might have been a problem there and improve water quality and clarity and help create a more balanced ecosystem for the plants and wildlife,” Cuellar said. “It is a win-win situation not only for us human beings but also for our ecosystem in many ways.”
Cuellar thanked both the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission and the United States Department of Agriculture for moving quickly on making sure there was enough proof of what was happening to secure the funds.
“I want to thank Congressman Henry Cuellar for his efforts in securing equipment and the support from the international boundary and water commission,” Zapata County Judge Joseph Rathmell said. “This equipment will help Siesta Shores WCID and Zapata waterworks in dealing with the low water levels in Falcon Lake due to the ongoing drought. Dredging should commence within a short time to secure adequate water supplies for the residents of Zapata County. I also want to thank Henry for his efforts with USDA and other funding agencies to secure emergency funding for Zapata County.”
Finding the equipment needed was itself a bit of an issue. Aranda noted that there were some struggles, but fortunately they were able to get the machinery for next week.
“The amphibious excavator, because it is used in wet environments as well as in wet grounds, this was something of a challenge for us to find. If we would purchase something like that, it would take months to receive,” Aranda said. “I went on the search in our other federal agencies and our partners and found one that is not being used.
“We were fortunate … to find one that we could transfer ownership to. The only caveat was that it was out in Yuma, Arizona, but I said we’ve got the operators and transporters, and within two weeks, we were able to bring in all the equipment. It was two trips, so it was a long process to bring them up here.”
As the dredging work is prepared to commence soon, Aranda says she is in contact with the Army Corps. of Engineers, the Texas Historical Society and other statewide and federal agencies to make sure that all the permits and necessary paperwork are correct before work begins.
The area being dredged is the only source of water to the Siesta Shores WCID, which services an estimate of 1,800-2,000 residents.
Cuellar said he is glad that it rained in the past couple of days, but the fact still remains the water concerns are still very real as levels in bodies of water like in Falcon Lake and the Rio Grande are at “historical lows.”
“We are very grateful for the water that came in the last day or two as it helps a little bit, but it doesn’t solve the problem from what I understand,” Cuellar said.