One of the benefits of re-doing the NW Master Plan was the employment of rainwater capture and retention strategies using Green Infrastructure/Low Impact Development tools. The next step was to re-do the El Paso Drainage Design manual so that the same GI/LID tools could be used all over the City. The idea is to recapture rainwater so that it permeates back into the aquifers of the Hueco Bolson and the Mesilla Bolson thereby recharging our groundwater. Another benefit of rainwater and landscape management includes keeping landscapes watered without having to use much extra water if any. The addition of trees especially helps to cool the City and its homes which, once again, means using less water for evaporative cooling.
So here is the final draft of the new Drainage Design Manual:
Once released, the avaricious barracudas in the development community began to swarm and bite. Led by River Oaks and Richard Williams the objection was raised that the DDM cannot be applied because El Paso has a variety of soils that require different drainage techniques.
Carlos Gallinar, Planning Deputy Director, told me that the LID standards for drainage were not calibrated for various areas of El Paso. What is required, he said, is a "concrete set of directivies" that developers, builders and engineers can use rather than arbitrary standards. He stated that the problem is that there is no more money for doing the kind of soil analysis required for such directives. The project would cost in the neighborhood of $100,000 and City Council is being very conservative.
When I pointed out to him that the USDA had published a comprehensive soil survey of El Paso County in 1971, he retorted that, although he had not seen the study, it was probably out of date as soils may have changed. Of course, such extreme changes would require catastrophic geological events. There have been no earthquakes, landslides, a radical shift in the flow of the Rio Grande, mountain building or dramatic rifting of the Rio Grande River Valley since 1971. The caliche beneath my yard typical in central El Paso on the mountain slopes was there when my parents built this house and is there whenever I want to plant a new shrub or tree. East El Paso has sand down to 10,000 feet (that Rio Grande River Rift again) and the Valleys have silts and clays.
Soil testing is a required part of any building project any way. Also, percolation tests are easy. Dig a hole, fill it with water, see how much water has permeated the ground in an hour or so.
Hydrologist John Walton told me that he liked what he saw in the DDM. Landscape experts tell me that drainage requirements could easily be based on percolation rates.
So why the stall? Why did City Development push the City Plan Commission to recommend to City Council that, without a study, the DDM would have to be optional?
We all know that, since the last City Council election, developers are in the driver's seat with City Council. Elpasonaturally has learned that considerable pressure is on the City Manager to go along. The pressure moves down the chain of command and, presto magico, the leadership of Planning and Development, which was far more progressive a year ago, has become lap doggish - yes people with excuses such as the one Carlos Gallinar was giving me. (Chain of command pressure may also explain why Gallinar now refuses to return calls by me and is only responsive when I track him down.) Elpasonaturally has also learned that the morale in the rank and file of Planning has turned toward the morose.
If the City Council can't find $100,000 to do a study that will lead to solid GI/LID standards and save us water for generations, then I suggest that the Stormwater Utility do it. Let's see what River Oaks and their buddies say after that study is done.