Dam improvements help provide protection

Dam improvements help provide protection
Posted on 09/14/2022
Memphis Dam

The days are numbered for this year’s monsoon, but the work to improve stormwater infrastructure continues beyond El Paso’s rainy season. El Paso Water is improving two stormwater dams located at the base of the Franklin Mountains, the Memphis and Morehead dams.

The Public Service Board approved an emergency resolution in late 2021 after record-breaking rainfall wreaked havoc on portions of the utility’s stormwater system. Parts of Central El Paso, including the area where the dams are located, experienced 4.5 inches of rain in less an than hour last summer.

The resolution allowed EPWater to expedite construction on more than 65 stormwater projects to improve flood control.

Memphis Dam

The Memphis Dam, located in Central El Paso, was built in the 1930’s and was previously privately owned, presenting a challenge for maintenance of the structure.

“We experienced a very large rain event, which caused damage to this area,” said Gisela Dagnino, Stormwater Chief Operations Officer.

The velocity of stormwater runoff from the Franklin Mountains filled the upper and lower parts of the dam with large debris, nearly covering it to the brim. Improvements included removing large boulders, increasing the capacity of the lower and upper dams, adding concrete lining to portions of the dam and redirecting the arroyo to its original flow path.

“Over the years, the arroyo meandered, creating various flow paths that directed stormwater runoff directly into residential areas,” said Dagnino.

Most importantly, EPWater acquired access to the property to maintain the structure year-round.

“By desilting this dam and by being able to add a road to access the dam, it allows us to provide more protection to the downstream areas,” said Dagnino.

The upper portion of Memphis Dam is complete and the lower is expected to be finished this winter at a combined total of about $2 million.

Morehead Dam

Morehead DamMorehead Dam, less than a mile from Memphis Dam, is seeing its share of much-needed upgrades as well. The structure was also nearly covered with debris from the Franklin Mountains following last year’s storms. During the excavation process, crews found that the capacity of the dam could be increased due to the underground material found beneath the dam’s original design.

The depth of the dam previously stood at about three to six feet, but with additional excavation, it is now approximately 22 feet deep and can hold an estimated 3.5 million gallons of stormwater. “The slopes are concrete-lined to prevent erosion,” said Dagnino.

The improvements will provide protection to areas surrounding Fort Boulevard and Alabama Avenue by capturing more stormwater runoff, decreasing its velocity, and controlling its release downstream.

Morehead Dam is near completion at a cost of about $2 million.

Phase two includes construction of the Morehead Detention Pond downstream and is set to begin later this year. The utility now owns property surrounding both dams, giving EPWater access for maintenance.

“The goal behind all the stormwater projects is to enhance public safety,” said Dagnino. “We take a lot of pride in what we do because we want our city to be safe; we want our family and friends to be safe.”

See damage or illegal dumping? Report it

If you see damage to parts of the stormwater system – channels, ponds, and inlets – please email a picture with the location to [email protected]. You can report illegal dumping by calling 311.

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