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South Texas agricultural flood losses mounting

With no end in sight, flood waters continue to cause serious problems for a three-county area downstream from Falcon Dam on the Rio Grande, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel.

"Farm and ranch losses here in Starr County will easily climb into the millions," said Omar Montemayor, an AgriLife Extension agent in Rio Grande City.

To get a better handle on agricultural flood damage, Montemayor is asking Starr County farmers and ranchers to call his office to report their losses.

"If you've suffered agricultural losses in Starr County, please call our office at 956-487-2306," he said. "These would include losses to crop, livestock and structural damages, including farming equipment, fences, sheds, stables, pens and so forth."

Starr County is situated just south of Falcon Dam on the Rio Grande. Flood waters have covered an estimated 15,000 acres of crop and rangeland there, according to Ronnie Zamora, an AgriLife Extension agent-AgNR Cooperative Extension Program.

"We had several thousand acres of corn, sorghum and cantaloupes that were ready for harvest before the flood,” Zamora said.

In addition to crop losses, growers will have to work the land once the flood waters are gone, Montemayor said.

"Of those 15,000 acres, some 10,000 acres will need land leveling due to the erosion and sediment from the flood," he said. "That will be another expense that growers will incur before they can do any fall or spring planting."

Reports of lost cattle, goats and horses are also being received, Montemayor said. "Cattle losses along the river could have been much higher, but for the last three or four years, we've had lots of fever tick problems in the area that's now flooded so lots of those cattle that had been treated and not quarantined had been moved out and sold," he said.

What the flood situation will do to the tick population is anybody's guess, he said. "Hopefully, they'll be washed out into the Gulf."

The flooding comes on the heels of Hurricane Alex, which made landfall in northern Mexico on June 30, and a tropical depression that followed shortly thereafter, according to Erasmo Yarrito Jr., Rio Grande water master for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s.

"We've been working these flood waters since early July and we really don't know when this will all end," he said. "It's water coming in from Mexico as well as from Amistad Dam, further upstream, and it's quite a bit of water."

Inflows from Amistad have decreased, which will help the flooding situation in the Del Rio area, but will not be an immediate help to the Lower Rio Grande Valley, he said.

"We're currently about six feet above conservation level at Falcon Dam, which is 301.2 feet above sea level, but the level has been increasing rapidly the past three days," he said. Still more water is expected, Yarrito said.

"Unfortunately, we don't know when it will crest. We have no information on that. We know we'll have more inflows from Rio Salado in Mexico, but we don't know at what rate or how fast it will come. Hopefully, it won't be too fast. But we'll be experiencing more flooding in Rio Grande City and farms downstream," he said.

Dr. Ruben Saldana, the AgriLife Extension administrator in District 12 in South Texas, said downstream agricultural losses in Hidalgo and Cameron counties are still being calculated. "We know we'll have losses to crops planted in the floodway," he said. "I can't imagine any of those crops surviving, but we haven't yet determined how many acres were planted there."

TAGS: Management
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