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West Texas braces for Mexican reservoir release

Helicopters were used to drop huge sandbags on a levee Saturday as officials in Presidio, Texas, braced for the possibility of more water being released from a Mexican reservoir.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Helicopters were used to drop huge sandbags on a levee and a crew of prison inmates worked to create a makeshift dam Saturday as officials in this rural border city braced for the possibility of more water being released from a Mexican reservoir.

Work also began on an effort to save a weakened levee protecting the city from the Rio Grande. Workers planned to line a section of the levee with heavy plastic anchored by sandbags to keep water from leaking through.

Officials in Presidio had expected a significant drop in the Rio Grande water level by Saturday evening after Mexican officials said they would reduce the amount of water being released from the Luis Leon Reservoir, but that became uncertain as more rain fell in Mexico.

"The good word is the river is down," Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton said Saturday. "The bad news is Mexico is taking in more water at Luis Leon (Reservoir) ... and they'll probably have to start increasing the releases."

Ponton said lakes and reservoirs in the state of Chihuahua were already at capacity.

The Rio Grande at Presidio, a dusty border city of nearly 5,000 about 250 miles southeast of El Paso, has been threatened by flooding for nearly two weeks because of torrential rain in Mexico and the forced release of water from the Luis Leon Reservoir. That water flows into the Rio Conchos, which feeds the Rio Grande.

Earlier in the week, a break in a small levee several miles east of the populated areas of the city flooded a golf course and hundreds of acres of farmland.

Work continued Saturday to construct a makeshift dam along a railroad track that abuts the levee at the eastern edge of Presidio. A crew of about 150 prison inmates worked in efforts to keep water from swamping low-lying areas of the city.

Disaster declared
Mexican officials have said levees along the Rio Conchos and the Rio Grande have failed in several places on their side of the border, flooding Presidio's neighboring city of Ojinaga with water up to 13 feet deep.

Ponton said Presidio will likely be at risk for another few weeks. He said crews from the International Boundary and Water Commission, the binational agency responsible for maintaining the U.S./Mexico border and Rio Grande levees, has warned that levees designed to protect Presidio from a 25-year flood are saturated and could give way at any time.

If a levee breaks upriver from the makeshift dam, Ponton said, nearly a third of Presidio could be underwater.

Gov. Rick Perry has declared a disaster in the area and asked the federal government for the same declaration.