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Desert Diary
Culture/Storm Drains


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Life in the Southwest is often a matter of compromises. Strangely enough, one of the hazards of these arid lands is flooding; flooding caused in part, by compromises. With many Chihuahuan Desert communities built on mountain slopes, construction of storm drains becomes hugely expensive. Thus many towns and cities merely use the streets to drain away the monsoonal rains. For the usual run of storms, this works reasonably well, channeling the waters to storm sewers in the lowlands or directly into rivers or playas. In the exceptional storms, though, the hard surfaced roadways direct the rushing water downslope, overwhelming lowland drainage systems and pooling around low-lying residences.

If, rather than pouring down a vast network of streets, storm sewers gathered and directed such water straight into the river or playa, many areas would be spared flooding. Thus the compromise. Scarce tax dollars are preserved by using streets as drains, but at the expense of inundating low-lying neighborhoods. Of course, the cynic will note how often these are the poorest of poor neighborhoods, with little political clout!
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.