West Texas braces for Mexican reservoir release

Eds: UPDATES with Mexican authorities saying more water won't be released from reservoir.

By ALICIA A. CALDWELL

Associated Press Writer

PRESIDIO, Texas (AP) -- Helicopters dropped huge sandbags on a levee and a crew of prison inmates worked to create a makeshift dam Saturday in this rural border city threatened by flooding from the Rio Grande.

As rains continued pounding Mexico, Presidio authorities feared Saturday morning their counterparts across the border would be forced to release more water from a reservoir, potentially endangering the U.S. side.

But Chihuahua state Civil Protection Director Issac Olivas said Saturday afternoon that water levels at the reservoir were dropping, so officials would be able to release less water than they had been doing earlier this week.

Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton was pleased but said that workers would continue to build the dam and try to shore up a weakened levee. Crews prepared Saturday to line a section of the levee with heavy plastic anchored by sandbags to keep water from leaking through.

The Rio Grande at Presidio, a normally dusty 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.

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.