When the temperature soared to a record-high of 98 degrees last Wednesday, the El Paso County Highway Division re-evaluated grading operations on rural roads. It was determined that dry conditions had reduced the road graders’ effectiveness to smooth out the bumps on gravel roads and even when grading operations appeared to be working, improvements to the road surface didn’t last more than a few hours.

Until areas receive adequate moisture, the County will be forced to reduce the amount of time and money it spends on grading rural gravel roads. Workers normally assigned to road grading operations will be temporarily assigned to bridge maintenance, drainage projects and maintenance crews working on paved surfaces. Dust abatement and minimum maintenance will continue, even on the dry roads.

“All the moisture content has just been baked out of these gravel roads,” said Public Works Executive Director Jim Reid. “And when they get to be this dry, the graders don’t really do much good. Worse yet, we can actually cause more long-lasting damage to the road base by grading under these extreme conditions and we want to make sure that we are using taxpayers money effectively. Our water trucks can be useful in reducing dust when the dryness is only surface deep, but there is just no way we can afford to buy and haul the amount of water that would be needed to make grading effective during this drought.” Reid added that it will likely take several days of light to moderate rainfall and lower temperatures to get the road surfaces back to normal.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in mid-June that El Paso County has been designated a “primary natural disaster area” after the U.S. Drought Monitor confirmed that much of El Paso County is experiencing “severe drought” conditions.

El Paso County Public Works reminds drivers that these sustained drought conditions actually increase the risk of sudden “flash flooding” because the hard-baked road surfaces will not absorb water quickly in a torrential downpour and light dry surface dust is easily removed by rushing water.

Current longer-range weather forecasts (always subject to change) predict only sporadic thunder storm activity through the first two weeks of July with chances of rain not significantly improving until mid-month.