No defined backup plan if bond fails
by Gary Kent
Apr 22, 2013 | 2190 views | 0 0 comments | 144 144 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BEEVILLE – Engineers working on plan to drill a well into the Jasper aquifer and build a reverse osmosis plant to remove solids and chlorides from the water had a slightly modified plan when they spoke to those attending a town hall meeting Tuesday night.

Bill Norris, principal in the NorrisLeal Engineering Water firm of Austin, made the presentation before he and others answered questions before about 40 citizens and three City Council members attending the meeting.

Leal was accompanied by one of his partners in the engineering company, Jesús Leal.

Norris reviewed the water options available to the City Council, saying they could opt to continue using only surface water from Lake Corpus Christi, drill a well into the Evangeline (Goliad) aquifer at a depth of 600-700 feet or drill a well into the Jasper aquifer at about twice that depth.

Jasper aquifer water would have to be pumped through a reverse osmosis plant to remove the approximately 1,500 parts per million in suspended solids and chlorides before the water would meet Texas Commission on Environmental Quality drinking water standards.

Norris said it is possible, as the Coastal Bend enters a third year of serious drought, that Corpus Christi’s two reservoirs, Lake Corpus Christi and the Choke Canyon Reservoir, could be out of water in two years.

The engineer also cited the fact that, at a rate of 85 cents per 1,000 gallons of raw water, the city spends close to $2 million a year for the surface water now being used.

He also reminded those at the meeting that a 22-mile pipeline between the George P. Morrill, I Water Treatment Plant at Swinney Switch and the city’s ground storage tanks at the water facility on West Cleveland Street has had some major leaks for years.

Although those leaks have been repaired – for the most part – new leaks could easily appear. Norris said that the entire pipeline could eventually need to be replaced.

The second option, using water from an existing well in the shallower Evangeline aquifer, would require the city to drill as many as 10 wells to produce 3-3.5 million gallons of water a day.

However, the city uses as much as 5 mgd with peak usage hitting 6 mgd at times.

The cost of that water would be an anticipated 62 cents per 1,000 gallons. In addition, the pumping of each of the 10 wells would affect the production of the other wells in that aquifer. But that water would most likely need to be treated to remove high iron content. That could be accomplished with chemical treatment and filtering.

The third option would be to drill into the Jasper at a depth of about 1,500 feet. That well could produce about 2.5-3 mgd.

Norris was recommending drilling two wells at the city’s Cleveland Street water facility, one in the Jasper and one in the Evangeline.

Because water from the Jasper would need to be filtered, the concentrated water left over from the reverse osmosis plant would have to be discharged, probably in Poesta Creek.

Norris said the discharge would have to be permitted by the TCEQ. But one alternative would be to sell that water, which would contain about 8,000 ppm of suspended solids and chlorides, to companies fracking oil and gas formations in the Eagle Ford Shale oil fields.

Norris said another benefit of the third option was that the city would not have to pay for the water it uses. It would have to pay to drill the well and to build and maintain the RO plant.

Debt service for a $12.3 million well and treatment plant operation would run the city about 81 cents per 1,000 gallons of water.

That, Norris said, would be the most cost effective.

“Right now, the drought management plan is praying for a hurricane,” Norris said.

Not every gallon of water taken from the Jasper needs to be pumped through the RO plant, the engineer said. Reverse osmosis actually makes the water too pure. That water would be blended with a smaller amount of untreated water from the same aquifer.

“You can make it too clean, and it doesn’t meet the requirements of the system,” Norris said. He read the contents of a container of bottled water as an example, pointing out that the water was run through an RO system and then minerals were added for taste.

Norris then outlined a plan to drill two wells at the Cleveland Street facility, with a well taking water from each aquifer. And there would be no plan to stop using the surface water from Lake Corpus Christi.

His plan was to take 44 percent of the city’s water from the Jasper; 22 percent of the supply would come from the Evangeline, and the remainder would be taken from Lake Corpus Christi.

However, the exact quality of the water taken from the two aquifers would not be determined until after the wells had been drilled and the water tested.

Norris said the situation needs a “long term fix.”

The engineer announced that several Beeville residents would be visiting a site in Donna just north of the Mexican border where the city desalinates water from a well and then discharges the concentrated water from the RO plant into a ditch which empties into a nearby creek.

That concentrated water, estimated to contain 12,000 ppm of suspended solids and chlorides, is permitted by the TCEQ.

Norris said Brownsville supplements its water supply by taking 22 percent of its supply from a brackish well and treating it through an RO plant. He said that city is also looking at the possibility of also desalinating sea water for its municipal water system.

The engineer said water from the Jasper is clean. It just has a higher mineral content that must be decreased by reverse osmosis.

Even though the water discharged into Poesta Creek would contain as much as 8,000 ppm of solids and chlorides, when that water reached the outflow of the city’s wastewater treatment plant on the Poesta, that water would dilute the concentrate even more.

“We’re not going to do anything that they don’t want us to do,” Norris said of the state agency. The water discharged into the creek would be tested routinely by the TCEQ.

But Norris recommended that the city start the process of getting the permits for the project soon.

“You’ve got to get the process going, especially when you’re dealing with a state agency,” Norris said.

City officials did get put on the spot when one of those attending the meeting. Rogerio “Roy” Galvan, asked if they had a backup plan.

“If the bond issue doesn’t pass, what’s plan B,” he asked.

Ballí said the city would be looking at sources other than a bond issue for funding.

She said legislators in Austin have bills submitted and working their way through committees that would allow the city to use a portion of its hotel and motel occupancy tax (HOT) funds.

That, she said, could provide the city with about $400,000 in revenue each year.

It would require the city to find some low-interest loans for the project. “The bottom line is we would find something, somewhere,” Ballí said.

Mike Keeney said it looked to him like the city was prepared to use only one option. Then he said Dallas had started solving its water problems decades ago, impounding water in as many places as it could.

“You need to go out and invest in water sources,” Keeney said. “You need to diversify.”

Keeney then asked if the city had considered using the Bee Development Authority’s well at the Chase Field Industrial and Airport Complex, and Norris said option 2 was the BDA well.

Jonn Huegler then asked what options Norris’ company had in mind if not using the well at Chase Field.

The engineer explained that his company was suggesting drilling two wells at the Cleveland Street facility, one of which would take water from the Evangeline and one from the Jasper.

“Why would we go all the way out there and pay 62 cents per 1,000 gallons?” Norris asked.

Huegler then asked if the city had looked at obtaining grant money to reduce the cost of the project to taxpayers.

Estimates have suggested that the $15.3 million bond sale could cost the owner of a $75,000 home an additional $17.63 a month in property taxes.

Ballí said the city would be looking at all sources of funding for the project and that any funds it could get that would reduce the burden to taxpayers would be used for that purpose.

Huegler then asked for a breakdown on how the $15.3 million would be spent. Ballí said $12.3 million would be used for the wells and RO plant and then another $1 million would be used for improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant and another $2 million would be used to upgrade the city’s water metering system.

Huegler said she preferred that the city use water from Chase Field.

But retired attorney Tom Healey told the council that the cheapest water the city can get is water that will cost nothing. He felt the most sensible alternative would be to drill the two wells at the Cleveland Street location.

Norris then assured those at the meeting that all would be done to keep down the cost of treating the water.

“We’re not going to treat something we don’t need to treat,” Norris said.

“I think Phase One (the wells at Cleveland) is the perfect way to start,” Healey said.

Businessman Dave Moore told Norris that he thinks a three-pronged approach using water, with wells in two aquifers and surface water, would be the best way to solve the water problem.

Moore then said he supported one recommendation that Healey had made. That was to reduce the high permit fee for a city resident who wants to drill a well.

The City Council increased that fee to $2,500 shortly after Beeville went to the surface water system to keep from losing customers who wanted to drill wells in the city.

Healey had recommended reducing that permit fee to $50.

Moore then asked Norris if he had looked into how much it would cost the city to dispose of the concentrate from the RO plant in a deep injection well in the event that the permit for releasing the water into the creek is not approved.

Norris said he did not expect that permit to be denied.

When Moore asked about whether or not the engineers could be sure of a constant supply of water from the Jasper, groundwater expert Kevin Spencer of Austin said there would be enough water in that aquifer to serve the city for an unlimited time.

Former City Council member Arnold Medina then asked why no one had considered reopening any of the four wells the city used before going to surface water.

Spencer said the casings in those wells would not be in any condition for reopening them. They would be unusable.

Ballí then said a report completed by HDR Engineering had shown that it would cost more to reopen those wells than to drill new ones.

“You need to be looking at other options,” Medina said.

Jim Crumrine, president of the Beeville Water Supply District Board, said the existing wells had been subject to electrolysis for more than 50 years and they could collapse if put under the constant pull of a pump.

Crumrine was joined by another city resident, geologist Kenneth Elsbury, for a trip to Donna to tour that RO plant and see the ditch where that plant’s concentrate is discharged the following morning.

The City Council will hold its third and final town hall meeting next Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the City Event Center, formerly the Community Center, in the 100 block of East Corpus Christi Street.

Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at
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