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$15.3 million water bond flows onto May ballot
by Gary Kent
Mar 01, 2013 | 2161 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BEEVILLE — City Council members voted Tuesday evening to give Beeville residents the power to decide the future of their water supply on May 11.

Residents in all five of the city’s wards will be able to vote for a $15.3 million bond issue that will finance an alternative water supply.

Engineer Bill Norris, of NorrisLeal Water Engineering in Austin, spoke to the council before the vote was taken to hold an election to sell general obligation bonds.

Norris said he had been studying options and had decided to recommend that the city drill a well into the Jasper Aquifer to a depth between 1,600 and 1,800 feet. He said the aquifer could produce between 2 million and 3.5 million gallons of water a day for the city.

But the water would have to be pumped through a reverse osmosis filtering device to reduce the 1,500 parts per million of suspended solids to make the water acceptable under the standards set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

City Manager Deborah Ballí explained later that the well would be drilled on city property at the water facility on West Cleveland Street.

The $7.4 million reverse osmosis plant would be built at the same location.

Norris said the need to use stainless steel equipment would be the driving factor in the expense of the plant.

The engineer told the council that the city could drill the well, install pumps, pump and treat the water and put it into the system at a cost of $0.78 per 1,000 gallons. Currently the city is paying about $0.85 per 1,000 gallons to pump, treat and send water from Lake Corpus Christi.

Ballí explained that after administrative costs are added to the cost of providing water, the current cost for lake water is $2.35 per 1,000 gallons.

Norris recommended that the city maintain its surface water system and blend it with the well water.

The engineer said that, except for the pumping costs, the water from the well would be free. The city would own the property on which the well would be located and, because the well would be within the city limits, there would be no legal limits on the amount of water that could be taken from the aquifer.

“Even if the lake is full, it’s still cheaper to use well water than to take water out of Lake Corpus Christi,” Norris said. “There are not a lot of cities who can say they have two sources of water.”

Norris told the council that the study was ordered because the city needs an alternative source of drinking water. After two years of drought, George P. Morrill Water Treatment Plant Superintendent Hector Salinas said recently that Lake Corpus Christi has dropped to the level of the Nueces River channel.

There is little evidence that the lingering drought will end this year. Beeville needs to develop another water source.

Although the Beeville Water Supply District board of directors had pondered the possibility of moving the system’s raw water intake structure from its current position near Swinney Switch to a location farther south near the dam, some experts have said that would be an expensive alternative and there would be no guarantee that would work.

“OK, there we have it,” Mayor Santiago “Jimbo” Martinez told the council. “We’ve done everything we possibly could to explain all options. We’re just blessed to be on the cusp of the Eagle Ford Shale (oil field).”

“We need to assure that we have enough water for the next 50 years,” Martinez continued.

“The only limitations are the hydrology, not regulation,” Norris told the council.

Martinez reminded the council members that they have already discussed most of their options in executive session.

Ballí explained later that most of the discussion on the well option was held in executive session because of possible lease and water rights issues.

“We need a redundant source,” Councilman David Carabajal told those at the meeting. “I really feel that this is the best option for our community.”

Ballí explained that the entire well project would cost $12.3 million if another $1 million is spent on improvements to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. She said those improvements are being required by the TECQ.

Another $2 million would be needed for the city to have automated water metering equipment installed throughout the city.

The city manager told the council that the well could provide adequate water supplies to the city for as long as 100 years.

“We’re paying now so that our grandchildren don’t have to pay later,” Ballí said after the meeting.

Council members were told that another $4.5 million would be needed for improvements to the water distribution system. That would include repairs and repainting for the city’s existing storage tanks.

Carabajal asked how sound that figure would be, and Stephen Grunewald of Urban Engineering said he had a good feel for that figure, considering the scope of work that would be needed.

Grunewald said that figure could change depending on where distribution lines are located. Some lines are under streets, and replacing them would require the city to spend money on repaving those streets.

Financial advisers explained that the city would have two options for selling bonds for the projects. One would be general obligation bonds that would require an election to approve.

The other option would be the sale of certificates of obligation. That option would not require the council to call an election unless 5 percent of the voters filed a petition calling for an election.

The council was told that the tax increase on a $15 million bond issue for a $75,000 home would increase taxes by $17.63, using a 3.9 percent interest rate for planning purposes.

However, that figure was based on the bonds being repaid using only property taxes on a typical payback period of 25 years.

The impact could be lessened by using other revenue sources, to include water rates.

The council was told it could have the funds by mid-August and construction on the project could be completed by August 2014.

Carabajal said he would prefer that the city give voters the opportunity to make that decision and he recommended using general obligation bonds.

Councilman John Fulghum agreed with Carabajal’s recommendation. Mayor Pro Tem Mike Scotten and Councilwoman Libby Spires quickly agreed with that concept.

Carabajal said it would be up to the city to educate voters on the need for the project.

Carabajal then made the motion to call the bond election for the sale of $15.3 million in general obligation bonds and that was seconded by Fulghum.

The motion passed without opposition.

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