Shaw said the extended drought in South Texas has been a “game changer,” making it difficult for anyone to predict when surface water supplies may dry up for many municipalities.
She said the development of wells that could provide 3.5 million gallons of water a day for the city could cost as much as $10 million.
The city does have active wells. One of the five wells is in the Jasper aquifer where the water is considered brackish because of its suspended solids and chlorides.
The other four wells are in what she called “the Lagarto clay or Evangeline.”
The quality of that water is better than the quality of the treated water now being pumped to the city from the Nueces River at Swinney Switch.
Shaw said a 14-inch water line connecting the Chase Field Industrial and Airport Complex to the city’s water storage facility at Mussett Road is in good condition.
Although there is a limit of 10,000 acre-feet of water a year that can be pumped out of the Evangeline aquifer, Shaw said that Bee County now uses only about half that amount.
Shaw divided a proposed surface water development program into three phases. Phase one would be to develop an existing well in the Evangeline at Chase Field that would bring 1.3 mgd to the city. Phase two could bring that up to 2.5 mgd and phase three could provide a total of 3.5 mgd.
The other two tracts where the city could get water from the Evangeline were not determined.
Shaw said the costs of bringing those wells on line would depend on leases with the owners of the property where the wells would be located.
Although water from the Evangeline would actually improve the quality of water now being pumped to the city’s utility customers, it might be necessary to pretreat some of the well water. Parts of the Evangeline aquifer are known to contain higher levels of iron and manganese that surpass what the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will allow.
Shaw said the cost of developing the groundwater system would depend on whether the city opts to take on the project all at once or phase it in over time.
Taking on the project all at once could bring the estimated cost down from $14.3 million to $12.6 million.
Shaw recommended that the city have exploratory wells drilled in the locations where they planned to put in permanent wells.
The exploratory wells could determine whether the city would be required to pretreat the water from those wells to remove iron and manganese. Shaw said the levels of those minerals usually depends on how deep the wells go into the Evangeline aquifer.
She told Councilman Santiago “Jimbo” Martinez that the cost of drilling small, exploratory wells would be small, $300,000-$400,000, compared to the overall cost of the well development project.
Martinez then asked Shaw if she thought the cost of the project could possibly go as high as $18 million. Shaw said that would be a “remote possibility.”
Shaw said that the cost to the city of using the well at Chase Field could be negotiated with the Bee Development Authority and might not be as high as she estimated.
Councilman George P. “Trace” Morrill wanted to know about the possibility of getting a final report that could be released to the public. He said he wanted to see a report without redactions (deletions of certain information) that could be released to the public.
But City Attorney Frank Warner told Morrill that there would be some information in a final report that the City Council would not want released to the public.
Martinez then asked Shaw if her figures included the estimated costs of operation and maintenance and she said they did.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.