Water woes
by Scott Reese Willey
Nov 12, 2009 | 1901 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Source: Urban Engineering
The city of Corpus Christi has notified the city of Beeville that it plans to lower the level of Corpus Christi reservoir to 74 feet, beginning Nov. 6. If it does that, an engineer said the city of Beeville’s water intake structure may have to be modified to be able to continue to suck up water.
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The people in charge of keeping fresh water flowing from Lake Corpus Christi to Beeville were urged Friday to give diplomacy another chance.

An engineer hired by the Beeville Water Supply District told board members that the city of Corpus Christi seems receptive to revising its reservoir management plan.

Jim Urban, with Urban Engineering of Corpus Christi, said that dialogue is the cheapest and fastest way to ensure that the city of Beeville doesn’t run out of water in the near future.

Urban said he doubts the city of Corpus Christi is aware of just how perilous the situation would become for the city of Beeville if the reservoir level is allowed to drop to 74 feet.

After hearing Urban’s report and recommendations, the board agreed to try to reason with Corpus Christi city leaders.

The board also agreed Friday to hire a San Antonio law firm to represent the water supply district in its contract negotiations with Corpus Christi.

The metropolis an hour south of Beeville owns Choke Canyon and Lake Corpus Christi reservoirs.

A contract between the two cities allows Beeville to buy 1 billion gallons of water annually for $1 million.

Akin to blackmail

The city of Corpus Christi notified the city of Beeville in a letter earlier this year that it planned to allow the water level in Lake Corpus Christi to fall to 74 feet.

In its letter, the city of Corpus Christi said it would be willing to renegotiate its contract with the city of Beeville and would hold the water level at 81 feet until Nov. 6, at which time it would drop the level of Corpus Christi reservoir to the 74-foot level.

The city of Beeville has a water intake structure at the point the Nueces River empties into Corpus Christi reservoir.

Members of the Water Supply District said they thought the language in the letter was akin to ‘blackmail.”

The water supply district hired Urban Engineering to determine what options were available, including the possibility of dredging or using the city’s long-unused water wells.

Another option: move the intake structure to a deeper location in the lake.

Urban said negotiating with Corpus Christi is the cheapest and fastest way to ensure Beeville does not run out of water.

“I got the impression, specifically, that they would be inclined to sit down and talk to y’all,” Urban told board members during their monthly meeting on Friday. “I feel more comfortable that there is an opportunity to go back and talk to the city (of Corpus Christi).”

Urban said he doubts the state will allow the city of Corpus Christi to go through with its plan to let Lake Corpus Christi drop to the 74-foot level

“I think the state will intervene to prevent them from doing that, cutting a whole community off from water,” he said. “I don’t want y’all to be worried about the fact that we could be without water, because a city won’t turn off an individual person’s house meter much less a community’s water. That would be a huge problem (for the city of Corpus Christi). They wouldn’t even begin to suggest to do that.”

Dredging won’t work

Urban said he originally believed dredging would solve the city’s problem.

He said he knew the lake bottom or river bottom around the intake structure to be at the 71-foot elevation but he figured the river bottom would deepen further out from the structure.

“We were getting elevations of 71 feet and I assumed that somewhere along there that you’d go out and find the river bottom, the old river bed, and that this thing would drop off from 71 feet to 65 feet or 60 feet and we could simply dredge from the area of the river bottom back over to the intake and that would allow the water to be able to flow back over to our intake below the bottom port,” he explained.

Instead, his crew discovered the lake bottom was 70.8 feet from one side of the river to the other, he said.

Even dredging out a slough probably won’t work because it will simply erode after time and fill up with mud. In addition, all the debris and muck will flow into the bottom port and require costly cleaning of the water, he said.

“That’s not really a good solution but it is something we could think about,” he said.

The intake structure, a 30-inch round pipe standing straight up and buried in the river bottom, has three ports, or slits, at various heights to suck up water.

When the lake level is at its highest, the top port is completely submerged.

However, because of the drought, the lake water in that particular area is presently at around 81.3 feet, about four feet beneath the bottom of the upper port.

The top of the middle port is at the 79.3-foot elevation mark and the bottom is at the 74.3 elevation mark, about two feet higher than originally thought.

The very bottom of the bottom port is at the 68.1-foot elevation and the top is at the 71.1-foot elevation mark. All but the top three inches of the bottom port has been silted over.

Faulty data

“I don’t think the city of Corpus Christi realizes the bottom of the river is at 71 feet, and they’re talking about potentially lowering the lake to 74,” he said. “It would be like the Rio Grande; we’ll have people walking across the river down here.”

Urban believes the city of Corpus Christi based its reservoir management plan on faulty data, such as the depth of the lake at the intake structure.

That faulty data also include possible plans to lower the lake level to the 68-foot elevation mark.

“If they go to 68 (feet), they believe that will give us a year” to dredge, cut new ports or something else to keep the water flowing into the intake structure, he noted. “Hell, if they go to 68, you know, you’ll be dry.”

Joe B. Montez, interim city manager for the City of Beeville, asked Urban to clarify his statement.

“If I’m understanding correctly, you’re saying the bottom of our (middle) port is at 74.3?” he asked Urban.

“The bottom of the port we are taking water in right now is 74.3,” Urban confirmed.

“So if they lower it to 74, we are going to be three inches above the (water line)?” Montez asked.

“Yes,” Urban responded.

He said the city of Beeville could always do what it did in the past, and cut the middle port lower, down to the 71-foot elevation so that more water could be sucked in.

Lowering the middle port by an additional four or five inches would essentially connect it with the bottom port, he said.

“That would give us an additional three feet below the 74 feet (level), which would be good for us,” Montez said.

Wells not the answer

Montez said he doesn’t believe the city of Beeville can even turn to its fresh water wells as a source.

He said the city’s contract with Corpus Christi prohibits it from using well water except in times of drought.

Urban said the wells should be considered only as a last resort because of the expense involved.

He said the city can save money in the long run by continuing to purchase surface water from Corpus Christi.

He said he believes Corpus Christi has been overcharging the city of Beeville for quite some time and that by renegotiating the cost of water Beeville could save as much as $100,000 annually.

At least until Corpus Christi raises its water rates, which Urban believes it will do systematically over the next 25 years.
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