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Water committee: Drilling deep for answers
by Gary Kent
Jul 05, 2013 | 1385 views | 0 0 comments | 51 51 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BEEVILLE – The City Council’s Citizens Committee members again tossed around ideas and opinions for more than an hour before anyone on the panel made a motion.

That motion was to urge the city to have a test well drilled on the east side of town at the same time it was having a test well drilled at Veterans Memorial Park.

Another motion that passed was to have the city obtain an analysis of the aquifers within the city and compare the cost of developing them with the cost of wells that could be drilled within five miles of the city.

Thirteen appointees of the 17-member committee met Thursday at the Event Center for a scheduled 90-minute session.

Two of the members, new appointee Raul Casarez and Jim Crumrine, were given their oaths of office by Deputy City Secretary Emily Espinoza.

Crumrine had been one of the original appointees, but he missed the committee’s first meeting because he was on vacation.

City Manager Deborah Ballí told committee members that they need to focus on finding groundwater sources to supplement the city’s dwindling supply of surface water at the headwaters of Lake Corpus Christi.

That would require the city to develop wells in the Jasper or the Evangeline aquifers or both. She said the George P. Morrill, I Water Treatment Plant could use another clarifier so that it could increase the number of gallons of water it is able to treat and pump to Beeville from Swinney Switch. That would be at least a $2 million project, she said.

But currently the city is looking at the possibility of losing its ability to pump any water from the lake and Nueces River at that site if current weather patterns hold over the Coastal Bend.

Ballí shared a chart with committee members showing that the combined available water in both Lake Corpus Christi and Choke Canyon Reservoir could be down to 25 percent by next month unless weather patterns change.

The chart, prepared by experts for the City of Corpus Christi, showed that would be down to 20 percent by December and to 18 percent by mid-January.

The experts projected that some rainfall on the Frio and Nueces River watersheds could bring the combined lake levels back up to 20 percent by June 2014. But that would drop to 11 percent by November of next year and then down to only 8 percent of total capacity by April 2015.

Ballí said if the city could develop enough wells in town to supply 2 to 3 million gallons of water a day, the treatment plant would not need another clarifier.

However, the average water use by customers connected to the city’s water system runs about 3.5 mgd. During peak usage periods, that can easily increase to about 5.2 mgd.

Ballí said that wells drilled may produce high quality water that needs little or no treatment at first, but that could change over time, and the water from wells could require some kind of increased treatment.

One engineering company, NorrisLeal Engineering Water, has been recommending that the city build a reverse osmosis filtering plant to remove suspended solids and chlorides from the well water.

Ballí recommended that the committee look for groundwater sources that could provide a peak of 6 mgd for the city so that the wells could be pumped at half of that capacity most of the time.

Chairman John Galloway reminded committee members that the cost of the project would be a matter of serious concern.

“There are about 5,000 rate payers,” Galloway said, “and people’s bills could go up from $50-$100 a month.”

Galloway warned that many of the city’s residents are on fixed incomes or they work for low wages.

“A lot of people can’t afford a $75 a month increase,” Galloway said.

Ballí urged committee members to seek a compromise proposal that could provide water for residents without increasing the monthly bills to the point that residents could not afford to pay them.

Committee member Tom Healey asked if anyone could explain to him what the result would be from pumping a well at full capacity.

Crumrine explained that if a well is pulled at 10 percent of capacity, it could last 100 years. Pumping at a higher rate could deplete the water in that aquifer.

Committee member Garry Cude suggested that higher prices for water might not be a bad thing for city residents. If water becomes more expensive, customers will figure out ways to reduce their usage to keep their bills lower.

Committee member Kenneth Elsbury asked about the city’s debt service requirements and recommended that the city consider a tiered rate structure to alleviate the financial impact on low income and fixed income residents.

Ballí said the city currently does not use a tiered rate system for water customers, other than the fact that there are different rates for commercial and residential accounts. She added that there is a senior citizens’ rate for customers over the age of 65. She said those customers can save a considerable amount of money on their water bills.

Galloway then recommended hiring experts to drill test wells to determine the quality and flow rates of the aquifers in certain parts of the city and within a certain distance from the city limits.

Ballí said the city has already paid a local company to drill a test well at Veterans Memorial Park for the Beeville Economic Improvement Corporation.

That entity is paying the contractor $25,000 to drill the test well and make the determinations on its efficiency.

She said the BEIC wanted to develop a well at the park for an irrigation system to protect the corporation’s investment in improvements made to the park’s baseball and football facilities.

Committee members thought the $25,000 price for the test well was a reasonable fee and much lower than one engineering company had estimated. Member Richard Beasley said that information would be vital when the city seeks investors to finance the production of the wells.

“We already know what HDR is going to say, what NorrisLeal is going to say and what Urban (three engineering companies that have studied the water situation and made recommendations) is going to say, so let’s get somebody fresh,” Galloway suggested.

Casarez then said that the committee should give serious consideration to the suggestion of building an RO plant. He said the cost of doing that is only going to go higher, so if the city is going to have to build a treatment facility anyway, it would be more cost effective to build it now.

“We can adjust to higher rates, but we can’t adjust to no water,” Casarez said.

Ballí said the city expects to have the results of the test well by the time the City Council meets on July 9.

She said the citizens committee may have that information when it meets on July 8.

Committee member Adam Perez then suggested that if the city is going to have a test well drilled on the west side of town, it should consider drilling one on the east side as well.

The committee then voted on a motion to have two test wells drilled, one on each side of the city. It passed without opposition.

“The bottom line,” Tom Beasley said, “is how much is a gallon of water going to cost us.”

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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