Presidio takes early steps to expand its water system

PRESIDIO – City of Presidio officials won a small victory at County Commissioners Court, putting them one step closer to adding running water along Highway 67 between the Riata Inn and Cemetery Road. The county approved a 30′ utility Right of Way on Cemetery Road for the city to use, giving space for a U.S. Highway 67 water line project and a new water tower.

Presidio has considered bringing water services north for decades, but their current hope is to do so by winning nearly $4 million in grant funds and a loan from the North American Development (NAD) Bank. The project’s goal is “to provide increased access to potable water by extending water lines along HWY 67 and by making improvements to the existing water distribution system to help reduce water losses.” The plan is to construct a new water line along 67 and another between the current treatment tank near the high school and the water standpipe on the hill.

City Administrator Joe Portillo laid out a few reasons the city wants to take action on the project now. To start, the city is projecting future growth in South Presidio County and wants to be able to provide water utilities as the region expands.

Though the project would directly benefit a handful of businesses and residences along 67, it also would help every Presidio resident. The city’s population currently relies on a single tank to hold its water supply – one that badly needs cleaning and refurbishment – but so far the city has not been able to complete the necessary work because there is no backup water tower or standpipe.

“The city had two private landowners award a small piece of land to put the new water tank for redundancy, and also for a booster station which is going to help get the water on top of the hill,” Portillo explained. Redundancy means the old water tower could be taken offline and repaired, while the new one supports the city’s water needs. The booster station, which will push the water uphill, is also part of the $4 million project, along with the water lines and the new water storage tank.

If all goes according to the project plan, water will flow up 67, halfway to the Presidio Lely Airport, Portillo said. Currently, 12 residences along 67 will finally get services. A few miles further north on Highway 67, the Las Pampas Colonia still lies in wait, hoping to receive water utilities from Presidio one day.

A colonia is a subdivision where developers sold land with a promise to provide utilities, but never followed through. Residents in Las Pampas have had to haul water from the city up to their homes for decades after promises of utilities never came to fruition. Administrator Portillo stated, “The average family uses 300 gallons a day, and they have these water tanks that will hold 500 or 600 gallons, so they have to make a trip to the city to get water. The bad thing is that the water sits and is stagnant in a tank, which is not good for microbes.”

The cost to take water utility lines all the way to Las Pampas is still out of reach for the City of Presidio, but Portillo and others hope to extend their water line that far one day. For now, the aging population in Las Pampas will have to continue their tiresome journeys for water. NAD Bank’s Director of Public Affairs Jesse Hereford explained, “There are other residents past the airport, but extending services that far is cost prohibitive since it would require additional booster stations and storage tanks.”

The city is looking to NAD Bank for help on the Highway 67 to Cemetery Road project, and the binational bank is hearing them out. “This bank was created to improve the life along the Texas-Mexico border,” said Hereford. The bank is a binational environmental infrastructure bank, owned and operated 50% by the Mexican government and 50% by the U.S. government, and serving communities 62 miles north of the border and 186 miles south. The United States Treasury, State Department and Environmental Protection Agency fill half of the bank’s board, with the other half made up of each of those entity’s Mexican counterparts.

Hereford explained the project status, stating, “Neither the grant or the loan are approved. We’re in the project development phase. They’re in the process of asking for it, and we’re in the process of doing our due diligence.” Though the grant is just a possibility, the city is already investing in surveys for water tank and booster station sites, and NAD Bank is working away on the project’s pre-construction research.

The bank has invested a significant amount of money to explore the project, including a $90,040 facility plan, $65,497.46 on a water audit, $29,640 to revise the scope and $40,994.80 for a biological survey. As part of the bank’s mandate, all projects they take on must “have an environmental certification with a proven environmental benefit,” according to Hereford.

The bank’s “water audit” of Presidio researched the city’s entire water system. In its investigation, they found that water storage was not even the main issue Presidio faces. Instead, they determined that unmanaged pressure in the system is frequently causing pipes to break and spill water into the ground, rather than deliver it to Presidio residents. The city is not able to sustainably deliver water because of this, the bank’s report stated. The project will fix the water pressure problems, and improve services for 1,750 residents.

“1,750 is the number of residential customers in Presidio who will benefit from the transmission line between the two storage tanks. Current operations require high pressures throughout the distribution system to fill the upper storage tank. This results in water losses especially from line breaks, which also cause service interruptions and create a contamination risks. The dedicated transmission line between tanks will lead to reduced water pressures and will be a major step in the city’s quest to improve service reliability,” Hereford added.

Before NAD Bank will consider awarding a hefty $3 million grant and an additional loan of up to $1 million, Presidio must meet a few qualifications. One of the hurdles is that the city will need to have a “clean” current audit that says the city is in a solid position with its finances; the bank wants to be sure the city is able to handle the grant and repay the loan. In addition to that, the city will need utility right of ways, which Presidio County just awarded.

“From what I’m told, we’re hopeful that the project should be certified by the third quarter of this year. Once it’s certified, that opens everything up for the grant funding, and then we can move forward with the loan as well,” Hereford said. “There has to be a financial feasibility completed to make sure the loan could be paid back.”

That audit requirement may hold up the deal for a while. At the City of Presidio Council meeting on July 24, the city tabled an item to hear the results of the 2016-2017 audit because the review of the city’s financial year still wasn’t ready.

NAD Bank documents pointed out that Presidio’s audits for 2012 to 2016 were only recently completed, and all of them received “adverse opinions.” That means there have been inaccuracies or discrepancies in their financial statements – the opposite of a clean audit. The most recent audit has not been completed. “We’d have to wait for a recent audit to review for us to start the process of consideration for the grant,” said Hereford.