Officials, Presidio leaders celebrate new water project in virtual ceremony

PRESIDIO — At a virtual groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday, Presidio city leaders joined state and federal officials to celebrate a new project aimed at improving water lines within the city and bring water connections to more far-flung areas, including some residences along U.S. Highway 67.

The $4.5 million project — aided by groups like the North American Development Bank and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — will bring drinking water and sewage lines to new residents and help “eliminate line breaks,” Ken McQueen, the administrator for EPA Region 6, said at the meeting.

All together, EPA Region 6 has spent more than $350 million on projects like this, bringing water and sewage to millions of residents in the process, McQueen said.

For Presidio, a project like this has been a long time coming. Aside from the nearby residents who completely lack water connections, Presidio city itself has often been plagued by water issues, as The Presidio International has previously reported.

With its water storage tanks elevated above much of the city, Presidio has to constantly pump water uphill to be stored. The tank fills from a pipe in the bottom, which means water pressure has to be high enough to push the water above it upward. This keeps taps flowing but also creates pressure build-ups in the city’s narrow water pipes.

As a result, Presidio water lines regularly break — costing the city not only precious water, but the money needed to repair them. Studies of the water system in Presidio have previously estimated that around 30% of the water supply gets lost in leaks like these.

At the start of this month, these problems resulted in the cracking of a 20-foot length of a 12 inch water main — resulting in a boil notice that lasted more than a week.

The water line broke on July 31, and city workers were able to repair it by the end of the day. But in effort to ensure the water was safe to drink, city officials weren’t able to rescind the boil water notice until Monday.

Calixto Mateos-Hanel, the managing director of the NADB, said it was “truly my great honor to lead the NADB” when he could see “firsthand” the benefits of projects like this. And McQueen, the EPA administrator, said that while he would have preferred to visit Presidio “with shovel in hand,” he was nonetheless happy to help the city celebrate virtually.

Senator John Cornyn, who did not attend the meeting but recorded a short video for the occasion, congratulated Presidio residents on the project. And Congressman Will Hurd, who was in attendance, said that when he retires from office at the end of his term, he would “remember [projects] like this.”

“People talk about the dysfunction of government,” Hurd said, but projects like this one provided a contrast, as a variety of officials came together “to impact the lives of individuals.”

Hurd also took an opportunity to speak about Presidio in general. “I fell in love with Presidio when I got to meet the students at the high school there,” he said, describing the city’s students as “an amazing group of kids.”

He told city officials he’d be back to visit and recounted one of his trips to Ojinaga, where he said the Mexican media had flocked to see the arrival of a U.S. federal official. “I thought I was Beyoncé,” he joked. “There were tons of reporters and cameras there.”

Last but not least, the City of Presidio showed a brief video of Mayor Ferguson and City Administrator Joe Portillo with shovels in hand as they broke ground on the project. With the coronavirus pandemic preventing an in-person ceremony, an NADB spokesperson explained, Presidio had provided a video of the groundbreaking instead.

Within about 20 minutes, the groundbreaking ceremony was over — though for Presidio, the work to improve its water lines and connections is just beginning.