Water woes flood Presidio City Council, funding approved for new police and fire vehicles

PRESIDIO — Concerns about Presidio’s water infrastructure dominated discussion at Monday’s unusually packed city council meeting, where a handful of vocal residents showed up in person to ask city officials about the status of work orders left in limbo. Many of them were dealing with water leaks that had been unaddressed for weeks, months — and in one case brought to light by Councilmember Billy Hernandez — 12 years. 

“I don’t want to make excuses, but we only have three guys working on water leaks,” said Cesar Leyva, director of water works for the City of Presidio. His team reported juggling 17 outstanding work tickets at the time of Monday’s meeting.

The city advises home or business owners who want to report a water leak to go to city hall and fill out a work order, which gets forwarded to Presidio’s sewer and water department. Repaired water lines are then marked with an orange cone. Residents like Arian Velazquez-Ornelas felt the informality of this process let requests slip through the cracks. For one: why leave a name and phone number if there was no follow-up from the city on the status of a work ticket?

Velazquez-Ornelas’ husband dealt with a leak behind his business that went unaddressed for years, leaving the ground around the building soft and spongy. After a backhoe got stuck in the mud — requiring an expensive and frustrating extraction — she decided she’d had enough. “I understand why this is still happening, but why is it happening the same way?” she asked the council. 

In addition to residential water issues, Councilmember Hernandez raised concerns about a shortage of water meters after watching a construction crew from El Paso fill up a 10,000 gallon truck from a fire hydrant multiple times a day. The hydrant was not metered. 

“That’s a big no-no,” said Councilmember John Razo. “That’s treated water and it’s very expensive.” Razo explained that there is a special rate for treated water and for water provided within city limits — cash that the city was missing out on. “We’re a business,” he said. “I see money coming out of the ground.” 

Beyond the obvious financial loss from tens of thousands of gallons of water unaccounted for, water loss of that scale without proper documentation could raise alarm bells from environmental agencies. “If TCEQ [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] was going to take a look at that, we could get a fine,” he warned. 

Leyva and his team promised the installation of more meters and improved follow-ups with work orders submitted by those who attended the meeting. The council will host a workshop to discuss water rates with members of the public, and plans to present new and improved procedures for submitting and checking on the status of utilities at December’s regular meeting. 

The city also took steps to address a zoning issue that has caused headaches for residents and business owners alike by creating a new zoning designation, “CCR-3,” short for combination commercial-residential. Structures along Highway 67 that predate the highway’s construction have a confused zoning status. One resident discovered this the hard way when she applied for a permit to close in her porch, and was told her home was zoned commercial. 

Other pockets of town reported the same problem in reverse: for example, the building that houses Rohana’s Auto Service is technically zoned as a residence. The combination zoning designation aims to help home and business owners in these mixed zoning areas make improvements to their properties. “We’re trying to preserve existing structures and save a lot of trips to city hall,” said City Administrator Brad Newton, who touted the plan. 

In miscellaneous city business, the city approved the Presidio Police Department’s application for $68,000 in funding from the Department of Homeland Security’s Operation Stonegarden to buy a new vehicle. Stonegarden grants aim to bulk up law enforcement in communities along land and water borders at no cost to local taxpayers. Though the police department plans to go forward with purchasing the new “fully loaded” unit, supply chain issues may mean the department will wait a year or more before the new vehicle can cruise Presidio’s streets. 

Council also green-lit a 10% match for a $110,000 grant from the Rural Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Program in hopes of ordering a new brush truck. “We are down to one brush truck,” said Fire Chief Saul Pardo Jr. “We had a nasty fire and one of our units overheated and died by the side of the road.” 

The “nasty fire” happened in Shafter, but the department’s equipment was already feeling the burn after a fire in Redford the previous week. Bomberos Ojinaga responded to Mayor John Ferguson’s call for help on Facebook, and Presidio police were on the scene to provide an escort for the Mexican crew’s truck through town. “Redford could have turned out to be a lot worse than it was,” said City Administrator Brad Newton. “We are lucky to have Ojinaga as our neighbors and our friends.” 

Pardo stressed that his crew was “ready and willing” to assist with fires in Ojinaga, should the need ever arise. The new truck would help him keep that promise. 

“This isn’t a want, this is a need,” said Councilmember Irvin Olivas in support.