The Texas Water Development Board approved a $6 million loan on Thursday for the Port O’Connor Improvement District to expand its use of local groundwater.
By building at least five new water wells, connecting water lines to a new raw water storage tank and treatment facility, the district plans to become less dependent on the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority’s surface water treatment plant in Calhoun County.
District general manager Phillips Givens said the project will save money and create a more reliable water source for its growing customer base.
In 2018, GBRA told Port Lavaca and Port O’Connor that the state was requiring it to build a new water treatment plant in Calhoun County to address growth and cut down on disinfecting the water with byproducts such as chlorine, which the Environmental Projection Agency says can cause cancer.
All GBRA clients, including the district, will have to help pay for the new plant directly dependent on how much water they use.
The district purchases about 20% of the GBRA plant’s treated water capacity and plans to negotiate a new contract to reduce that amount, according to TWDB records.
“It is a way to address the increase in demand, but also try to maintain a lower cost of providing the water to residents so they won’t have a big shock to their water bills,” Givens said.
Under the expansion plan, district customers will not see an increase in rates and fees for water and wastewater because revenue that is generated to pay off the loan comes from property taxes.
Based on the district’s most recent financial analysis, the board also has no plans for increasing tax rates as a result of the $6 million loan because the district is pledging tax money that is already being collected, Givens said.
The reduced dependence on the GBRA plant is projected to save the district “a significant” amount of money, Givens said. The exact figure was not available, though last year board member Danny Shane McGuire told the Advocate that the project would allow the district to pay about $5.8 million instead of $10.8 millin for its contribution to the new plant.
Those figures are subject to change because while the new plant has been discussed for years, little progress has been made toward building it.
The Port Lavaca City Council last discussed the prospect of moving forward with the plans during a workshop at the end of September, but took no action. The city uses more than half of the GBRA plant’s treated water capacity.
Patty Gonzales, a GBRA spokeswoman, said the authority supports the district’s efforts to expand and diversify its water supply and will continue to supply the district a sustainable source of treated surface water as needed.
“Should POCID reduce its contracted water amount required from the plant, GBRA will make any needed design adjustments to the new plant,” she said.
The new wells and water lines will nearly double the Port O’Connor Improvement District’s net water supply to 2.56 million gallons per day, according to TWDB.
Givens said the construction process is expected to start by the middle of 2021, but is dependent on the timeline for approval from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, the completion of a required environmental impact assessment and the construction bidding process.
The well water will be discharged into a new ground storage tank and treated by a new reverse osmosis treatment facility to meet TCEQ standards. Treated water will then flow into the existing ground storage tank and be blended with water from the GBRA plant before being pumped through distribution lines.
Reverse osmosis is a filtering process that uses engineered membrane material to remove dissolved organic materials, viruses, bacteria and other contaminants from water. The process can also remove salts such as those found in the aquifers along the Gulf Coast.
“Long term, your own groundwater source is more reliable and surface water has a higher treatment cost,” Givens said. “If the projects hold true in terms of the growth of the community … as that demand grows, we’re going to rely more and more on the groundwater than we are on GBRA.”