Pump it up

Customers of Cameron County Irrigation District No. 6 now have a more reliable supply of water thanks to a new pump station christened Thursday.

A commissioning ceremony and ribbon cutting for the Los Fresnos-Santa Rita Pump Station took place around noon at the end of a dusty caliche road off Military Highway on the banks of the Rio Grande.

Elected officials, employees with Cameron County Irrigation District No. 6 and others gathered under a tent next to the ruins of a century-old “pumper’s house” and a stone’s throw from the old and new pump stations, which overlook the river.

The new station houses two natural gas-powered Caterpillar pump engines (200 and 400 horsepower) driving two stainless-steel pumps for sucking water out of the Rio Grande and depositing it into the adjacent conveyance canal for delivery to users. The station has a capacity of 120 million gallons per day.

The district provides irrigation water and drainage to approximately 21,000 acres in southern Cameron County and supplies raw water to the city of Los Fresnos, Olmito Water Corporation, Cameron County Irrigation District No. 10 and Bayview Irrigation District No. 11.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and Edward Drusina, commissioner of the U.S. Section of the International Boundary Water Commission, were among the dignitaries who delivered comments.

Also speaking were Alex Hinojosa, deputy managing director of the North American Development Bank, which helped pay for the project; Bech Bruun, chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, and Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Department of Environmental Quality.

District chairman Ray Lopez, district general manager Tito Nieto and Frank Ferris, the project engineer, also took turns at the podium. Ferris said construction on the new station started 18 months ago but was hampered by delays due to heavy rain and high river stages.

One of the main goals of the project was energy efficiency, he said. Because it uses natural gas, the new station will cost about half as much to run as the old one, which uses electricity, Ferris said. The new station was built at a higher elevation than the old one so that the engines will remain above water and functional even if the river tops the levee, he said.

The new pumps are variable speed, which means the pump rate can be adjusted to whatever amount of water is needed, which saves water. Bruun said the station is a model for other irrigation districts.

“Water conservation is hugely important,” he said. “I really view the district as leading by example.”