San Benito paying Harlingen for water

SAN BENITO — The city is paying the price for the Harlingen water it used after its old water plant shut down last month.

City commissioners this week approved the expenditure of $11,079 to pay Harlingen for 3.4 million gallons of water.

The city used Harlingen’s water from Jan. 7 to 16 as a result of the water plant’s shutdown Jan. 7.

“I thank Harlingen for coming to our rescue,” Mayor Celeste Sanchez said. “I thank Harlingen for being there for us and we’ll be there for them when they need it.”

City Manager Manuel De La Rosa said the city used Harlingen’s water to serve homes and businesses during the 36-hour period in which the water plant shut down.

The city also used the water to help fill its water tanks and towers, he said.

It was the second time the city turned to Harlingen for water during the past few months.

Last September, the old water plant lost pressure after a waterline break, leading the city to use Harlingen water.

City officials are working to make sure the 90-year-old water plant doesn’t shut down again.

“We are our own city. We can’t rely on Harlingen,” City Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez said. “We have to look after ourselves and do everything we need to do to make the city better.”

Thursday night, maintenance crews removed a valve whose failure helped trigger the water plant’s shutdown, replacing it with an “expandable spool,” De La Rosa said.

Consultant Lou Portillo said “freezing” temperatures created condensation which froze in the plant’s air line and created a leak that dropped the system’s water pressure.

Last month, the city installed heaters and insulation to protect equipment in the event of cold temperatures, city spokeswoman Martha McClain said.

Sanchez said she’s counting on recommendations from Portillo and city-contracted engineer Victor Gutierrez to make sure the plant doesn’t shut down again.

“There is no 100-percent guarantee,” Sanchez said. “I’m satisfied the work they’re doing is what needs to be done.”

De La Rosa said the use of Harlingen’s water offsets the cost of treating water from the irrigation district at the water plant.

The city pays the San Benito irrigation district about 24.1 cents per 1,000 gallons of water, said Sonia Lambert, the district’s general manager.

But De La Rosa didn’t have information readily available regarding the cost of treating water coming from the resaca.

“It’s already treated and we don’t have to go through the (treatment) process,” Rodriguez said of Harlingen’s water.

In March 2015, the city gave Harlingen a $5,000 deposit to access its water, De La Rosa said.

Under an agreement, Harlingen charges the city a base fee of $963 and an additional $2.54 per 1,000 gallons for water, Harlingen City Manager Dan Serna said.

De La Rosa said Harlingen’s water does not cost the city much more than water treated at the water plant.

“I’m not paying twice for water,” De La Rosa said.

The city is paying Harlingen about 0.0032 cents per gallon, or about 32 cents per 100 gallons, De La Rosa said.

In 2014, the city turned to the old water plant as its primary water source after shutting down its $17.9 million water plant because it wasn’t efficiently working.

In turn, the city filed a lawsuit against companies behind the construction of the water plant built in 2009.