San Benito launches project to restore water plant

SAN BENITO — After more than three years, the city is apparently taking steps to revive the $17 million water plant it shut down.

Later today, city commissioners are expected to consider selecting an engineering firm to help the city bring the water plant back into operation.

“The mayor and commissioners are happy to report that the citizens of San Benito will finally get the quality water treatment plant that they have been waiting for,” City spokeswoman Martha McClain stated yesterday.

Commissioner Esteban Rodriguez said the city will select an engineer to help oversee the project.

“We’re going to hire an engineer to keep us abreast of what’s going on so mistakes aren’t made to put the city behind schedule,” Rodriguez said. “We have to get this plant back on line,” Rodriguez said. “The citizens paid for something. They have to get their money. It’s time.”

Recent history

In 2014, the city filed a lawsuit against companies involved in its design and construction, arguing the plant opened in 2009 never properly operated.

Meanwhile, the city’s previous commission shut down the plant amid concerns its microfiltration system was properly operating while the plant never produced its capacity of six million gallons a day, McClain stated.

In December 2017, the city received $1.87 million in cash and $3.1 million worth of services from Evoqua Water Technologies to help the city restore operations.

Moving forward

City Manager Manuel De La Rosa stated the city plans to use the money to restart the plant.

“It was a fight, but the settlement is sufficient to take care of our needs,” De La Rosa stated. “What we did get in the lawsuit is what the city commission wanted — the ability to bring the plant back so it can provide up to six million gallons of quality water per day to our citizens and business community.”

However, the city did not know how long it could take to restore operations, spokeswoman Martha McClain stated.

What it means

The settlement agreement requires Evoqua to install and commission the plant no later than nine months after the state’s approval. Installation and commissioning are deemed achieved once Evoqua physically completes installation of the equipment for initial operation that will produce 6 million gallons per day, according to terms of the agreement.

Now, she said, Evoqua is conducting a pilot study that must be approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

As part of the study, the company is assessing the plant’s operational components and performing maintenance, McClain stated.

Using the resaca

Meanwhile, she stated, the city will fund construction of a holding pond designed to receive untreated resaca water.

The pond’s water will be used by the plant’s filtration system, she stated.

McClain stated the city has no final cost estimate on that project.

As part of the settlement, Evoqua agreed to perform $3.1 million in services, including conducting a pilot study, providing test data and installing and commissioning equipment.

The company agreed to supply “state-of-the-art upgraded membranes designed to provide the best ultra-filtration available and enable the plant to ultimately produce and deliver 10 (million gallons per day) in the future,” according to a press release.

Under the agreement, Evoqua will train employees to operate the water plant, staff a technician or engineer for 12 weeks and organize weekly meetings while visiting the plant to monitor its operation for two years.

How we got here

As the city filed the lawsuit, commissioners launched a $3 million project to renovate the city’s 90-year-old water plant, aiming to turn it into the main water source.

The amount of money the city has pumped into the old plant is unclear.

However, the city’s use of the plant as its primary water source led to problems.

In September 2016 and last January, the old plant temporarily shut down, cutting water service across town.

As part of an agreement, Harlingen provided the city with water used to temporarily serve the city’s homes and businesses.

What’s Evoqua doing now

– Conducting pilot study

– Assessing the plant’s operational components

– Performing maintenance