City runs up $1 million tab on old water plant

SAN BENITO — The cost of tap water is running high.

In the past four years, the city has spent more than $1 million renovating its 91-year-old water plant — and it plans to continue upgrading until its newer $17 million water plant is reopened in about a year.

“The city will always continue funding improvements while the facility continues to be an operational asset,” City Manager Manuel De La Rosa stated this week about the old plant.

Since mid-2014, the city has spent $1.018 million upgrading the water plant built in 1927.

“City public crews have made significant improvements to the (plant’s) infrastructure,” De La Rosa stated.

So far, the city has replaced piping and valves.

Now, crews are installing intake and backwash pumps.

“Maintenance and rehabilitation is ongoing and is considered to be a constant process,” De La Rosa stated. “We take proactive, preventive measures to monitor, repair or replace parts and equipment.”

In mid-2014, the city launched a project aimed at turning the old plant into its primary water source after it shut down the newer $17 million plant because it was not properly operating.

While contracted engineers estimated the renovation project would cost $3 million to $4 million, De La Rosa’s decision to assign city crews to the job has helped the city cut costs, spokeswoman Martha McClain stated.

“Under the city manager’s direction, the project cost was reduced significantly by using city work crews to make electrical and mechanical repairs, and further, by using an in-house engineer to further streamline and reduce project costs,” McClain stated.

Eventually, the city plans to use the old plant as a back-up water source.

That’s after the new plant is back online.

“The city will continue to upgrade (the water plant) as needed to ensure a quality, well-performing system that will continue to serve this community now as its primary fresh-water production source and for many years to come as a back-up system,” McClain stated.

The city has not determined the amount of money it plans to spend on the old plant.

Meanwhile, De La Rosa stated the city expects its newer water plant to become operational by next summer.

How we got here

In mid-2014, the city shut down that plant, which opened in 2009, because it failed to properly operate.

According to McClain, the plant, which never produced its capacity of six million gallons a day, was shut down because its filtration system was not properly operating.

In August 2014, the city filed a lawsuit against companies involved in the design and construction of the plant.

Last December, the city received $1.87 million in cash and $3.1 million worth of services from Evoqua Water Technologies.

As part of the settlement, Evoqua agreed to perform $3.1 million in services aimed at reviving the plant.

“Early stages include assessing the operational components and performing maintenance on the plant,” McClain stated.

Where are we at?

Now, Evoqua continues to work on a pilot study to help determine the work it will perform to make the plant operational.

At the plant, the city’s engineers are working with Evoqua representatives on the small-scale study, De La Rosa stated.

“The on-staff engineer has been performing assessments of all the operating components at the (plant),” he stated.

As part of the agreement, Evoqua will 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,” the company has stated.

According to McClain, the plant will be commissioned after Evoqua installs the equipment necessary to produce 10 million gallons a day.

Water troubles

For nearly four years, the city has struggled at times to provide water to its residents.

Twice — in September 2016 and again last January — the old water plant temporarily shut down, cutting water across town.

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

Timeline

2014 – City shuts down $17 million water plant

2014 – City launches project to overhall old plant

2014 – City files lawsuit against companies involved in new plant

2017 – City settles lawsuit

2018 – City works with Evoqua to reopen new plant