San Benito plans to re-open water plant

SAN BENITO — After about five years, the city is working toward re-opening its $17 million water plant within six to nine months.

The latest step is the launch of a pilot study required to put the plant back into operation, City Manager Manuel De La Rosa stated yesterday.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the project’s pilot study last month, De La Rosa stated.

“The pilot protocol study required to bring the city’s newer water treatment plant back into full operation has taken a major step forward, receiving the approval of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality,” Martha McClain, the city’s spokeswoman, stated.

In 2014, the city shut down the plant built in 2009 before filing a lawsuit against companies involved in its design and construction.

Since then, officials have pumped more than $1 million to turn its 91-year-old water plant into the city’s primary water source.

According to McClain, the city will conduct 45-day test runs before the state’s expected approval of the plant’s re-opening sometime between Aug. 24 and Dec. 21.

A pilot study is a small-scale test of processes to be used in the plant’s operation.

As part of a lawsuit settlement, Evoqua Water Technologies has agreed to pay the city $10,000 a day if it fails to restore operations within the nine-month period, McClain stated.

“It’s moving,” City Commissioner Rick Guerra said yesterday, referring to the project to re-open the plant. “It’s a priority as far as getting it online. Getting this going would be a big plus for us.”

Commissioner Tony Gonzales said residents have waited long enough for the plant to re-open.

“We’ve got to get it running,” Gonzales said.

The shutdown

In 2014, “malfunctions” led the plant to shut down.

In previous press releases, McClain had stated the plant never produced its capacity of 6 million gallons day amid concerns its microfiltration system was not properly operating.

“It cost a lot of money,” Gonzales, who was on the commission at the time, said yesterday. “It’s supposed to be state-of-the-art.”

The settlement

In December 2017, the city received $1.87 million in cash and $3.1 million worth of services from Evoqua Water Technologies to help bring the plant back into operation.

As part of the settlement, Evoqua agreed to perform $3.1 million in services, including conducting the pilot and installing equipment needed to operate the plant.

“Model” project

In 2009, the city built the $17.9 million water plant whose use of solar panels made it a “model” project along the Texas-Mexico border, according to the Texas General Land Office.

The plant off Turner Road was built to treat as much as 6 million gallons of water a day, 2.5 million gallons more than the city’s old plant, officials said at the time.

At its grand opening ceremony in October 2009, Jose Garces, the North American Development Bank’s managing director, called the plant a model for projects along the U.S.-Mexico border at the ceremony.

“This project is one of the most important projects, not only in the Valley but on the border,” Arkelao Lopez, projects director for the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission, said at the ceremony.

Old water plant

For decades, the city had planned to phase out and shutdown its old Stenger Street plant built in 1927.

But since the new water plant shut down, the city has spent more than $1 million to upgrade the 91-year-old plant.

“The old water plant’s been keeping up,” Guerra said yesterday.

The city continued to upgrade the old plant after it ran into big problems.

In September 2016 and January 2018, the old plant temporarily shut down, cutting water service across town.

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