San Benito’s $17.9M plant back in operation

San Benito water plant

After more than six years, San Benito’s $17 million water plant is back in operation.

Late last month, city officials re-opened the plant after a previous administration shut it down as a result of “malfunctions” in 2014.

“We are excited to see this plant move forward and produce quality water for our community,” City Manager Manuel De La Rosa stated.

“This plant will provide enough quality water for our community and is designed to accommodate the growth that our city has been experiencing and is projected to come in the near future,” he said.

In mid 2014, the city’s previous commission shut down the water plant that opened in 2009 amid concerns its microfiltration system was not properly operating in the plant that never produced its capacity of six million gallons a day, officials said at the time.

After officials shut down the plant, they pumped more than $1 million into the city’s 93-year-old water plant, turning into its primary water source.

Meanwhile, officials filed a lawsuit against companies involved in the design and construction of the plant that opened more than 10 years ago.

In late 2017, the city won a settlement that included $1.87 million in cash and $3.1 million worth of services from Evoqua Water Technologies.

At the time, De La Rosa said the city planned to use the money to bring the plant back into operation.

As part of the settlement, Evoqua, formerly Siemens, agreed to perform $3.1 million in services, providing technicians to help make the plant operational while installing equipment needed to run the plant.

As part of the project, crews installed 896 membrane filters into the plant’s basins while upgrading equipment and software, city spokesman David Favila stated.

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,” Evoqua stated in a previous press release.

Meanwhile, Evoqua trained city crews on the “on proper maintenance and operation of the plant which will maximize the operation of the plant and distribution of the water,” Favila stated.

In February 2019, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the project’s pilot study, a small-scale test of processes used in the plant’s operation.

As part of the study, the company assessed the plant’s operational components while performing maintenance, officials said at the time.

Meanwhile, crews built a holding pond designed to receive untreated resaca water used in the plant’s filtration system, they said.

“There are many items that must be verified in this process to ensure the production of clean, safe water production,” De La Rosa stated at the time. “This procedure includes plant operators conducting assessments to see if all processes are working as they should. If not, they must begin again to ensure that the plant, once opened, will meet all compliance measures as required by TCEQ.”

In March 2019, officials were planning to reopen the plant between Aug. 24 and Dec. 21 of last year.

But by September 2019, De La Rosa had scrapped the timetable.

Background

In 2009, the city opened 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.

“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 during the ceremony.

Meanwhile, to help pay off the plant’s debt, a previous commission boosted water and sewer rates, now some of the highest in the Valley.

Old water plant

For decades, city officials had planned to phase out and shut down its old Stenger Street plant built in 1927.

But after they shut down the new water plant, officials spent more than $1 million to upgrade the 93-year-old plant.

Officials continued to upgrade the old plant after it ran into trouble.

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.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com